Friday, April 20, 2018

Selma Blair

Selma Blair, Toronto, Sept. 2004

MY BUSY DAY AT THE FILM FESTIVAL ENDED ON A POSITIVE NOTE when Chris and I interviewed Selma Blair, back in the dim rooms at the Intercontinental on Bloor. She was at the festival to promote A Dirty Shame, John Waters' latest - at this writing also his last - movie, after a summer where her profile had been boosted considerable with the release of the first Hellboy film.

It was her - and our - last interview of the day, and she asked if I could take the pictures first. The suite at the hotel had been stripped of most of its furniture, with the exception of a couple of Biedermeir style chairs and a love seat. It was mid-afternoon and there was just enough light in the room for something more than just a head shot.

Selma Blair, Toronto, Sept. 2004

Blair was dressed and made up for a day of photo shoots, with a makeup artist in attendance. (Actresses of a certain age and expectation of glamour usually have makeup artists on press days; actors never do. I think some of the actors might have appreciated having one.) The challenge when presented with a subject done up just so is not to treat them like a model.

Unfortunately not a lot of photographers - or art directors or photo editors - can resist this temptation, and any Google image search of a movie star will turn up selections from these expensively produced spreads, which inevitably look like they're shot in the same industrial loft or boutique hotel. In many cases you can barely recognize the star in question, which defeats the whole purpose of a portrait. At least that's the way I see it.

Selma Blair, Toronto, Sept. 2004

The walls at the Intercontinental were painted with a warm middle gray, a hue that made every room like a little photo studio - if you could find the sweet spot of light. It was easy to find that afternoon, so I placed one of the chairs a few feet from the window and told Blair to perch on the edge of the seat. It was about as much direction as I think I've given anyone.

I imagined that my portraits of Blair might actually turn out elegant - it's a hope I harbour for almost any shoot - though I can't imagine I actually used the word, but she understood what I was aiming for and obliged. The only flaw in the shots that I could see was an electrical outlet on the wall; I had only been shooting with a digital camera since January, so I wasn't used to the idea that a few minutes in Photoshop would erase it forever.

The shoot over, Blair kicked off her heels and stretched out on the love seat for the interview. I remember that she was sharp and funny and irreverent and clearly happy that the press day was almost over. In the last year Blair and Rachel McAdams - both of whom I photographed in 2004 - have accused notorious sleazeball James Toback of sexual harassment, as the #MeToo movement reached its crescendo. Looking back at all the years I worked on the furthest fringe of Hollywood and celebrity, even there it was assumed that this sort of thing was happening, a dirty secret nobody ever talked about.

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