Monday, May 21, 2018

Jeremy Renner

Jeremy Renner, Toronto, Sept. 11, 2005

THE FIRST THING I NOTICED ABOUT JEREMY RENNER WHEN HE WALKED INTO THE ROOM was that his jacket looked too big for him. He had a promising reputation, which must have been well deserved as up to that point his resume mostly consisted of a National Lampoon comedy, a variety of supporting roles and a single star turn playing serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. What he looked like in that room at the old Four Seasons was a young actor who barely had the wardrobe for a few days of press at a film festival in Canada.

Near as I can tell he was in town to help promote North Country, a film starring Charlize Theron. Still in Renner's future were roles in 28 Weeks Later and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and, ultimately, the star turn in Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker that would make Renner a star. After that - recurring roles in Mission: Impossible films, a lead role replacing Matt Damon in the Bourne film series and ultimately Hawkeye, one of the Avengers, in the movie franchise that's basically consumed Hollywood.

Jeremy Renner, Toronto, Sept. 11, 2005

When I shot Renner at the film festival the first Iron Man film was three years from being released (I'd be flown to Los Angeles for a big budget press junket for the film,) and it would be hard to imagine then how totally a superhero franchise would dominate the movie industry. It only occurred to me as I was writing this that, with Renner, three consecutive blog posts here have featured actors with roles in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

I can tell I was shooting in the old Four Seasons because of the light. I didn't have much sense of Renner - he hadn't been around long enough to create a screen persona of any sort, and so I put him against a white wall with the Four Seasons windows behind me and did what amounts to a mug shot, letting the young actor (he was 34 at the time) confront me and my camera. He looks confident, maybe even a bit cocky. It's the picture of a young man about to get everything he's dreamed about, and more.

Friday, May 18, 2018

William Hurt

William Hurt, Toronto, Sept. 11, 2005

WILLIAM HURT WAS BORED. That's the only explanation I have for the first of our two encounters at the film festival, when the actor ignored etiquette and protocol and turned what should have been a minute-long portrait shoot into a discussion about ethics and professional responsibility. It's one of my favorite memories of festival shooting, which was mostly a rushed and perfunctory sort of business.

I liked Hurt before I met him. From his damaged, drug-dealing veteran in The Big Chill to his mob boss in A History of Violence to his improbable appearances in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he often seems bemused - the smartest man in the room, though he's loathe to point that out and prefers to let everyone else proceed with whatever error they're pursuing just to witness the outcome. The major exception is his turn as the dim but charismatic anchorman failing his way to the top in Broadcast News - probably the most prophetic film about the modern news media ever made.

Hurt showed up for our shoot with a raw, red patch on his cheek. He explained that he'd just come from set and that the prosthetic he'd been wearing on his face for the role hadn't been applied correctly, and had pulled off a big patch of skin on his face when it was removed. He asked if I could work around it; I said that thanks to digital photography and Photoshop I could do pretty much anything, and that of course I'd take it out (as I have here.)

William Hurt, Toronto, Sept. 11, 2005

He mused aloud about this being a matter of trust between the subject of a portrait and a photographer, and I responded - eager to establish some kind of rapport with my own subject - that trust was the biggest part of that relationship, especially when that relationship was usually a brief one. This seemed to interest him, and he began asking more questions about portraits and photography and ethics.

Nearly every shoot I did at the festival during this period rarely lasted more than a minute; I've learned since then that I developed a good reputation for being able to get results in almost no time, though in retrospect that reputation is more of a curse. Hurt was eager to talk - so eager that he kept brushing off his press handler's motions behind my back to cut it short and move on by asking me another question.

I'd shoot a few frames and Hurt would ask another question, which I was happy to answer. I'd given a lot of thought about the ethics of my business and the relationship between a sitter and a portraitist, and about the peculiar demands of making a portrait. I think I even quoted Pascal at some point. (I'd spent much of the previous decade at home reading, making up for my poor education.) But I could feel his handler's impatience growing behind my back, like a pot boiling over, so at some point I had to decide that I had my shot and thanked Hurt for his time.

