Monday, February 16, 2015


Helena Bonham Carter, Toronto, 1996

THE BREAK-UP OF TIM BURTON AND HELENA BONHAM CARTER late last year prompted the sort of expressions of shock and dismay that should normally be confined to close friends and family. Despite having an unorthodox living arrangement that required separate (but linked) households, they were regarded as having the perfect relationship. (Which says a lot about how we look at marriage today.) Worst of all, it was said, Burton seemed to be breaking up with his muse - though frankly, I've always thought Johnny Depp filled that role more than Bonham Carter.

I photographed her nearly twenty years ago, when she was in Toronto promoting a movie adaptation of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. The client was NOW magazine, and as far as I can tell the shoot took place wholly within the confines of a wingback chair at either the Four Seasons or Park Plaza hotels, across from each other in Yorkville.

Helena Bonham Carter, Toronto, 1996

I first saw Helena Bonham Carter in real life several years earlier, in the lobby of the Sutton Place during the film festival. She was already known as an eccentric, and suddenly appeared in the middle of the thronging lobby in a pair of overalls with one leg rolled up, a pair of mismatched socks and Converse high tops. Oblivious to the stares of the crowd around her, she scanned the corridors looking for someone, apparently in vain.

Doing celebrity portrait work, and especially with actors, you often find yourself in an unusual situation. I have, several times, found myself in a hotel room with someone who I have seen, on film, without any clothes on. A few years before I photographed Bonham Carter, I'd seen her in Getting It Right playing an aristocratic young woman who, for reasons I can't recall, strips off and climbs on top of a car. She would, of course, be in the altogether again just a year after I did this shoot, in The Wings of The Dove. (Her penchant for eccentricity and nudity hasn't abated with time: Here are some recent photos of her posing naked with a tuna.)

It always seemed to me that this always shifted the balance of power during a photo shoot ever so slightly in the photographer's favour. I'm not sure how to address this, or whether it's even worth trying to address. I do know that, chronic exhibitionist that he is, my good friend Chris would probably be happy to keep things even by trading nude photos. I don't think I'd ever go that far myself.

Helena Bonham Carter, Toronto, 1996

I positioned my Rolleiflex between a hotel window and a big armchair, where the light would drop off drastically deeper into the room. A tiny woman, Bonham Carter had a lot of room to move in the big chair, and responded to my minimal direction enthusiastically, filling two rolls with a fantastic choice of shots. She was, to be sure, very present.

Here's the thing: These three frames are only taken from one of them, and there are even better ones on the other roll. I have contact sheets of both, but for some reason the negative sheet for the better roll has gone missing, and hasn't turned up despite some frantic searching. One more victim of my sloppy filing in the last years of analog photography.


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