Friday, April 22, 2016

Mary Harron

Mary Harron, Toronto, May, 1996

IT TOOK A WHILE FOR THE NOVELTY OF HOTEL ROOMS TO WEAR OFF ON ME. The fact is that I only ever stayed in a hotel once in my life before I took my first portrait in one, and I probably shot more in hotel rooms than almost anywhere else including my own beloved studio. At first I tried to disguise them by looking for a white wall or a neutral corner, but by the end of my first decade as a professional photographer I stopped trying, and began to feature their odd proportions and conspicuously anonymous decor.

I shot the director Mary Harron when she was promoting her first feature, I Shot Andy Warhol, starring Lili Taylor as Valerie Solanas, the woman who nearly killed Warhol in 1968. I'm pretty certain the hotel room is in the old Four Seasons on Avenue Road, which has since closed and is being gutted to become condos. Of all of Toronto's hotels, this is the one I shot in most of all as it was central and a favorite of the movie studios.

Mary Harron, Toronto, May, 1996

Harron might have been a neophyte director but her name wasn't unknown in Canada; her father was the actor Don Harron, best known on both sides of the border for Charlie Farquharson, the malaprop-spouting bumpkin he created for the CBC in the '50s and played on Hee Haw for almost two decades. Harron herself had barely lived in Canada; the daughter of Don Harron's first marriage, she'd lived in Los Angeles, New York and the UK, helping start Punk magazine before working as a music and drama critic, then moving back to the U.S. to produce documentaries for PBS.

She certainly showed up for her Toronto press day dressed in high Warhol Factory style, with her boots, black leather trousers and Mo Tucker haircut. I can't remember how the film had been received elsewhere, but local coverage of I Shot Andy Warhol predictably ran along the lines of "Can you believe this weird film Charlie Farquharson's daughter's made?" Perhaps this is why she seemed a bit aloof when I showed up with my Rolleiflex and tripod.

Mary Harron, Toronto, May, 1996

I was reminded of my shoot with Harron when I was scanning my portraits of producer Edward Pressman. He's been a loyal supporter of Harron, producing American Psycho, her follow-up to the Warhol film, as well as her last film, The Moth Diaries. Harron is clearly a director drawn to provocative stories and difficult subjects, which means that her ability to get features made has decreased with the increasing dominance of the tent pole blockbuster and the migration of edgy movie-making to cable TV. (She's also directed episodes of Oz, Six Feet Under, The L Word and Big Love.)

I wouldn't have known any of this about Harron when I asked her to sit in a boxy hotel armchair twenty years ago. I just intuited that my subject seemed a bit defensive and uneasy, so I placed her in the centre of my frame, an apprehensive figure in a room designed to accommodate no individual or reflect anyone's personal taste. At nearly the halfway point of my career I'd begun embracing the rigid limitations of hotel rooms, but it would be a while before I'd finally overcome their novelty.


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