Thursday, May 31, 2018

Felicity Huffman

Felicity Huffman, Toronto, Sept. 16, 2005

THE 2005 FILM FESTIVAL ENDED WITH A GUARDED SENSE OF ACCOMPLISHMENT. After around twenty portrait shoots in about a week, I allowed myself to feel a little pride in returning to the sort of work that once defined what I did as a professional photographer, though I doubt if I would have considered using any of it to solicit work outside of the free daily.

My last shoot, as far as I can tell, was with Felicity Huffman, who was in town promoting Transamerica, a film where she starred as a man about to undergo his final transitional surgery into a woman. Considering what fills the headlines today, it seems like a film well ahead of its time, though I doubt if Huffman - a biological woman - could  have been cast in the lead now without attracting protests.

Felicity Huffman, Toronto, Sept. 16, 2005

Huffman had a great reputation as a serious actress, with the added cachet of starring in a sensationally successful TV series. (I will admit to having binge watched the first season of Desperate Housewives on DVD with my wife, before binge watching was a thing.) Along with her husband, William H. Macy, she's part of the sort of thespian power couple rarely seen since Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne or Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh.

The photos were taken around noon, and I'm guessing it was in one of the rooms at the back of the Intercontinental on Bloor that don't get a lot of light. I posed Huffman close to the window, where the light is just bright enough to work before it drops off into shadow. I gave her my usual minimal direction and got up close (the 50mm lens on the paper's Canon Rebel digital camera,) assuming that an actor like Huffman would respond with a brief performance, which she did.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Greg Kinnear

Greg Kinnear, Toronto, Sept. 15, 2005

THE ONE THING I'VE LEARNED ABOUT PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHY in over thirty years of doing it is that it has nothing to do with cameras and everything to do with people. Which makes it sound like a good portrait is the product of a revelatory experience where the photographer acts like a psychiatrist, or that a good portrait photographer is someone with a real passion for people and the ability to make any portrait session an emotionally amelioratory experience.

Neither of these things are true.

These portraits of actor Greg Kinnear were shot at the end of the film festival, when I had been at work for a week, shooting several times a day. I was feeling a bit punchy and loose, and desperate to try something more than the quiet, efficiently supplicant approach to my subjects in the minute or two I had with them, just to see what would happen. I arrived at the suite where I photographed Greg Kinnear with Chris, the writer from the free daily, feeling a bit loquacious and expansive; I wanted to see what would happen if I brought a brash personality to the room.

Greg Kinnear, Toronto, Sept. 15, 2005

I cracked jokes and acted like I'd just walked into the kitchen at a party and I could tell that I was putting my subject's back up a bit. Between frames, Kinnear would shoot looks at the only other person in the room with us - his agent, his publicist, a handler from the festival? I didn't know - that signaled something along the lines of "Can you believe this fucking guy?"

But here's the thing - Kinnear was a conventionally good-looking man, and he'd built his screen persona on that very normal, regular charm, exploiting or playing against it in films like Auto Focus. I knew I could get a portrait of him looking conventionally handsome - very much like the shot at the top - but I wanted to see how much more I could get, and seeing his reaction to my boisterous manner made me want to push things even more.

Because here's the secret about portrait photography, especially when you only have a minute or two with subjects who are used to having their photo taken: Do anything you can to get a reaction. It can be a good reaction or a bad reaction, but as long as you aren't insulting them or being physically inappropriate you can do anything necessary to get them to react to you and your camera outside of their rehearsed presentation of themselves.

I am not a people person. I used to worry that this would be a problem for a portrait photographer, but I've learned that, while it might be a hindrance dealing with clients or publicists or subjects in the moments before or after the shoot, it isn't an issue at all when the camera is in your hand. I've often wished I had a blandly diplomatic flack who could stand in for me up until the moment I started shooting, and while that was never going to be an option, I've gradually made my peace with being a misanthropic portrait photographer.

Greg Kinnear, Toronto, Sept. 15, 2005

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Forest Whitaker

Forest Whitaker, Toronto, Sept. 14, 2005

THE 2005 FILM FESTIVAL WAS A BIT OF A MILESTONE FOR ME. It proved that the previous year and its festival shooting wasn't a fluke, and that I'd resumed taking photos seriously. I still wasn't able to call myself a professional photographer again, but I hesitantly allowed myself the luxury of comparing what I was doing then with the best work I'd done a decade previous, when I made my living from photos.

