Monday, April 30, 2018

Gael Garcia Bernal

Gael Garcia Bernal, Toronto, Sept. 2004

I WISH I HAD MORE TIME TO TAKE MY PORTRAITS. I did, briefly - for a few years working for NOW magazine I had the luxury of getting subjects to come to my studio. After snatching shots in a few spare minutes in clubs and hotel rooms when I was starting out, I suppose it was arrogance that made me assume that this was a natural evolution of my career - a dividend from paying my dues. I had no idea that it was just circumstance, and that this privilege would be taken away just when I was given regular access to bigger names than I had ever had before.

Envy isn't a healthy emotion, but I can't help but feel a twinge of it when I look at my friend Chris at work, with time to plan and pre-visualize a portrait. He has, to be certain, earned this privilege. And if I'm honest I sometimes wonder just what I'd do if I was given the opportunity to think about light and props and wardrobe ahead of a shoot with a subject with either the openness or obligation to play along. The vast majority of my thirty-plus years of work has been about snatching moments and focusing on one simple, single portrait - like these shots of Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal taken at the 2004 film festival.

Gael Garcia Bernal, Toronto, Sept. 2004

I don't know if Bernal was at the festival for The Motorcycle Diaries or Bad Education - it might have been both - but two years after Y Tu Mama Tambien he was on his way to what became a major career. He was definitely dressing the part of the guerrilla revolutionary on the day I photographed him.

What I do know is that I shot precisely 21 frames of Bernal in that hotel room, beginning at 9:48am on Tuesday, September 14, 2004 and ending at 9:49am. Would I have preferred to photograph him in a hussar's uniform, or sitting at the bottom of a drained swimming pool? Well, yes, but that clearly wasn't an option, and hasn't been for most of the time I've had celebrities in front of my camera, so I've learned to find a spot of light and walk right into a subject's personal space with a short lens (a 50mm in this case) and hope that their entirely reasonable defensive reaction feels like intimacy.

After thirty years of scavenging portraits from fleeting encounters, I wonder whether I'd even know what to do if I was given time and opportunity. I do know that I'd still love to try.

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