Friday, November 17, 2017

John Boorman

John Boorman, Toronto, Sept. 1998

AS I'VE SAID BEFORE, SHOOTING MOVIE DIRECTORS is often more interesting than shooting actors. Actors make a living being seen and photographed, which should make them more relaxed in front of a camera, but that usually isn't the case. I've found that most actors have an uneasy relationship with photographers and their cameras, especially when shoots only last a few minutes and preclude any possibility of collaborating or controlling the outcome.

Directors, on the other hand, are usually more than aware of how cameras work, and how much control you are actually giving up by consenting to be photographed. Perhaps it's because they're usually on the controlling end that they seem more relaxed in portrait sessions; I sometimes imagine that they're thinking that turnabout is fair play, after all, and that something unexpected might come out of it all.

John Boorman, Toronto, Sept. 1998

I couldn't tell you if any of these thoughts were in John Boorman's mind when I took his photo at the film festival, where he was promoting The General, a film about a real-life Dublin gangster who met a sticky end when he double-crossed the IRA. The most I remember about this shoot nearly twenty years later is that I used the back of a box spring as a backdrop in the hotel room where I shot.

Boorman was a bit of a legend, at least to me, when I did his portrait. His films were a puzzling and fascinating mixture of genres, and his career was the polar opposite of a journeyman director. From the bleak, sun-drenched noir of Point Blank to the nightmarish Deliverance to the utter batshit strangeness of Zardoz, he was a director who seemed intent on typecasting himself. He was obviously drawn to edgy and difficult stories, but his most autobiographical film - Hope and Glory - manages to be warm without excessive sentimentality, even though it's about his own childhood.

John Boorman, Toronto, Sept. 1998

I didn't do much to push him - I was frankly a little in awe - but two decades on my favorite shot is the one in the middle, which I probably wouldn't have printed for the paper in anticipation that they'd never have run it. It's one of those "between" moments that I'd come to cherish more with time, a brief glimpse of a subject less intent on the camera.

Sometimes these moments can be revealing, or present someone with an intriguing awkwardness (my friend Chris Buck has made a career out of trying to elicit these moments) but when you're looking for them, it's often difficult to stay on the right side of the line between interesting and banal.

Eight years later, I'd end up shooting Boorman's son Charley for the free national daily. His father had cast him as the lead in The Emerald Forest, but Charley had begun pursing a career as an adventure filmmaker, with documentaries about epic journeys and harrowing endurance races on motorcycles.

Charley Boorman, Toronto, Dec. 2006

I'm not sure, but I think Charley Boorman was in Toronto to promote his latest adventure with his bike pal Ewan McGregor, or a TV series documenting the Paris-Dakar race he'd done earlier that year. I like to think that I caught a bit of his daredevil image in my very brief hotel room shoot with him. I'm pretty sure I would have mentioned my shoot with his father several years earlier, but his reaction - likely polite, probably nothing he hadn't heard before - is lost to my memory.

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