Friday, August 28, 2015


Tilda Swinton, Toronto, Sept. 1992

WHILE WATCHING TRAINWRECK THE OTHER DAY I found myself laughing hardest at one particular performance. Tilda Swinton, her hair brittle with bleaching and covered with liquid tanner, played the appallingly cynical British editor of an American men's magazine by channeling Russell Brand. It occurred to me that I've photographed Swinton a couple of times, over a decade apart and on either side of the analog wall, and it would be as good an excuse as any to dig out those photos.

The first time was during the film festival, when Swinton, known mostly for her work in Derek Jarman's films, was here to talk about her title role in Orlando, Sally Potter's adaptation of the Virginia Woolf novel. There was no small amount of buzz around Swinton, and I'd asked a publicist who I got along with to try to get me a few minutes with her despite not having a particular assignment to shoot her. (You could do that sort of thing back then.)

Tilda Swinton, Toronto, Sept. 1992

It was the same festival where I'd shoot Steve Buscemi and John Turturro, in the public rooms and hallways of the (now closed) Sutton Place hotel. The kind publicist called me over in the press room and told me she'd arranged a few minutes with Swinton, adding breathlessly, "You won't believe it - and I don't normally say stuff like this. But she's gorgeous."

Swinton was, indeed, striking - tall and thin, with long red hair and pale skin, dressed in a black shirt and wide-legged, flowing trousers that gathered and tied at the front. As I've written before, it was less a sexually arresting kind of beauty than a kind of aesthetic perfection - she was a beautiful sort of thing, less androgynous than alien. I took out my Rolleiflex and found a spot in front of the huge tapestries where I'd shot Sam Rivers a few years previous. The shot at the top of this post found a permanent place in my portfolio.

Tilda Swinton, NYC, Oct. 2005

I'd photograph Swinton again over thirteen years later, in New York City, where I was doing a press junket for the first of Walden Media's Narnia films. Swinton played Jadis, the White Witch, and somehow I ended up getting a few minutes to photograph her - a rarity at these sort of international movie junkets, which were based mostly around processing large groups of journalists through strictly scheduled round table interviews.

I'm amazed it happened at all. During my own round table interview where Swinton shared interview time with young Skandar Keynes, I had asked Keynes how he'd been prepared to play Edmund, a role that, in the C.S. Lewis novels, is meant to stand in for mankind, spared Jadis' wrath by the sacrifice of Aslan. I didn't think even mentioning Lewis' obvious Christian allegory would be a problem, but Swinton - a member of the British Communist Party at one point, and later the Scottish Socialist Party - took obvious offense and became very protective of Keynes, and even went so far as to speak for him, insisting that this wasn't important.

I photographed Swinton with the newspaper's Canon digital SLR in a big banquet room at the junket hotel, in front of a black curtain that happened to be set up in the middle of the room. I like to imagine you can see some of her wariness of me - inspired, no doubt, by our brief clash earlier during the interview - but frankly it's echoed in some of the photos I took over a decade earlier, and might just be how Swinton regards portrait cameras in general.

It's a far less flattering set of photos than my earlier shoot. This might be a combination of many factors - my less overawed regard for Swinton and celebrities in general after twenty years in the business, the rather harder, more clinical quality of digital imagery as a medium, an evolving artlessness in my own style, or simply the reality of aging; none of us maintain our youthful freshness for very long, and to Swinton's credit, she'd never bothered trying.

AN APPEAL: This blog is celebrating its first anniversary, and hard use has taken its toll on my old HP scanner, which now only produces clear scans on a narrow strip on the right margin of its glass. I'm on the market for a new scanner, but the only comparable replacement costs several hundred dollars beyond my budget, so I'm asking anyone who's enjoyed what I've been doing here - and wants to see more - if they can chip in and help. There's a PayPal button up near the top, and anything would be appreciated. Also, if you feel moved, please click on my links - a small percentage of anything you buy helps fund this blog. Thank you so much in advance.


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