My shoot with Forest Whitaker was, at the time, the one that allowed me to imagine that I could still take an interesting portrait. He was, alongside Anthony Hopkins, the most interesting actor I shot that year, a performer with an unusual intensity that often seems introspective onscreen; he gives a remarkable impression of internal life in almost everything he does.

He's been interesting in everything he's played, beginning (for me) with his portrayal of jazz legend Charlie Parker in Clint Eastwood's unfortunately unsatisfying biopic Bird. (This is no fault of Whitaker, or Eastwood, probably, but just another example of the fact that, on evidence, it's probably impossible to make a good movie about jazz.)

Forest Whitaker, Toronto, Sept. 14, 2005

This was all in my mind when I sat him down in a chair by the wall in a suite at the Intercontinental on Bloor. I had one picture I wanted to take, and when I was lucky enough to find the right light, saw my luck hold out when he took my minimal direction happily and struck the pose I wanted, with the window light behind his shoulder and just enough light bouncing back from the walls to fill in the shadows on his face. He even gave me a look that didn't disguise, but even featured, the ptosis in his left eye that makes him distinctive as an actor.

These were never easy shots to process for print, and I've only recently been able to give them the depth of tone that I saw in that hotel room over a decade ago. The frame below is a particular success; I've insisted for years to other photographers that a really genre-pushing example of portrait photography is one where the subject's face is obscured or invisible but still conveys something essential and recognizable. This shot is as far as I'd pushed that idea until then, and seeing it again made me realize that I was still ambitious about my work, even if it seemed like I was well past the point of having an audience to prove it to any more.

Forest Whitaker, Toronto, Sept. 14, 2005

Monday, May 28, 2018

Gerard Butler

Gerard Butler, Toronto, Sept. 14, 2005

EVERY CELEBRITY BECOMES DEFINED BY THEIR PERSONA, but movie stars live and die by theirs. I couldn't help but think of this when I was editing these pictures of Scottish actor Gerard Butler, shot at the film festival. I remember having a very definite idea of what Butler represented when I sat down with him in a suite at the Intercontinental on Bloor for our customary minute or two, and knowing that I had to capture some sort of machismo and swagger.

What I thought I remembered was doing this because of Butler's performance as Leonidas in 300, all six pack and wild-eyed defiance and spittle-flecked bellowing that "THIS...IS...SPARTA!!!" I was surprised when I did a quick Google search and saw that 300 wouldn't be released for two years, though Butler was at the festival promoting his leading role in the film Beowulf & Grendel. Clearly, long before Leonidas, Butler had defined his persona rather neatly.

Gerard Butler, Toronto, Sept. 14, 2005

Near the end of my second film festival since my return to shooting professionally, I was slowly getting used to the rooms at the Intercontinental. They weren't as bright or neutral as the rooms at the Four Seasons around the corner, and since the colour scheme favoured earth tones, the photos shot there almost inevitably had an added warm colour cast. I found myself shooting closer to the windows, which made the light taper into shadow much faster behind the subject.

For his part, Butler didn't need much direction. I placed a chair sideways by the window and asked him to put one elbow up on the back; he made a fist and provided me with a brooding look without any prompting. Of course it would have been more interesting to have him play against type - posing him amidst the fussy antique decor of a room decorated in chintz - but these one minute shoots were more about essence and convenience in the end, and the first thing the subject brought to it was what usually ended up in the camera.

Gerard Butler, Toronto, Sept. 14, 2005

Friday, May 25, 2018

Elijah Wood

Elijah Wood, Toronto, Sept. 13, 2005

I DREW THE SHORT STRAW FOR THIS SHOOT WITH ELIJAH WOOD. Which is to say that, halfway through the film festival, I'd been assigned to a subject without an assigned hotel suite for their interviews, so we ended up in the courtyard restaurant with all the other nomads of the festival press days. I'd been here before at the same time during the last festival, but that didn't make it any easier.

It had been two years since the Lord of the Rings films and the role of Frodo Baggins that Wood realized at the time would define his onscreen career, probably forever. He was here promoting the film adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer's book Everything Is Illuminated, which had been directed by fellow actor Liev Schreiber. I'm a big fan of Schreiber, and I also photographed him at the festival, but in circumstances even less fruitful than the Intercontinental's courtyard restaurant (the rooftop terrace, to be precise) and got nothing at all worth posting here.

