Friday, August 17, 2018

Leelee Sobieski

Leelee Sobieski, Toronto, Sept. 12, 2007

IT'S ALL ABOUT LIGHT. And yes, about your subject and your bedside manner and your skill and perhaps a little bit of luck, but if you can't find - or create - the light, you'd might as well shoot everything in a bus station photo booth. (Do they even have photo booths in bus stations any more?) Which might actually work, in some situations, but real photographers spend their lives chasing the light.

Like a moth.

I actually felt a bit like a moth when I found this light in a hotel suite at the Intercontinental at the end of a long week of film fest shooting. It had taken me three years to find the elusive quality of light in that hotel after the luxury of shooting at the Four Seasons around the corner, so when this undistinguished suite of rooms managed to catch the late afternoon light and wrap it around my subjects, something in me went a bit weak and buzzy.

Leelee Sobieski, Toronto, Sept. 12, 2007

It helped, of course, to have a lovely subject. I know a lot of people who've never been sure if Leelee Sobieski was a really good actress or simply utterly beguiling to look upon. (And to be honest, major movie stars have built whole careers on little more than this.) Frankly, this sort of beauty can be something of a curse, since it will obscure talent, like anything backlit by the sun turns into a hazy shadow.

I love these photos. I'll probably put them in my new portfolio as a way of selling myself as a glamour shooter. (Good luck with that.) But I can only take so much credit for them. Off the top of my head, I'd say 55% Sobieski, 35% light and 10% me. Maybe 40% light. Even at the time I remember thinking that I was just the guy lucky enough to be holding the camera in that room, at that time, and I haven't changed my mind.

Leelee Sobieski, Toronto, Sept. 12, 2007

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Tricia Helfer

Tricia Helfer, Toronto, Sept. 12, 2007

I'M NOT SURE WHY 2007 WAS THE YEAR THAT MY FILM FESTIVAL felt like I was shooting for a fashion magazine. Perhaps it was the direction our editor, Jodi, wanted to take the paper, in pursuit of the ideal young female reader demographic. Perhaps we'd simply accrued enough pull that we could ask for interviews and shoots with some of the more glamorous guests at the festival.

In any case, I wasn't complaining. 2007 might have been my busiest festival ever, and while doing up to seven shoots a day can be taxing on your creative inspiration, it helps if a) your subject is physically attractive and b) they have some training in posing for cameras. As your classic farmgirl-turned-model-turned-actress, Tricia Helfer fit this bill perfectly, and while I might have pushed for her to provide me with something less than a model's repertoire of looks if I'd had more time, this shoot came at the end of a long day and I was frankly willing to coast.

Tricia Helfer, Toronto, Sept. 12, 2007

Helfer was still in the middle of her run as the Cylon baddie Number Six on Battlestar Galactica when I took these photos - a cultural phenomenon that was part of the avalanche of shows that made premium cable the new Hollywood, and began shooting the kneecaps off of both cinematic features and prime time TV. As an ex-model-turned-actress she was perfect for the role of an unnaturally beautiful humanoid created by a machine race that achieved sentience, inasmuch as really beautiful people often embody what's called the "uncanny valley" effect - that trait of computer-generated actors that might look realistic but possess an ineffable but undeniably disturbing quality that doesn't seem quite human.

But perhaps that was just the light. I photographed Helfer in a suite at the Intercontinental that, due to the time of day, was filled with the strangest but most flattering available light I'd ever encountered in a hotel room. The rooms at the Intercontinental were famously dim, so I could scarcely believe what I was seeing through my viewfinder when I had Helfer sit in what I'd just assumed was the brightest point in the room. I doubt that I could have duplicated that light with a kit full of strobes.

Tricia Helfer, Toronto, Sept. 12, 2007

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Emmanuelle Seigner

Emmanuelle Seigner, Toronto, Sept. 12, 2007

I WON'T LIE - I REMEMBER SOME VERY STRANGE CHEMISTRY HAPPENING DURING THIS SHOOT. Perhaps I imagined it; I might have been projecting my own very conflicted feelings about my subject and her circumstances into an otherwise normal situation. Perhaps. But as I'm someone who struggles to remember much about the thousands of shoots I've done, any memory at all has to be significant.

