LOS ANGELES — Jane Waters, a videographer and director widely considered one of the best cinematographers in adult film history, has died at the age of 68.
Waters, whose real name was John Keeler, passed away of a heart attack in Pittsburgh over the weekend, Bill Margold, the industry historian who was Waters’ longtime friend and collaborator, told XBIZ Tuesday.
“I truly loved the man,” Margold said. “I had unbelievable admiration and affection for him.”
Margold called Keeler one of porn’s great “unsung heroes.”
“I don’t know of any other man who never got the credit he deserved more than Keeler,” Margold said. “He’s a man who shot for all the people who went on to become famous and he never got the fame he deserved.”
Keeler came up with his stage name after editing the 1985 classic VCA movie “New Wave Hookers” as a homage to mainstream filmmaker John Waters.
“And the legend began to grow,” Margold said. “I think men who can use female stage names are quite comfortable with their sexuality.”
Waters had more than 50 porn directing credits, including "Traci's Big Trick" in 1987 and "Barely Legal 51 & 52" in 2005. But he became better known as a cinematographer and director of photography for scores of other adult movies in addition to a handful of mainstream films including "Wild Child" (1991), "Little Corey Gorey" (1993) and "Adventures in Pornoland" (2008).
Among the high-profile producer/directors who have worked alongside Waters are John Stagliano, Paul Thomas and Rob Black, among numerous others.
Stagliano told XBIZ, "John Keeler was the first real cinematographer I worked with. We won Best Film for our work on 'Wild Goose Chase' in 1990. John cared intensely about doing a good job. He was emotionally invested in his work. I would run into him over the years out in Malibu and it was always a great pleasure to talk to him. He was very artistically motivated and his take on things was always fascinating."
Thomas told XBIZ Tuesday he had a long conversation with Waters about three weeks ago, speaking to him for the first time in an extended period.
"He seemed to be happy," said Thomas, who knew him for 30 years. "We worked together constantly over the years. Next to [Ralph Parfait], he’s the second guy I worked with the most. He was the most artful cameraman in the business. He composed more artful shots than anyone I’ve ever worked with."
Thomas continued, "He was also extremely temperamental. He and I used to get into big cat fights. I remember on 'Bonnie & Clyde' with Racquel Darrian [in 1993] he walked off the set. He walked off the set with me regularly, it was just part of our routine.
"But we remained very good friends. He was one of the few people I continued to talk to after I left Vivid [in 2009]. He was a very, very unique guy — sober and very intelligent, a very sensitive artist.
"He certainly seemed to have tons of life left in him."
Thomas recalled that he met Waters, who had roots in western Pennsylvania and upstate New York, because both were dating the same porn star at the same time.
"I did a lot of big shows with him. He was the head of everything technical," Thomas said. "He absolutely composed the prettiest shots that I’ve seen. He taught me how to compose a shot with movement and texture, not to just square it off and shoot it. It’s real sad, he’ll be missed."
Rob Black said much of his work with Waters remains among the finest of his career.
"Keeler was a true legend and he was my camera guy for some of my best movies I have done to date," Black told XBIZ. "Part of his magic helped create some of my best work. He will be missed."
Veteran performer/director Tom Byron said he knew Waters since the early 1980s.
"We've spent a lot of long hours on many sets together," Byron said. "Yes, he could be temperamental (as I think most creative people are), but not from an ego standpoint. It was because he cared about what he was doing, and when people didn't take it seriously, it frustrated the hell out of him. He was a real visual artist with a great eye for lighting and composition."
Byron continued, "The 'Gonzo Glut' of the 90's and early 2000's sort of phased out his style of shooting, unfortunately. Although he was more than capable of producing great all-sex titles, like he did with the 'Nightstalker' series for Extreme. I for one am really glad our industry has gone back to producing a lot of high-quality features like the ones John used to shoot. RIP John Keeler."
Jared Rutter, the former chairman of the X-Rated Critics Organization (XRCO), also knew Waters.
“He was well-known for his lighting,” Rutter said. "It was kind of old-school.”
Margold said that Waters was the lead photographer on an industry-positive project that never got finished called “We Are the World XXX.” He added that he is already trying to resurrect the project in honor of Waters and “anyone who has fallen from the first 40 years.”
Keeler is survived by his wife Tilly and an older sister.
“He had a beautiful relationship with Tilly," Margold said. "They were a really loving couple. I’m very lucky to have known him.”