Elijah Wood, Toronto, Sept. 13, 2005

Without a neutral background available, I had Wood stand in front of some of the greenery in the planters set around the courtyard and went close - really, really close. The actor's most notable features are his eyes, and his big National Health-style horn rim glasses put a frame around them just enough to - hopefully - distract from the potted plants behind him. In any case, I've pulled the depth of field even tighter in Photoshop with these photos, to try and salvage what was a pretty inauspicious shoot.

As he predicted, Wood has never really been able to shake Frodo, so he's moved not only behind the camera - starting his own studio to produce films and doing animation voiceover work - but out of Hollywood, to Austin, Texas. He's basically become a very well-heeled hipster, working as a DJ and starting his own record label when he isn't taking the odd, very un-Frodo role. He seems to have found inspiration, not desperation, in what could have been career-ending typecasting, and good for him.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

John Madden

John Madden, Toronto, Sept. 12, 2005

MOVIE DIRECTORS ALWAYS SEEM MORE GRATEFUL TO BE PHOTOGRAPHED than the stars of their movies. This might be speculation, or perhaps even projection - if I spent my life behind the camera making other people look smart or glamorous, I think I'd be grateful for a moment of recognition. But then, I think being a movie director is probably a lot more interesting than being a movie star.

John Madden is one of those products of the London TV and theatre scene who find their way to Hollywood to feed the movie industry's voracious appetite for talent. He's known for directing literary and historical properties - he started his Hollywood career with an adaptation of Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome, then had a huge hit with Shakespeare In Love. He was at the festival with Proof, a film about madness and academia starring Anthony Hopkins, Gwyneth Paltrow and Hope Davis.

John Madden, Toronto, Sept. 12, 2005

I try to make movie directors look good - or at least interesting. As ever, I had barely a minute for this portrait, which I'm pretty certain was taken at the old Four Seasons. Helpfully, Madden showed up wearing a dark blazer and a white shirt - probably the most helpful wardrobe choice a male subject can make for a portrait, if time is of the essence.

The white walls of the hotel suite meant that enough light bounced around the room to soften the shadows and create the sort of clean lighting scheme that I'd need a big soft box and a couple of small modifying lights to create in a studio. That part was luck.

As for the composition, I simply rewound back to the sorts of shots I remember photographers like Anton Corbijn and Kevin Cummins would do for the New Musical Express back in the '80s - tight shots that were basically one or two lines cutting through the frame at an angle. When you don't have any time for a portrait, you have to rely on this sort of shorthand.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Dakota Fanning

Dakota Fanning, Toronto, Sept. 12, 2005

I HAVEN'T PHOTOGRAPHED A LOT OF CHILDREN IN MY CAREER, mostly because my attitude about children is roughly similar to W.C. Field's. I debated whether to post these photos, but decided to put them up in the end because of the continued fame of the subject, and the novelty of the actual shoot.

I'm not actually sure why Dakota Fanning was at the film festival that year. According to her filmography, she had five film credits that year, including a horror film with Robert DeNiro, the Lilo & Stitch sequel for Disney, a horse picture where she co-starred with Kurt Russell and Kris Kristofferson, and one of those linked mini-drama films that saw her share the bill with Holly Hunter, Sissy Spacek, Glenn Close, Robin Wright and Amanda Seyfried. Oh, and Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds where Tom Cruise played her dad.

It was a busy year for an eleven year old.

Dakota Fanning, Toronto, Sept. 12, 2005

It's not easy photographing a child - even one with more acting experience than many of the adults I'd photograph at a film festival. She was eminently able to address my camera, which is something that the average child (or adult, for that matter) without an agent, handler and PR person can't do easily, but didn't come off like a smug little adult.

At this point in her career Fanning looked - at least in these shots - like she was excited about having her picture taken and about being at a film festival. And she had no problem showing her braces when she smiled. She also might be one of the biggest stars I might have photographed during this period, which still doesn't help mute my nagging feeling that child actors are something that maybe shouldn't exist.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Hope Davis

Hope Davis, Toronto, Sept. 12, 2005

WHEN I GO THROUGH THESE OLD PHOTOS FROM THE FILM FESTIVAL I can't help but wonder how much longer such an event will even exist. I began shooting the film festival in Toronto back when it was still called the Festival of Festivals, back in the mid-'80s, when a big city couldn't call itself metropolitan if it didn't have a network of repertory cinemas and art houses that played foreign films, which were fed for most of the year by the sorts of films that played at film festivals.