William Hurt, Toronto, Sept. 9, 2007

I felt weirdly energized after Hurt and his entourage left the room, as it had been years since a portrait subject had taken such an interest in their own shoot. I felt flattered that Hurt had been engaged enough to push our encounter to nearly ten minutes of - perhaps pretentious, but who cares? - chin-wagging about philosophy and aesthetics. It was definitely the highlight of that year's festival.

Two years later, almost to the day, I was assigned to shoot Hurt again. By this point I was sure that our high-minded chat was his way of blowing off steam and amusing himself as the grind of festival press days wore on, and that he probably didn't remember me at all. I was taken aback when Hurt walked into the hotel suite and looked at me with a start - "Oh, it's YOU!"

"Look," Hurt said, leaning in towards me as he spoke, glancing back at his press minder, another brusque and professional young woman like the one two festivals before. "I would love to have another chat with you right now," he told me, before making his voice slip down to a stage whisper, "but she is really riding me to stay on schedule today and I think I'd better do as I'm told."

William Hurt, Toronto, Sept. 9, 2007

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Anthony Hopkins

Anthony Hopkins, Toronto, Sept. 10, 2005

I WAS TERRIBLY INTIMIDATED BEFORE THIS SHOOT. Anthony Hopkins had a reputation for mercurial behaviour and an impatience with the banalities of his obligations off stage and off screen. The thing is that I could completely understand this attitude, and while I could flatter myself that I wasn't the sort of media irritant that had inspired this reputation, at the end of a long day of press I suppose that all buzzing flies look and sound the same to a tired horse.

Which is why I prepared myself for a disaster ahead of this shoot - beginning with the publicist simply calling it off completely at the behest of the star. When Chris Atchison and I found ourselves waiting outside the press suite to be called in, I shifted gears and imagined Hopkins impatient and distracted and unwilling to sit for more than a few frames. And then the door opened and we were called into the room.

Anthony Hopkins, Toronto, Sept. 10, 2005

Hopkins was a familiar face for me long before Silence of the Lambs made him a huge star, mostly because the 1978 film Magic, with Hopkins playing a ventriloquist possessed by his dummy, seemed to be on TV all the time when I was in high school. He'd ascended through films like The Elephant Man, The Bounty and 84 Charing Cross Road as an impressive combination of talent, charisma and the discipline of the English theatre to the role of Hannibal Lecter, after which he seemed to be first choice for any role that required authority, gravitas, reflection or menace, in any possible combination.

Hopkins was at the film festival promoting The World's Fastest Indian, which wasn't about a Native American sprinter but a record-breaking motorcycle racer from New Zealand. Hopkins portrayal of Burt Munro required him to be charming, guileless, eccentric and driven, and no one was surprised that the actor could manage all of that with a typical lack of apparent effort.

Anthony Hopkins, Toronto, Sept. 10, 2005

Perhaps it was the work required to embody Munro that made him so unexpectedly accommodating when my turn came to take his portrait. Just last year, Hopkins told an interviewer that he'd been diagnosed as having a high-functioning case of Asperger's Syndrome. In hindsight, this made me wonder if that was why he looked so unguarded through the viewfinder of my camera, and quite unlike the wary, impatient man that I'd expected.

The brooding and menace and candour that Hopkins draws upon for so many of his roles could be glimpsed from frame to fame over the dozen or so shots I managed to take in my scant minute with him in that hotel suite. I knew I was getting much better than I expected so I didn't press him to the point where his patience might have run out, though he was still remarkably friendly to Chris and I when we ran into him again in the hotel elevator later that afternoon. And of course that made me wonder if I'd been too polite, and should have pushed Hopkins just that little bit further, since I'm still not certain if these shots are as good as I think they are, or simply much better than I was expecting.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

David Boreanaz

David Boreanaz, Sept. 10, 2005

THERE IS A LOT OF TALK THESE DAYS ABOUT EQUITY BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN. It's got me thinking about the difference between male and female portrait subjects in my own work. I'm not sure celebrities are a fair demographic to sample for a reading on gender politics, but I'm not sure we're all talking about the same thing when we use the word "equality" either, so I guess that makes comparing them as valid as anyone else.

