Wednesday, February 18, 2015


Tim Burton, Toronto, Sept. 11, 2005

VERY LITTLE THAT I'VE DONE IMPRESSES MY DAUGHTERS. There are, however, a handful of portrait subjects that they had a hard time believing I photographed. Thanks to the Harry Potter films, two of them were Alan Rickman and Helena Bonham Carter. The other was Bonham Carter's now-ex-partner, director Tim Burton, who colonized a large part of the imagination of my goth-in-waiting younger daughter, somewhere to the south of the much larger one occupied by Hayao Miyazaki.

I photographed Burton nearly a decade ago for the free national daily, when he was in town promoting The Corpse Bride at the film festival. For me, he was forever the man who endeared himself to me with Pee-Wee's Big Adventure and then squandered all that goodwill with the execrable Batman films. But I didn't tell him that.

Tim Burton, Toronto, Sept. 11, 2005

I had been shooting in hotel rooms for almost two decades by the time I met Burton, so I knew that there was a certain kind of light, combined with just the right bright, plain wall, that would give me something like a high key studio lighting effect with just ambient room light. (Aided by a judicious bit of dodging and burning, about an hour's worth of work in the darkroom, a matter of seconds in Photoshop.)

I knew the light was a gift as soon as I saw it in what I assume was a room at the old Four Seasons in Yorkville, which was nice because Burton himself, taciturn and glum, obviously wasn't going to give me anything. Not that it bothered me; with just a few minutes to work, the way a subject presents themselves to me is one of the scant clues they give me to how they want the world to see them.

Bonham Carter, photographed a decade previous, performed for me and my camera like the overwrought Victorian she often channeled in her work. Burton planted himself in the indicated spot and responded to my minimal directions, minimally.

Tim Burton, Toronto, Sept. 11, 2005

The images here look very different from whatever I handed into the free daily. The image at the top has been given much more selective focus than the original jpeg, while the colour in the middle shot has been pulled back so that it reminds me of a Chuck Close portrait. (Click on the image and you'll see what I mean.)

The portrait at the bottom, one of the few where Burton actually showed movement and emotion, has been enhanced with some motion blur in Photoshop. Look at the man - it's like he's going to leap out of the frame at you.


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