An actor like Hope Davis would start their career in a string of small films made to play at festivals before a few weeks' run at an art house cinema or the small screens at a multiplex. By the time I photographed Davis she was co-starring with Anthony Hopkins and Gwyneth Paltrow in Proof - one of those prestige projects that got made for adult audiences who still considered a well-reviewed, intelligent film something worth a dinner and a night out. It's barely a decade ago, but it seems to me that the work I did then is a record of something that's more than halfway gone.

Hope Davis, Toronto, Sept. 12, 2005

I knew Davis from films like Next Stop Wonderland and Mumford rather than her bit parts in bigger movies like Home Alone and Mr. Right - festival films, in other words. I had a picture of her in my head - a wary, pretty blonde whose face, should you choose to draw it, would have to start with the eyes. She was very much what I expected when she walked into the suite at the Intercontinental, and luckily I was able to find a sliver of the sort of soft light that I knew would flatter her features; something warm and a bit painterly.

I don't know how I presented these shots to the free daily at the time, but I've put some work into accentuating that painterly aspect today. It's doubtful that I would have been able to produce a photo that looked like this in the days of film photography without an arsenal of lights and a makeup person; portrait photography in the digital age is done mostly after the shutter has been clicked, a more solitary kind of work that's made the decisions you make after the shoot as important as the ones you make before and during.

Davis is still very busy, but like many of the actors who used to make festival films, she's as likely to be seen on television these days. Having passed from ingenue to wife and mother roles, she's played Hillary Clinton and, I was shocked to discover, had a role as Tony Stark's mother in Captain America: Civil War, making this the fourth post in a row featuring an actor with a part in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which not coincidentally grew to looming proportions roughly about the time that the festival film started to disappear.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Jeremy Renner

Jeremy Renner, Toronto, Sept. 11, 2005

THE FIRST THING I NOTICED ABOUT JEREMY RENNER WHEN HE WALKED INTO THE ROOM was that his jacket looked too big for him. He had a promising reputation, which must have been well deserved as up to that point his resume mostly consisted of a National Lampoon comedy, a variety of supporting roles and a single star turn playing serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. What he looked like in that room at the old Four Seasons was a young actor who barely had the wardrobe for a few days of press at a film festival in Canada.

Near as I can tell he was in town to help promote North Country, a film starring Charlize Theron. Still in Renner's future were roles in 28 Weeks Later and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and, ultimately, the star turn in Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker that would make Renner a star. After that - recurring roles in Mission: Impossible films, a lead role replacing Matt Damon in the Bourne film series and ultimately Hawkeye, one of the Avengers, in the movie franchise that's basically consumed Hollywood.

Jeremy Renner, Toronto, Sept. 11, 2005

When I shot Renner at the film festival the first Iron Man film was three years from being released (I'd be flown to Los Angeles for a big budget press junket for the film,) and it would be hard to imagine then how totally a superhero franchise would dominate the movie industry. It only occurred to me as I was writing this that, with Renner, three consecutive blog posts here have featured actors with roles in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

I can tell I was shooting in the old Four Seasons because of the light. I didn't have much sense of Renner - he hadn't been around long enough to create a screen persona of any sort, and so I put him against a white wall with the Four Seasons windows behind me and did what amounts to a mug shot, letting the young actor (he was 34 at the time) confront me and my camera. He looks confident, maybe even a bit cocky. It's the picture of a young man about to get everything he's dreamed about, and more.

Friday, May 18, 2018

William Hurt

William Hurt, Toronto, Sept. 11, 2005

WILLIAM HURT WAS BORED. That's the only explanation I have for the first of our two encounters at the film festival, when the actor ignored etiquette and protocol and turned what should have been a minute-long portrait shoot into a discussion about ethics and professional responsibility. It's one of my favorite memories of festival shooting, which was mostly a rushed and perfunctory sort of business.

I liked Hurt before I met him. From his damaged, drug-dealing veteran in The Big Chill to his mob boss in A History of Violence to his improbable appearances in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he often seems bemused - the smartest man in the room, though he's loathe to point that out and prefers to let everyone else proceed with whatever error they're pursuing just to witness the outcome. The major exception is his turn as the dim but charismatic anchorman failing his way to the top in Broadcast News - probably the most prophetic film about the modern news media ever made.

Hurt showed up for our shoot with a raw, red patch on his cheek. He explained that he'd just come from set and that the prosthetic he'd been wearing on his face for the role hadn't been applied correctly, and had pulled off a big patch of skin on his face when it was removed. He asked if I could work around it; I said that thanks to digital photography and Photoshop I could do pretty much anything, and that of course I'd take it out (as I have here.)

