Tuesday, November 4, 2014


David Cronenberg, Toronto, May 1990

THIS PHOTO IS FROM THE FIRST SHOOT I did with David Cronenberg, back in 1990 when the onetime director of cheapie horror flicks like Rabid and The Brood had graduated to big budget sci-fi creep-outs like The Fly and from there to disturbing art house hits like Dead Ringers. He was between pictures, so Country Estate magazine had loaned him a Corvette convertible to drive around and write about, and assigned me to take the pictures for the story.

Until last week, I was sure this shoot had been lost - never returned to me and tossed in a dumpster when Country Estate went under along with half of my clients during the recession at the turn of the '90s. I found it again, tucked in an envelope in a box full of other missing shoots, and for a moment I was overcome with pure elation - until I remembered all the other negs and slides I've been hunting for all summer. Well, at least I know where they aren't.

It looks very period to me; there's the car, of course, and Cronenberg's glasses and blousey leather jacket, but also the quality of the light - especially the warming filter (an 81A, I'm sure) that made its way into every photographer's kit and was considered essential to getting an appropriately burnished, luxurious tone. Nothing original, really, but I'm sure at this stage in my career I was happy to produce something that at least met the industry standard.

Shooting David Cronenberg and C4 Corvette, May 1990.

Here's a rare shot of me working, taken by whoever assisted me that day. I thought it was Chris Buck, but he says he doesn't remember a Cronenberg shoot; I couldn't afford paid assistants back then, so it was probably another photographer friend - possibly Michael Ventruscolo. (More about him later.) In any case, Chris would get his chance to shoot Cronenberg a few years later.

Not that there was a lot to assist with, as you can see: the 'Vette is parked on the beach at Sunnyside, near my Parkdale studio, and I'm shooting with my Bronica SQa with a rented wide angle lens, using a Metz potato masher and a Speedotron battery pack to bring down the background just enough to make the low clouds behind Cronenberg more ominous.

All my assistant had to do was load my film backs and hand them to me. (And take this photo, of course. Thanks again, man - whoever you were.)

David Cronenberg at Naked Lunch press conference, Toronto 1991

I photographed Cronenberg again a year later, on assignment for NOW magazine. He was directing his adaptation of Naked Lunch, and the producers had arranged a press conference on the set with Cronenberg, star Peter Weller and William S. Burroughs, writer of the original book and the principal quarry of my assignment. (More on him later.)

The main sets were on the grounds of the derelict Canadian General Electric factory just south of where I live today. Still unsure if I was getting any time with Burroughs, I shot a couple of rolls of the press conference, and came away with the shot above.

When I started this blog, I made a vow to myself that I'd never include photos from press conferences. I've shot a few, to be sure, but like so much live concert photography, there's almost nothing you'll get at one that a hundred other idiots with a decent lens won't get. I've made an exception here, and probably will again, but I don't think my prejudices are incorrect.

It's an alright photo, but only that. It's a copy print made for publication - probably for Edna Suarez at the Village Voice, who ordered reprints from the shoot according to the big ledger. I sure as hell liked my dense blacks in the darkroom back in the early '90s.

David Cronenberg, Toronto Sept. 9, 2005

It would be almost another decade and a half before I photographed Cronenberg again, on the other side of the analog wall. This was shot for the free national daily on the paper's own Canon EOS Rebel DSLR, with my own faithful standby 35mm/f2 lens, fully open. The metadata helpfully records that it was likely taken on the first day of the Toronto International Film Festival, where Cronenberg was screening his latest film, A History of Violence.

I had long since pared down my working kit to a single camera and a few lenses, but the advent of digital made it possible to wring more out of a decently-exposed image than I'd ever managed before. Excavating my film archives has given me a new appreciation for film photography, but even on a day when my old negatives have offered up some pleasant surprises, I'd still find it hard to deny that digital shots can be worked up to a satisfying result so much more simply.

This was shot in colour, of course, but I made this black and white version for a show that was hung a couple of years later on the walls of the Avenue restaurant in the old Four Seasons hotel. It's Cronenberg as Karloff - a very deliberate nod to the James Whale Universal horror films of the early '30s, and while neither subtle nor even particularly relevant to the director Cronenberg has become, I can't say that I care; I'm still very pleased with this portrait.

David Cronenberg, Toronto Sept. 9, 2007

I'd photograph Cronenberg again exactly two years later. The free national daily had upgraded the newsroom camera to a Canon 30D, but I was still using my beloved 35mm lens. It was the film festival again, and this time Cronenberg was there promoting Eastern Promises; he is, by this point, a very different director from the one who made Scanners, or even the one who sat on the beach between my camera and a Corvette.

As with the previous portrait, it's a testament to how squarely Cronenberg is willing to address the camera; there's nothing opaque about the expression in his eyes. (Please click on the image to see it full size.) I wasn't trying to make him look like a horror movie icon this time; I'd ticked that box two years before, and this time I just wanted to get a portrait of a man who makes uncomfortable films about uneasy minds and people on the far side of bad decisions.

Cronenberg is having a busy year; he has a new film out, and a novel. I doubt if I'll either see the former or read the latter. I've spent a long time with David Cronenberg and his work, and I know by now that it doesn't put my poor old mind in any kind of happy place.


No comments:

Post a Comment