I've observed before that most female movie stars have shown up for shoots with hair and makeup people, and that while they almost never get the same perks, I'm sure at least a few male celebrities I've photographed would have loved to face the camera with the aid of someone to do their hair and makeup. Which led me to wonder about those rare situations where my male subject is perceived as looking "pretty," in the same way that an actress is judged on her looks. Which is where David Boreanaz comes in, I suppose.

David Boreanaz, Sept. 10, 2005

For the record, I'm pretty sure Boreanaz didn't arrive for our shoot at the Intercontinental on Bloor with hair and makeup people. He had finished up his star-making role on Angel the year before I took these photos, and had just begun his dozen seasons playing Seeley Booth on Bones.He was at the film festival to promote These Girls, a Canadian-made comedy where he played a man blackmailed into sleeping with three young women. It was the sort of role someone who looked like Boreanaz could plausibly play - a hunky vampire who wins the affections of a plucky vampire killer; an aimless but good looking guy who lets himself become a sexual trophy for three girls.

Boreanaz has maintained his status as a (mostly) small screen male sex symbol for quite a good run; he began his role as Angel on Buffy over twenty years ago, and is currently starring in Seal Team on CBS. He's one of the few portrait subjects that my teenage daughter recognizes. And as with nearly any really good looking actress I might have photographed at a time when I was mostly concerned with getting a quick, flattering portrait to run in a busy newspaper page bordered with ads, I simply got out of the way and let him project physical charisma into the camera. It's really about that simple, and makes the "accomplishment" of capturing a decent portrait of an attractive celebrity feel less creative than technical.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

America Ferrera & Blake Lively

America Ferrera and Blake Lively, May 2005

I HAVE NEVER PUT MUCH VALUE ON YOUTH - either my own or that of others. Presented with young portrait subjects, I tended to be a bit underwhelmed, which was probably a bit of a mistake. In at least one case, that led to a missed opportunity, though I'm guessing that circumstances also played a part.

America Ferrera was already a star when I was assigned to photograph her doing interviews for a new film. She had made her name playing the title character on Ugly Betty, and was in town doing press for The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, alongside another young actress named Blake Lively. It all seemed a bit "youth market" for me, so I only did as much as a potential two-column photo in the free daily required.

America Ferrera and Blake Lively, May 2005

I photographed Ferrera and Lively at the Windsor Arms Hotel, a very nice boutique hotel that gives you some idea about how much pull Ferrera had at that point, and how well the studio expected the film to perform. It was also - as I'd learned while shooting Tom Wolfe there a few months previous - one of the darkest hotels in the city. The best spot I could find to photograph Ferrera and Lively was a corner of the restaurant where the skylight provided some workable, if not particularly flattering, light.

I only photographed the two young women together, which mostly involved trying to catch a few frames of them not laughing. I didn't try to take any shots of them separately, perhaps because there wasn't enough time, but also because I didn't see the point of the extra effort. Keep in mind that I wasn't thinking of posterity or portfolios anymore - I had an assignment that I had to execute, and that was all that concerned me. I'm told - mostly by my daughter - that Blake Lively is a very big deal these days, and that I should have tried to get a shot of her. A photographer who cared about resales or reprints of their reputation might have done just that, but I wasn't that photographer in the spring of 2005.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Tracy Morgan

Tracy Morgan, Toronto, May 2005

THERE'S NOT A LOT YOU CAN DO WITH A PORTRAIT SUBJECT WHO MUGS FOR THE CAMERA except roll with it and hope they run out of steam. Which almost never happens, especially if your shoot is only supposed to last a couple of minutes. So when Tracy Morgan immediately started making faces as soon as I raised my camera to my eye, my only option was to keep moving him around until he'd run out of faces.