William Hurt, Toronto, Sept. 11, 2005

He mused aloud about this being a matter of trust between the subject of a portrait and a photographer, and I responded - eager to establish some kind of rapport with my own subject - that trust was the biggest part of that relationship, especially when that relationship was usually a brief one. This seemed to interest him, and he began asking more questions about portraits and photography and ethics.

Nearly every shoot I did at the festival during this period rarely lasted more than a minute; I've learned since then that I developed a good reputation for being able to get results in almost no time, though in retrospect that reputation is more of a curse. Hurt was eager to talk - so eager that he kept brushing off his press handler's motions behind my back to cut it short and move on by asking me another question.

I'd shoot a few frames and Hurt would ask another question, which I was happy to answer. I'd given a lot of thought about the ethics of my business and the relationship between a sitter and a portraitist, and about the peculiar demands of making a portrait. I think I even quoted Pascal at some point. (I'd spent much of the previous decade at home reading, making up for my poor education.) But I could feel his handler's impatience growing behind my back, like a pot boiling over, so at some point I had to decide that I had my shot and thanked Hurt for his time.

William Hurt, Toronto, Sept. 9, 2007

I felt weirdly energized after Hurt and his entourage left the room, as it had been years since a portrait subject had taken such an interest in their own shoot. I felt flattered that Hurt had been engaged enough to push our encounter to nearly ten minutes of - perhaps pretentious, but who cares? - chin-wagging about philosophy and aesthetics. It was definitely the highlight of that year's festival.

Two years later, almost to the day, I was assigned to shoot Hurt again. By this point I was sure that our high-minded chat was his way of blowing off steam and amusing himself as the grind of festival press days wore on, and that he probably didn't remember me at all. I was taken aback when Hurt walked into the hotel suite and looked at me with a start - "Oh, it's YOU!"

"Look," Hurt said, leaning in towards me as he spoke, glancing back at his press minder, another brusque and professional young woman like the one two festivals before. "I would love to have another chat with you right now," he told me, before making his voice slip down to a stage whisper, "but she is really riding me to stay on schedule today and I think I'd better do as I'm told."

William Hurt, Toronto, Sept. 9, 2007

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Anthony Hopkins

Anthony Hopkins, Toronto, Sept. 10, 2005

I WAS TERRIBLY INTIMIDATED BEFORE THIS SHOOT. Anthony Hopkins had a reputation for mercurial behaviour and an impatience with the banalities of his obligations off stage and off screen. The thing is that I could completely understand this attitude, and while I could flatter myself that I wasn't the sort of media irritant that had inspired this reputation, at the end of a long day of press I suppose that all buzzing flies look and sound the same to a tired horse.

Which is why I prepared myself for a disaster ahead of this shoot - beginning with the publicist simply calling it off completely at the behest of the star. When Chris Atchison and I found ourselves waiting outside the press suite to be called in, I shifted gears and imagined Hopkins impatient and distracted and unwilling to sit for more than a few frames. And then the door opened and we were called into the room.

Anthony Hopkins, Toronto, Sept. 10, 2005

Hopkins was a familiar face for me long before Silence of the Lambs made him a huge star, mostly because the 1978 film Magic, with Hopkins playing a ventriloquist possessed by his dummy, seemed to be on TV all the time when I was in high school. He'd ascended through films like The Elephant Man, The Bounty and 84 Charing Cross Road as an impressive combination of talent, charisma and the discipline of the English theatre to the role of Hannibal Lecter, after which he seemed to be first choice for any role that required authority, gravitas, reflection or menace, in any possible combination.

Hopkins was at the film festival promoting The World's Fastest Indian, which wasn't about a Native American sprinter but a record-breaking motorcycle racer from New Zealand. Hopkins portrayal of Burt Munro required him to be charming, guileless, eccentric and driven, and no one was surprised that the actor could manage all of that with a typical lack of apparent effort.

Anthony Hopkins, Toronto, Sept. 10, 2005

Perhaps it was the work required to embody Munro that made him so unexpectedly accommodating when my turn came to take his portrait. Just last year, Hopkins told an interviewer that he'd been diagnosed as having a high-functioning case of Asperger's Syndrome. In hindsight, this made me wonder if that was why he looked so unguarded through the viewfinder of my camera, and quite unlike the wary, impatient man that I'd expected.