Emmanuelle Seigner was at the film festival promoting her role in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, a big critical success and directed by the painter Julian Schnabel. (Another shoot with some weird chemistry, but more about that here.) Seigner wasn't a household name here but she was a major one in France, where she'd probably have been a celebrity even if she wasn't married to the (in)famous Polish director Roman Polanski.

Emmanuelle Seigner, Toronto, Sept. 12, 2007

Perhaps it was because she was French. I'm not the first person to observe that cultural differences accelerate once English-speaking people cross eastward over the English Channel. But Seigner walked into the room acting both wary and wired at the same time, like she had some sort of agenda in mind for her photo shoots, though she wasn't going to let any photographer know what that might be. I honestly can't remember anyone who'd given off a similar vibe since my shoot with Bjork, a decade previous.

It's not like Seigner was flirting with me - though the broad wink she gave my camera might suggest otherwise. But she definitely had an image of herself - former models-turned-actors have that extra level self-possession that normal people never have enough practice to formulate - and it felt like she was seeing if I was able to catch it on the fly. It was a situation where her English and my French were probably never going to provide the common ground where we'd come to a mutual understanding. And whereas I often imagine that a little bit more time might have moved us toward that goal, I'm not sure if that would have been the case with this shoot.


Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Evan Rachel Wood

Evan Rachel Wood, Toronto, Sept. 11, 2007

IT WOULD BE AN UNDERSTATEMENT TO SAY THAT EVAN RACHEL WOOD was prepared to have her photo taken. At the film festival and elsewhere, most actresses will arrive for interviews and photo sessions with hair and makeup people on hand. Most of them seem to regard this as a somewhat regrettable necessity, and usually present themselves with a carefully put-together "natural" look.

Wood, on the other hand, had clearly thought about how she wanted to be seen, and had collaborated with whoever did her hair and makeup on a look that wouldn't have been out of place in the studio of a portrait photographer working for one of the big studios in the '30s and '40s. As someone who'd spent a lot of time studying the work of people like George Hurrell and Clarence Sinclair Bull, I was both surprised and grateful when she walked through the door of the room at the Intercontinental.

Evan Rachel Wood, Toronto, Sept. 11, 2007

I didn't, of course, have the benefit of a barrage of fresnels with barn doors providing spot and kick lighting. All I had was whatever big, soft light made its way into the room through a window - an uncommonly large one for the Intercontinental, looking at these shots - and a big black curtain that had somehow made its way into the room.

Just as she had put a lot of thought into her look, Wood also knew how to pose without much direction from me, and I was pretty pleased with the results even as I was shooting. But just as with Hollywood glamour photography, I've done a lot of careful retouching in Photoshop after the fact to give Wood's skin an even more flawless finish. The free daily's Canon EOS 30D only put out an 8.2 megapixel image uncompressed, and I was shooting compressed jpeg at ISO 800, but the resolution was still remarkable, and needed to be smoothed out to achieve the look that I'm sure Wood wanted to deliver that day.

Evan Rachel Wood, Toronto, Sept. 11, 2007

Monday, August 13, 2018

Hayley Atwell

Hayley Atwell, Toronto, Sept. 11, 2007

TOWARDS THE END OF EVERY FILM FESTIVAL you find yourself in ever more unfriendly spaces to take photos. The spacious hotel suites with convenient windows give way to the patios of busy restaurants of the corners of windowless boardrooms. I'm not sure just where in the Intercontinental on Bloor I shot these photos of Hayley Atwell, but it was definitely a room without a view.

The original colour jpegs from this shoot were a mess - a mix of two different light sources with clashing colour temperatures that must have made providing a serviceable image or two to the free daily a nightmare. Thankfully I can revisit this shoot in black and white today, which lets me paper over the colour issues by pretending I was shooting for a newspaper at least a decade previous to the actual date these photos were taken, when spot colour was expensive and even the front pages of a paper might have featured a black and white shot.

Hayley Atwell, Toronto, Sept. 11, 2007

I have posted portraits of Atwell here before - a session I did at the film festival a year after these were taken, when she was in town promoting a film of Brideshead Revisited with Matthew Goode. In 2007 she was still fairly unknown - a young British actress whose credits had mostly been on television, but who had made a splash with a role in Woody Allen's latest film earlier that year. Now, of course, she has had become part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and play's the wife of the grown-up title character in Disney's Christopher Robin this summer.

