João Fernandes is the biggest name in adult film cinematography, that you’ve never heard of. He is responsible for shooting many of the finest examples of “Golden Age” porn, including “Take Off”, and “Through the Looking Glass”. He has worked with directors such as Doris Wishman, Armand Weston, Anthony Spinelli, Jonas Middleton, and even blaxploitation star Fred Williamson. Born in Brasil, he studied film at NYU under Haig P. Manoogian, who also taught Scorsese, and cites Fellini as his greatest influence. His collaboration with Gerard Damiano Sr. began in 1972, on the film “Deep Throat.”
João shot all of my father’s most acclaimed films, including “The Devil in Miss Jones”, “Memories Within Miss Aggie”, and his masterpiece, “The Story of Joanna.” The two shared a dream of someday working on big-budget Hollywood films. For this reason João used the “nom de porn” Harry Flecks, (taken from the Arriflex camera that he preferred), at a time when his resumé might have prevented him from getting “legitimate” work.
Following “Joanna,” at the peak of the “porno chic” era, João and Gerry went to California together, to shoot the ill-fated “Once Upon a Time…Tomorrow,” a straight film that was never released. While on the West Coast, João made the necessary connections, then returned to New York to pack his bags. He made the move to California and before long had realized his dream. During his career as a Hollywood cinematographer, he shot “Children of the Corn,” “Red Scorpion” and “Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter.” In 1984 he shot “Missing in Action” which starred Chuck Norris, and began a working relationship with the kung-fu superstar that lasted for many years. He went on to shoot eight more films with Norris, as well as his TV series, “Walker, Texas Ranger,” even directing a number of the episodes himself. If you combine his film and television work, with his work in adult film, João has been credited as Director of Photography in no less than 93 productions.
As a kid growing up, I knew João as a close family friend. I remember that he was usually the most handsome guy on the set. All the women were hot for him. Even my little sister had a crush on him. Still today, when Larry Revene and I met with the actresses of the “Golden Age”, they all asked about him, with a glimmer in their eyes. The last time that I saw João was more than 40 years ago, during the production of “Once Upon a Time”, in California. I was all of nine years old. For all these years he has retained his anonymity. Now retired, he was finally willing to speak candidly about his career in porn.
Today, João lives in beautiful Ashland Oregon, with his wife of more than 30 years, an actress whom he met on set, she in front of the camera, and he behind it. We spoke at length, and he told me, “I learned an enormous amount of my own craft working with your father.” We watched “The Devil in Miss Jones” and “Memories Within Miss Aggie” together, and it was evident how far he had come since filming “Deep Throat” just two years before. He felt that “The Story of Joanna” was his best work with my father, perhaps the best work of his adult film career. Larry had worked together with João on “Take Off” and had great respect for him. I enjoyed listening to the two old DPs compare notes about films, cameras, and the people they both knew. João showed us his reel, which contained shots from a number of his films that showcased his most elaborate camera moves, most dramatic lighting, and highest production values. My father would have been proud to know that a shot of Terry Hall descending a staircase from “Joanna” made the cut.