The brooding and menace and candour that Hopkins draws upon for so many of his roles could be glimpsed from frame to fame over the dozen or so shots I managed to take in my scant minute with him in that hotel suite. I knew I was getting much better than I expected so I didn't press him to the point where his patience might have run out, though he was still remarkably friendly to Chris and I when we ran into him again in the hotel elevator later that afternoon. And of course that made me wonder if I'd been too polite, and should have pushed Hopkins just that little bit further, since I'm still not certain if these shots are as good as I think they are, or simply much better than I was expecting.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

David Boreanaz

David Boreanaz, Sept. 10, 2005

THERE IS A LOT OF TALK THESE DAYS ABOUT EQUITY BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN. It's got me thinking about the difference between male and female portrait subjects in my own work. I'm not sure celebrities are a fair demographic to sample for a reading on gender politics, but I'm not sure we're all talking about the same thing when we use the word "equality" either, so I guess that makes comparing them as valid as anyone else.

I've observed before that most female movie stars have shown up for shoots with hair and makeup people, and that while they almost never get the same perks, I'm sure at least a few male celebrities I've photographed would have loved to face the camera with the aid of someone to do their hair and makeup. Which led me to wonder about those rare situations where my male subject is perceived as looking "pretty," in the same way that an actress is judged on her looks. Which is where David Boreanaz comes in, I suppose.

David Boreanaz, Sept. 10, 2005

For the record, I'm pretty sure Boreanaz didn't arrive for our shoot at the Intercontinental on Bloor with hair and makeup people. He had finished up his star-making role on Angel the year before I took these photos, and had just begun his dozen seasons playing Seeley Booth on Bones.He was at the film festival to promote These Girls, a Canadian-made comedy where he played a man blackmailed into sleeping with three young women. It was the sort of role someone who looked like Boreanaz could plausibly play - a hunky vampire who wins the affections of a plucky vampire killer; an aimless but good looking guy who lets himself become a sexual trophy for three girls.

Boreanaz has maintained his status as a (mostly) small screen male sex symbol for quite a good run; he began his role as Angel on Buffy over twenty years ago, and is currently starring in Seal Team on CBS. He's one of the few portrait subjects that my teenage daughter recognizes. And as with nearly any really good looking actress I might have photographed at a time when I was mostly concerned with getting a quick, flattering portrait to run in a busy newspaper page bordered with ads, I simply got out of the way and let him project physical charisma into the camera. It's really about that simple, and makes the "accomplishment" of capturing a decent portrait of an attractive celebrity feel less creative than technical.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

America Ferrera & Blake Lively

America Ferrera and Blake Lively, May 2005

I HAVE NEVER PUT MUCH VALUE ON YOUTH - either my own or that of others. Presented with young portrait subjects, I tended to be a bit underwhelmed, which was probably a bit of a mistake. In at least one case, that led to a missed opportunity, though I'm guessing that circumstances also played a part.

America Ferrera was already a star when I was assigned to photograph her doing interviews for a new film. She had made her name playing the title character on Ugly Betty, and was in town doing press for The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, alongside another young actress named Blake Lively. It all seemed a bit "youth market" for me, so I only did as much as a potential two-column photo in the free daily required.

America Ferrera and Blake Lively, May 2005

I photographed Ferrera and Lively at the Windsor Arms Hotel, a very nice boutique hotel that gives you some idea about how much pull Ferrera had at that point, and how well the studio expected the film to perform. It was also - as I'd learned while shooting Tom Wolfe there a few months previous - one of the darkest hotels in the city. The best spot I could find to photograph Ferrera and Lively was a corner of the restaurant where the skylight provided some workable, if not particularly flattering, light.

I only photographed the two young women together, which mostly involved trying to catch a few frames of them not laughing. I didn't try to take any shots of them separately, perhaps because there wasn't enough time, but also because I didn't see the point of the extra effort. Keep in mind that I wasn't thinking of posterity or portfolios anymore - I had an assignment that I had to execute, and that was all that concerned me. I'm told - mostly by my daughter - that Blake Lively is a very big deal these days, and that I should have tried to get a shot of her. A photographer who cared about resales or reprints of their reputation might have done just that, but I wasn't that photographer in the spring of 2005.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Tracy Morgan

Tracy Morgan, Toronto, May 2005

THERE'S NOT A LOT YOU CAN DO WITH A PORTRAIT SUBJECT WHO MUGS FOR THE CAMERA except roll with it and hope they run out of steam. Which almost never happens, especially if your shoot is only supposed to last a couple of minutes. So when Tracy Morgan immediately started making faces as soon as I raised my camera to my eye, my only option was to keep moving him around until he'd run out of faces.

