Half-Iranian, half-French cinematographer Darius Khondji relocated at an early age with his family to his mother's native France. As early as age 12, Khondji reportedly had decided he wanted to be a filmmaker and set about to see as many films as possible. After weighing the possibilities of where he should study, he finally decided upon U.C.L.A. and enrolled in 1977. Later, he left U.C.L.A. to continue his studies at N.Y.U. He has since worked with a wide variety of directors, ranging from Bernardo Bertolucci to David Fincher and he is responsible for filming some of the most memorable movies of the 1990s.
He was born to an Iranian father and a French mother. At an early age, his family relocated in France. He became interested in film early on and made Super-8 films in his teens. Later in life, he moved to the United States to study at UCLA and then majored in film from New York University and the International Center for Photography. During this period two teachers influenced his decision to become a cinematographer: Jonas Mekas and Haig Manoogian (Martin Scorsese's film teacher). He realized that "all I wanted to do was shoot the other students' films. I was concerned with the power of the image and much less with story." Khondji returned to France in 1981 and worked as an assistant for cinematographers like Bruno Nuytten, Martin Schafer and Pascal Marti. He also began shooting commercials and music videos.
His first feature film was Le tresor des Iles Chiennes (1991), a low budget, black and white, post-atomic adventure film. His work on this movie was significant enough to warrant the Cahiers du cinema to publish one of its rare interviews with a cinematographer. It was on this film that he demonstrated an affinity for Cinemascope. He remarked in an interview, "I think it's the most beautiful format to frame. one can become absorbed in the faces when they're framed in 'Scope." His subsequent work on Delicatessen established his international reputation and earned him a Cesar nomination for Best Cinematography. One of his highest profile films was Se7en which he got based on a Nike ad he shot with David Fincher and his work on Delicatessen.
He has worked with several notable film directors including Jean-Pierre Jeunet, David Fincher, Bernardo Bertolucci, Alan Parker, Roman Polanski, Sydney Pollack, Woody Allen, and Wong Kar-Wai. His work on Evita was nominated for an Oscar for the Best Cinematography.
Khondji cites Gregg Toland as his favorite cinematographer. "I particularly admire his work on John Ford's The Grapes of Wrath." He also greatly admires James Wong Howe's work, in particular Hud. Khondji has said that his dream project would be "a 16mm black and white film of On the Road!"