Friday, September 19, 2014

Sondra

Sondra Locke, Toronto, May 1990

MY WIFE POINTED OUT TO ME that this blog has been, so far, a bit of a boys' club, and she's right. In an effort to address the imbalance in the gender of my subjects, I'm digging back deep into my work with NOW magazine to a shoot I did with the actress Sondra Locke in 1990, when she was in town promoting Impulse, her second feature as a director.

Locke had been, for more than a decade, the companion and muse of Clint Eastwood - a box office giant in 1990 but not quite the industry titan he would become. When I shot her, however, she was going through the Tarawa of break-ups with Eastwood, which went nuclear when he changed the locks on their home and put her things in storage while she was away shooting her film.

I was only vaguely aware of this when I showed up at the old Four Seasons on Avenue to do this shoot. I did know, however, that Locke was a subject worth taking some trouble over, so I brought along lighting - a strobe and umbrella that I positioned just off to the side of the shot at the top, so as to bring down the overcast spring sky to a more somber gray. At the time it was a minor technical triumph that I managed to pull this shot off without getting a big fat reflection from the light in the big hotel window.

Sondra Locke, Toronto, May 1990

Locke was tiny, with translucent skin and what my youngest daughter calls "manga eyes." Born in the south, she made every male around her default to a courtly version of themselves, keeping their voice down, their manners in check, and their eagerness to see that she was comfortable at the foremost.

This might have been because she was battling cancer at the time, undergoing chemo and a double mastectomy that year. She had also undergone two abortions and a sterilization while with Eastwood, who apparently insisted that kids weren't an option for them.

(He'd had three children with the woman he was married to before Locke, two with a woman he had an affair with while still with Locke, and would have two more later in the '90s. I have been a fan of the Man with No Name for a long time, but this news tips Eastwood sharply into contemptible shit territory.)

Sondra Locke, Toronto, May 1990

I can't say that my portraits of Locke are groundbreaking, but it had only been five years since I bought my first camera and I had only begun shooting for NOW the previous year; I felt I had a lot to prove, and the Locke portraits - two rolls of Ilford HP5 Plus shot through my Nikon F3 - were a way of proving that I could wring as much as possible from a hotel room shoot.

I was clearly more concerned with the technical than the end result as I let Locke retain the same basic expression for most of the shoot; it would be a while before I felt relaxed enough with the gear and the film to start demanding more of my subjects. 1990 was a busy year, in any case - just the first ten months of the year fill up a whole negative binder in my files.

(These shots were never printed again after I handed in this assignment. I might have considered them as a portfolio possibility, but Locke's acting career was effectively over by the time I shot these, and when showing work to bored and distracted art directors and photo editors, it doesn't help to make them wonder for a moment who they're looking at.)

Locke's bitter break-up with Eastwood would drag on for several more years, leading to two major lawsuits that ended in out-of-court settlements in Locke's favour. Locke would direct two more films in the next decade and return to acting briefly in 1999 for two films. It was recently announced that she would be an executive producer on an Eli Roth film starring Keanu Reaves.

I ran into Locke at the airport the next day, when I was on my way to New York to visit my then-girlfriend. Going through security, she seemed even smaller; I offered to carry her luggage through customs.

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