As far as I can tell, Morgan was in town promoting his supporting role in the remake of The Longest Yard starring Adam Sandler, but I could be wrong. He'd finished his career-making stint on Saturday Night Live a couple of years before, and it would be a year before 30 Rock hit the air, with Morgan playing a variation on himself. Which means I photographed Tracy Morgan when he was on his way to being a big star, which is usually when I got most of my celebrity portraits.

Tracy Morgan, Toronto, May 2005

I did my shoot with Morgan on one of the balconies of the old Four Seasons in Yorkville - the same sorts of spots where I'd taken portraits of Vince Vaughn and Ally Sheedy for NOW seven years earlier. The more I do through my old work, the more I miss the Four Seasons, which was easily the most photogenic Toronto hotel I worked in for nearly twenty years.

I had to work fast with Morgan, partly because the shoot felt like an echo of the Vaughn shoot, and I expected him to get up and walk away at any time. The shot below is one of the last I shot, and it's my favorite, because it's the closest moment to getting Morgan to stop mugging. He's sitting in the corner of the balcony - one of the few places in a Four Seasons suite that I'd never shot before. It's a great spot for a portrait, and it makes me nostalgic for a Toronto that only just disappeared a decade ago.

Tracy Morgan, Toronto, May 2005

Friday, May 11, 2018


High Park, Toronto, 1999

I NEVER STOPPED TAKING PHOTOS. I only stopped making a living taking photos. That's one of the things I've learned while going through my files for this blog. If I had stopped taking photos because my full-time career as a professional photographer had effectively ended there would be no point doing this, because that would mean that I was never really a photographer.

A few months ago I found a Kodak Instamatic camera in a second hand shop, the same model as the one my mother gave me for Christmas when I was a boy - my first camera. I remembered how I'd gone out into the snow outside the house and took photos that interested me: Shots of snow drifts in front of bare trees and dormant hedges, everything composed in what I would learn later were the rules of seconds and thirds. I'm still trying to take those photos nearly fifty years later, and back when I was relieved of the pressure of taking photos for money, that's what I did with my copious downtime.

High Park, Toronto, 1999

I have lived in the west end of Toronto for nearly my whole life. The parks and beaches and industrial precincts of the area have always been where I've gone to reflect and recharge, places full of personal and family history. This is what my hometown looks like in my mind, and every photo I've taken there is an attempt to fix that place and what it looks like in memory and posterity.

I took my Rolleiflex along on family vacations to visit my in-laws in Nova Scotia, fascinated by a place that didn't look like anywhere I'd lived before. This is the landscape of my wife's family and memories, so shooting there was like trying to tell someone else's story without using their words. The shore of the Bay of Fundy, with its shingle beaches and outcrops of volcanic rock, is one of the most primal places I've ever been, with a harshness that I find mysteriously appealing.

Lunenburg, NS, 2003
Harbourville, NS, 2003

Back home, I returned to Mount Dennis, where I took my first photos a few blocks from the Kodak plant where my family worked, and around the west end I know so well. I ended up documenting not just the place where I grew up, but also Parkdale, where we lived, and the old working class and industrial neighbourhoods around Earlscourt and Silverthorn, where we'd end up moving several years later, and where I'm writing this now. Short of family photos or self-portraits, these are probably the most personal photos I've ever taken.

They were also the last outings I'd make with my Rolleiflex. The year after I took the last of them I was put back to work shooting for the free daily, using the first really practical digital cameras. The whole slow, segmented process of shooting with a camera like the Rolleiflex became obsolete and impractical practically overnight, so these photos are effectively my farewell to film photography, though I didn't know it at the time.

Mount Dennis, Toronto, 2001
Junction, Toronto, 2003
Silverthorn, Toronto, 2003
Parkdale, Toronto 2003

Wednesday, May 9, 2018


Machu Picchu, Peru, 2003

IN THE SUMMER OF 2003, MY EDITOR AT THE FREE DAILY ASKED ME IF I'D LIKE TO GO TO PERU. He had run into somebody from their trade commission at a party and it had led to an invite to attend Peru Xport, a trade fair happening in Lima that September. He was either unwilling or unable to attend, so he asked me to go instead, maybe write an article or two, perhaps post a diary about the trip on the paper's website.

It would have been terribly selfish of me to say yes. We had a baby at home and, although my wife was on maternity leave, she'd be a new mother left alone for five days. She was also an ex-journalist from a family of journalists, who understood better than I did when an editor's request was anything but, and that it was best for me to accept. For my part, I had lived a very untraveled life, and was eager to go anywhere at all, never mind a place as exotic as Peru.

