Friday, January 15, 2016


Rachel McAdams, Toronto, June 7, 2004

IT'S OSCAR SEASON AGAIN, AND AS GOOD A TIME AS ANY to rummage through the archives for portraits of some of the nominees. It was obvious that Cate Blanchett was going to be among them, just as it was clear that Todd Haynes wouldn't - I think he still freaks the Academy out a bit. Like last year's lucky dip, it's mostly from this side of the analog wall - portraits shot on assignment for the free national daily while I worked there, mostly at the film festival.

These are classic three (more like two) minute hotel room shoots, shot either at the end of an interview I did with the subject (Miller) or after politely waiting for the writer to finish up, one eye on my watch and the other on the hair-trigger publicist eager to shoo us all out and get the next interview started. It's not a great way to get a photo, but it was all the only game in town near the end of my last sustained stint shooting celebrity portraiture.

George Miller, Toronto, Nov. 13, 2006

George Miller was in town promoting Happy Feet, his animated penguin film. It's easy to forget that the man behind Mad Max was also responsible for the Babe and Happy Feet films. This wasn't a studio shot, or even one done with a flash in an umbrella on a stand, but relied on some weird mix of practical and window light in the room where we did our interview - plus a bit of judicious burning in Photoshop.

One major retouching job involved his shirt. Miller was fond of sporting one of his own design - a black double-breasted number with a trio of chili peppers embroidered on the front. I'm sure it must have had some significance for him, but it was distracting as hell in every shot so I've had the capiscum "disappeared" here.

Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu, Toronto, Sept. 9, 2006

Alejandro Iñárritu was in my Oscar post last year, and reappears again this year with a nomination for The Revenant, his "Leo DiCaprio versus Yogi Bear" film. Once again, a very fast shoot done in one of the rooms in a festival suite, just next to a room filled with ringing phones and busy publicists.

It was one of the first shoots where I realized how forgiving the new digital SLRs could be - in this case the paper's Canon EOS Rebel, a consumer-quality camera that still had a remarkable tolerance for low light conditions that might have meant grainy prints and a lack of shadow detail when I was still shooting with film. The next challenge, I knew, was not to start relying on the camera to fix my mistakes.

Mark Ruffalo, Toronto, Sept. 13, 2007

Mark Ruffalo also makes a return appearance in this year's Oscars post, nominated for his role in The Spotlight. I was lucky to have some very nice - but very faint - light for this shoot, and going back to the files I discover that I shot quite a few frames to make sure that at least a few of them were sharp. A year later, I guess I'd learned that there were still things that a digital camera couldn't fix.

Last year's Ruffalo shot was smiley; this year I went for something more somber, with a mood boost provided by going grayscale. It looks like this is the year that I finally part with what's left of my darkroom - my enlargers and trays, reels, tanks and easels. I can't say that I'll miss them, considering how much easier it's been to get results from my raw shots these days. Just turning a colour negative into a black and white print would have once involved special paper or internegatives, and I can't say that I miss any of it.

Rachel McAdams, Toronto, June 7, 2004

Finally, my Rachel McAdams shoot from 2004 sees the light of day again thanks to her best supporting actress nomination, also for The Spotlight. Another hotel room, a lovely spot of light, a "Penn corner" and a subject willing to do more than just stare at the lens - what could be better?

McAdams was in town promoting either Mean Girls or The Notebook, and must have been in a good mood, based on my shots. Backing someone into the corner of a hotel room isn't a bad way of making them interact with you, whether you have a camera or not, and I'd do it whenever I could if the light favored any corner of a room at the old Four Seasons.

Whoever did her makeup that day had a heavy hand with the eyeliner, but I'm grateful - it makes a face more graphic, and helped the shot at the top, once transformed to black and white, take on a nice retro feel. It was a good shoot; if I'd even bothered having a portfolio at this point it definitely would have ended up in there.


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