The room where I took these must have been particularly unpromising - besides the lighting issues, there wasn't a wall or corner worth considering as a backdrop, so I went very, very close for these portraits. Atwell - just twenty-five at the time - was obviously able to handle the scrutiny, and met my camera with confidence admirable in someone whose career was really only just beginning.


Friday, August 10, 2018

Paul Haggis

Paul Haggis, Toronto, Sept. 10, 2007

WHEN I SHOT THIS PORTRAIT OF PAUL HAGGIS, it was confounding to me that the man was a Scientologist. He was accomplished and successful, to be sure, but that was in Hollywood, in an industry where L. Ron Hubbard's cult has it's highest profile followers, recruited and sustained within the cult because of their fame and success. But he was also clearly intelligent, and that was baffling: How could anyone possessed with some clarity of insight remain in a cult whose core cosmology could be parodied effortlessly in an episode of South Park?

The Oscar-winning writer and director became, ultimately, one of the highest profile defectors from Scientology - two years after I took these pictures. This made him a target of the harassment that famous ex-Scientologists inevitably endure, and which reinforces the organization's status as a cult - for anyone on the outside of the cult, at least.

A 2011 New Yorker story about defectors from Scientology ends with the Canadian-born Haggis wondering, as much to himself as to the interviewer: "I was in a cult for thirty-four years. Everyone else could see it. I don't know why I couldn't." In the decade-plus since I took these photos, I've learned how perfectly intelligent people can hold contradictory, untenable beliefs that they'll cling to despite - in fact, often because of - their intelligence, or more precisely because of their perception of themselves as more intelligent than most people.

Paul Haggis, Toronto, Sept. 10, 2007

I know that my puzzlement at Haggis' position in a cult was on my mind when I took these photos, but I'm not sure how they affected my approach to him as a subject. I knew that, as a non-performer but a creative, it would be easier to get past any projection he might have of his public image; if there was one thing I'd learned in the previous two decades it was that photographing writers and directors was usually more rewarding for this reason.

I doubt if Haggis would remember this brief portrait session. I doubt if any of the people whose portraits I've taken in a minute or less in the middle of a press day in some hotel room have any memory of our meeting. But I asked him to hold the gaze of my camera lens precisely because I was hunting for some evidence of misgivings or doubt in his expression. And it's probably because of my bafflement at Haggis the Scientologist that I framed him askew in nearly every frame, and why I keep projecting some glimpse of that turmoil into these portraits. But that might just as well be my own self-flattery in action.


Thursday, August 9, 2018

Simon Pegg

Simon Pegg, Toronto, Sept. 10, 2007

COMEDIANS HAVE A STRANGE ENERGY. More than any other performer I've photographed - actors, musicians, you name it - comedians (in general - there are, of course, exceptions) have a compulsion to be "on" all the time, to project something at the camera that has the curious effect of revealing very little about themselves.

I can't help but see that happening in this shoot with Simon Pegg, done at the film festival when he was in town promoting his role in Run Fatboy Run. On one hand, shots like the one above, despite its technical shortcomings (sharp focus is overrated, to be honest), telegraph the most basic facts about the subject, or at least those fact that they want known before anything else. He fast; he's funny; he's too much for the camera to capture.

Simon Pegg, Toronto, Sept. 10, 2007

Nearly every comedian I've shot has this "come out with guns blazing" attitude for a photo shoot, and I can see why some photographers would be happy to work with it, to simply treat the session as a kind of wildlife photography. This isn't very satisfying to me, so I tried to wait Pegg out as he sat in front of me with the window in the suite at the Intercontinental behind me, providing a direct, unbounced north light.

The result was a stand-off; eventually he got tired of making faces, but when he relaxed (sort of) and simply faced my camera, it was hard to push past that hint of defiance in his eyes that seemed to say either "I will not show you what you want to see" or "I have no idea what you expect to see." This stand-off is where most shoots with comics ends for me, unless I have a little more time to wear them out and maybe even boss them around. It's also the reason why I always let out a little inward groan when I learn that I've been assigned to photograph a comedian.