Pioneering documentary filmmaker Richard Leacock died on Wednesday at the age of 89, at his home in Paris.

One of Leacock’s best-known projects was serving as cinematographer on Robert Drew’s Primary (also made with Albert Maysles), the chronicle of John F Kennedy on his 1960 presidential campaign. His other work includes A Stravinsky Portrait (1966) and Monterey Pop (1967).

He was a pioneer of the observational style of filmmaking, cinema verite; he was partners with other cinema verite stalwarts D.A. Pennebaker and worked with the Maysles brothers.

“He had a poetic eye behind the camera, which gave him access to anybody because they sensed they could trust him,” Maysles said.

London-born Leacock started making films as a teenager, first working on films inspired his father’s banana farm in the Canary Islands. After graduating from Harvard with a degree in physics, he became a combat cameraman for the US army.

His first professional film was 1954’s Toby And the Tall Corn (about an American travelling tent theatre), which aired as part of TV’s Omnibus.

He had been living in Paris since 1989, after retiring from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His most recent film was A President To Remember (2008).

His memoir Richard Leacock: The Feeling of Being There will be published this summer.

He is survived by his wife, son and daughter. His daughter said he had been in declining health recently and had several falls.