Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Peter Medak

Peter Medak, Toronto, Feb. 1994

LEARNING TO IMPROVISE WAS ALWAYS THE HARDEST PART OF SHOOTING PORTRAITS. I would show up for so many shoots with some sort of idea in my head - either something I wanted to try or a concept inspired by my subject's reputation - but I'd know in less than a minute whether I'd be able to give it a shot. Most of the time the answer would be "no."

I arrived to shoot Peter Medak without any idea in my head. I knew his work mostly because of The Ruling Class, his 1972 black comedy starring Peter O'Toole, which had been re-struck and re-released into the art house circuit several years earlier, and which I'd seen mostly because I was such a huge fan of the star. I knew he was born in Hungary, but I didn't know whether I'd be dealing with a mitteleuropean artist or an English director (it turned out to be more the latter.)

Peter Medak, Toronto, Feb. 1994

I decided to make the hotel room setting a feature, and even shoot a few frames of him eating his room service lunch as I set up. (He wasn't nearly as put out by my camera as he looks in this shot; he was, in fact, quite cooperative.) I don't think I would have done anything with this shot at the time - too afraid of presenting my editors with something a bit too offbeat. Today I'd have gone for this shot straight away, but then I no longer suffer from the illusion that I have anything to lose.

Medak was in town promoting Romeo Is Bleeding, a "neo-noir crime thriller" (as described by Wikipedia) starring Lena Olin and Gary Oldman. He'd had a very busy career since The Ruling Class, directing films as different as The Changeling and Zorro The Gay Blade before returning to a thriving British film industry to make The Krays and Let Him Have It. Like a lot of art house and indie directors from this period, he's worked more on TV lately, directing episodes of The Wire, House, Breaking Bad and Hannibal.

Peter Medak, Toronto, Feb. 1994

He was interested in what I was doing as I set up, and noticed my little case of Rolleiflex cameras. He mentioned that he had a photographer mate back in London who used them quite a bit.

"He owns a whole bunch of Rolleis. Maybe you've heard of him. David Bailey?"

Of course I'd heard of David Bailey. Frankly, I was thrilled to hear that a big deal photographer was still using the Rollei; in Toronto at the time it was something of an eccentricity, so thoroughly did Nikon and Hasselblad dominate the business. In retrospect I had a lot of Bailey photos rattling around in my head without knowing it; only now do I recognize how often I was referencing (or just stealing) something he did in my work. I've always regarded this shoot as a little brush with photo greatness - my two degrees of separation.

No comments:

Post a Comment