Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Zhang Ziyi

Zhang Ziyi, Toronto, Sept. 2004

BY 2004 HOTEL ROOM PORTRAIT SHOOTING WAS A RUSHED AFFAIR. When I began photographing directors and actors for NOW magazine over a decade earlier, interview times could be as long as twenty minutes or more, and a sympathetic writer would give you as much as half of that to get your shot. Many photographers brought lighting that they'd set up during the interview; I used a pair of Rolleiflex cameras and a tripod, and most of the time I'd get to reload both cameras after finishing off the dozen frames on the rolls I'd loaded. It seems like a long time ago.

Returning to the film festival in 2004, I discovered that interview slots were fifteen minutes on paper, though that would get cut down to ten minutes or less if the talent was behind schedule, if a bigger media outlet came after you and demanded more time, or if the publicist was simply impatient. My shoot with Zhang Ziyi started precisely fifteen minutes after I'd photographed the director of her latest film, Zhang Yimou, and lasted for just one minute and a dozen frames on the free daily's digital Canon. I can recall all of this with authority thanks to the Exif files embedded in my camera files.

Without needing to consult the camera files, I can tell you that I wasn't able to find the same sweet spot of light that was in the adjacent hotel room where I'd photographed Zhang Yimou. I wish I had - my subject was certainly lovely enough and in the right light I might have been inspired to try something more than just frame her face tightly.

Zhang Ziyi, Toronto, Sept. 2004

But this is all just an excuse. Even in the Hotel Intercontinental's dim, cramped rooms it was possible to find a bit of light that was flattering if not exactly bright. It's possible that I was feeling pressure to just get it over with and start shooting without moving my subject from the spot where she'd just finished her interview with Chris, the writer for the paper. But I have to admit that I didn't have much motivation; the risk of being known as particular or difficult was to avoided in the frenzy of film festival press schedules, and ultimately I knew that a clear, sharp, simple head shot was all the paper needed for its tight layouts, and that whatever I was shooting probably wouldn't run much larger than a single column.

As for my subject, Zhang Ziyi was at the start of a career that's seen her hopscotch back and forth across the Pacific, working with some of the biggest directors and stars in Asia - John Woo,Wong Kar-Wai, Seijun Suzuki, Ken Watanabe, Michelle Yeoh and Tony Leung - while taking leading roles in Hollywood films like The Horseman and Memoirs of a Geisha. She recently appeared in The Cloverfield Paradox and is featured in the upcoming Godzilla: King of the Monsters.

She's probably one of the public faces of an international cinema market that came into being after the late '90s renaissance of Chinese film developed an audience here, and Hollywood began looking to focus on its markets in Asia as primary ones, key to their ultimate box office numbers and not just a dividend to be collected later. As such, I wish I'd tried a bit harder to get a better portrait of her, but I obviously couldn't summon either the foresight or audacity.

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