As far as I can tell, Morgan was in town promoting his supporting role in the remake of The Longest Yard starring Adam Sandler, but I could be wrong. He'd finished his career-making stint on Saturday Night Live a couple of years before, and it would be a year before 30 Rock hit the air, with Morgan playing a variation on himself. Which means I photographed Tracy Morgan when he was on his way to being a big star, which is usually when I got most of my celebrity portraits.

Tracy Morgan, Toronto, May 2005

I did my shoot with Morgan on one of the balconies of the old Four Seasons in Yorkville - the same sorts of spots where I'd taken portraits of Vince Vaughn and Ally Sheedy for NOW seven years earlier. The more I do through my old work, the more I miss the Four Seasons, which was easily the most photogenic Toronto hotel I worked in for nearly twenty years.

I had to work fast with Morgan, partly because the shoot felt like an echo of the Vaughn shoot, and I expected him to get up and walk away at any time. The shot below is one of the last I shot, and it's my favorite, because it's the closest moment to getting Morgan to stop mugging. He's sitting in the corner of the balcony - one of the few places in a Four Seasons suite that I'd never shot before. It's a great spot for a portrait, and it makes me nostalgic for a Toronto that only just disappeared a decade ago.

Tracy Morgan, Toronto, May 2005

Friday, May 11, 2018


High Park, Toronto, 1999

I NEVER STOPPED TAKING PHOTOS. I only stopped making a living taking photos. That's one of the things I've learned while going through my files for this blog. If I had stopped taking photos because my full-time career as a professional photographer had effectively ended there would be no point doing this, because that would mean that I was never really a photographer.

A few months ago I found a Kodak Instamatic camera in a second hand shop, the same model as the one my mother gave me for Christmas when I was a boy - my first camera. I remembered how I'd gone out into the snow outside the house and took photos that interested me: Shots of snow drifts in front of bare trees and dormant hedges, everything composed in what I would learn later were the rules of seconds and thirds. I'm still trying to take those photos nearly fifty years later, and back when I was relieved of the pressure of taking photos for money, that's what I did with my copious downtime.

High Park, Toronto, 1999

I have lived in the west end of Toronto for nearly my whole life. The parks and beaches and industrial precincts of the area have always been where I've gone to reflect and recharge, places full of personal and family history. This is what my hometown looks like in my mind, and every photo I've taken there is an attempt to fix that place and what it looks like in memory and posterity.

I took my Rolleiflex along on family vacations to visit my in-laws in Nova Scotia, fascinated by a place that didn't look like anywhere I'd lived before. This is the landscape of my wife's family and memories, so shooting there was like trying to tell someone else's story without using their words. The shore of the Bay of Fundy, with its shingle beaches and outcrops of volcanic rock, is one of the most primal places I've ever been, with a harshness that I find mysteriously appealing.

Lunenburg, NS, 2003
Harbourville, NS, 2003

Back home, I returned to Mount Dennis, where I took my first photos a few blocks from the Kodak plant where my family worked, and around the west end I know so well. I ended up documenting not just the place where I grew up, but also Parkdale, where we lived, and the old working class and industrial neighbourhoods around Earlscourt and Silverthorn, where we'd end up moving several years later, and where I'm writing this now. Short of family photos or self-portraits, these are probably the most personal photos I've ever taken.

They were also the last outings I'd make with my Rolleiflex. The year after I took the last of them I was put back to work shooting for the free daily, using the first really practical digital cameras. The whole slow, segmented process of shooting with a camera like the Rolleiflex became obsolete and impractical practically overnight, so these photos are effectively my farewell to film photography, though I didn't know it at the time.

Mount Dennis, Toronto, 2001
Junction, Toronto, 2003
Silverthorn, Toronto, 2003
Parkdale, Toronto 2003