April 11, 2022

NYFA Cinematography instructor Tommy Maddox-Upshaw, ASC grew up in Boston and first became interested in the world of cinematography when his sister Kyla got him a job as a Production Assistant for a Hype Williams music video at 19 years old. “I saw how the Cinematographer worked with everyone and created such beautiful images and I already liked photography,” he shared. “I was like, ‘I want to do what he does’. After this discovery, he set out to learn the art of cinematography even though his college didn’t have a film program. To bridge the gap and begin his studies, Maddox-Upshaw read American Cinematographer Magazine and watched documentaries like Visions of Light – which he cites as a major source of inspiration.

Since then, Tommy Maddox-Upshaw, ASC has worked on ground-breaking shows like Empire, On My Block, worked for commercial clients like Ford, Allstate, HBO and collaborated with visionary giants like Spike Lee and Matthew Libatique, ASC. Most recently, Maddox-Upshaw worked on FX’s Snowfall as Director of Photography.

Snowfall takes place in 80’s Los Angeles during the crack epidemic. The series follows several characters whose lives intersect, showing how a wide array of people were responsible, affected and caught in the middle of the crack epidemic that took the United States by storm in 1980’s. The series has seen great success and its breakout star British actor Damson Idris has become a fan-favorite for his portrayal of Franklin Saint. Snowfall has also received wide acclaim for its cinematography, its use of long takes and its iconic lighting of both Black skin tones and 80’s Los Angeles.

The critically-acclaimed show was renewed for its sixth and final season last week but not before scoring Tommy Maddox-Upshaw, ASC his first American Society of Cinematographer award for “Best Cinematography on a One-Hour TV Series (Commercial)”. Upon receiving this distinction, Maddox-Upshaw said, “Representation matters a lot.”

In 2020, Maddox-Upshaw joined the prestigious ranks of 380 active ASC members. In 2019, only 5% of its members were Latino, 3% were Asian and 2% were black, according to ASC. “Becoming part of the ASC has been a goal of mine since the time I really started to study and read American Cinematographer Magazine and watch Visions of Light when I was about 20 years old,” Maddox-Upshaw told NYFA.

The American Society of Cinematographers was founded over 100 years ago in 1919. The society was formed to advance the art of cinematography and gather cinematographers to discuss ideas and advocate for the art form. Since its inception, ASC has seen less than 800 members. The society has maintained its prestige in part due to a meticulous selection process: only film cinematographers and special effect supervisors can become ASC members, they must be a director of photography for a minimum of five out of the last eight years, have an impeccable professional reputation and be recommended by three active or retired ASC members.

“Congratulations to Tommy Maddox-Upshaw on behalf of the Cinematography faculty and everyone at NYFA,” says Mike Williamson, Associate Chair of the Cinematography Department at the NYFA Los Angeles campus, “He has been doing some amazing work recently, including many episodes of Snowfall, and it’s great to see that he is being recognized with this award. Receiving an award from the ASC means that you’re being honored by your peers, so this is a special honor for a cinematographer.”

Maddox-Upshaw sat with 20/20 series host Liz Hinlein to talk about photography styles, film school and how to light Black and brown skin tones:

The New York Film Academy congratulates Cinematography instructor Tommy Maddox-Upshaw, ASC for his achievements – we look forward to seeing more of his work!