And so I found myself on a plane and, after a brief night's sleep in my hotel in Lima, on another plane early the next morning to Cusco, for a quick trip to Machu Picchu before the trade fair began, all paid for and organized by PROMPEX, Peru's trade commission.

Machu Picchu, Peru, 2003

I would recommend that anyone should visit any marvel of the world if you ever have the chance. Great Wall of China, the Great Pyramids at Giza, the Grand Canyon; anything that's incredible or improbable or awesome, whether man-made or not, will lift you from the banal and workaday, at least for a while. I had never imagined that I would see Machu Picchu until I was actually on the Peru Rail train heading there from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes, the town where you get off the train and catch the bus to Machu Picchu.

It's fascinating that no one really knows the actual purpose of the ruins, which were only discovered just over a century ago by the explorer Hiram Bingham. There are educated guesses and vague descriptions ascribed to certain areas - the Guardhouse, the Temple of the Sun, the Room of Three Windows - but the only thing we know for certain about Machu Picchu is that it took an awful lot of effort to bring the building material and labour up from the valley floor to this breathtaking saddle between two mountains.

As for Bingham's discovery of the place, it's likely that it was found and plundered at least twice in the 19th century, and it appeared on maps in 1874. When Bingham arrived, there were families already living there, hauling up soil from the Urubamba river valley to the Inca terraces. I can tell you that the llamas that roam the site, acting as groundskeepers, are pretty scary when they come at you while you're walking along a narrow path without guardrails hundreds of feet above the valley floor.

Machu Picchu, Peru, 2003

The altitude sickness that I'd managed to avoid all through the trip to and from Machu Picchu hit me with full force that night in Cusco, but thanks to some coca leaf tea and the pure oxygen piped into my room at a very nice hotel, I woke up the next morning feeling better. Juan Jose, my minder from PROMPEX, took me for a wander around Cusco and then up to the hills above the city to the ruins of Sacsayhuaman.

In a way, Sacsayhuaman is more impressive than Machu Picchu because of its walls, built with massive stones chiseled to fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. While much of the site was demolished for materials to rebuild Cusco as a Spanish colonial capitol, enough remains to be awe-inspiring, with the added bonus of being largely unvisited by tourists compared to the famous city in the clouds.

Cusco, Peru, 2003
Sacsayhuaman, Peru, 2003

Back in Lima, we got about the real purpose of my visit - the trade fair and the business of publicizing Peru's resources and products. I stayed in the Sheraton Lima, with its rooms laid out around a vertiginous atrium lobby that was almost as awe-inspiring as Machu Picchu. The fair itself was held on the grounds of the Pacific International Fairgrounds - an annual fun fair rented out for the occasion. (Don't look for it now - it was demolished not long after I was there.)

Over the course of the next two days I saw my second fashion show of the trip (the first one was on the train to Machu Picchu), talked to people dealing in everything from minerals to sweaters, ate a lot of food and drank a lot of pisco sours. At one point, standing around idly with Juan Jose, we were suddenly enveloped in the security entourage around the First Lady, wife of then-president Alejandro Toledo, and shifted along with it to a line of armoured SUVs, surrounded by a dozen hawk-faced men with mirrored shades and earpieces.

Sheraton, Lima, Peru, 2003
Pacific International Fairgrounds, Lima, Peru, 2003
Fashion show, Lima, Peru
Paraglider, Lima, Peru, 2003

At one point I finally got away from the trade fair and got a tour of the city when Juan Jose took me to interview the CEO of a mining company at his private club in Miraflores. My research for the trip had mostly consisted of reading Nicholas Shakespeare's novel The Dancer Upstairs, about Peru during the years of the Shining Path's terrorist bombings, and the movie version starring Javier Bardem.

It was amazing that the city had only recently experienced regular bombings and assassinations. Peru's government had become a major proponent of economist Hernando de Soto's "microfinance," which filled the streets with vendors and private bus lines. Once, while waiting with Juan Jose at a stop light, a hawker approached our cab with a big cardboard placard covered in bootleg DVDs - including a copy of The Dancer Upstairs.

Pacific International Fairgrounds, Lima, Peru, 2003
Lima, Peru, 2003

I took a lot of photos when I was in Peru. My workhorse SLR since the early '90s, the Canon EOS Elan, had finally given up the ghost not long before, so this was my debut outing with a really impressive new camera - the Canon Elan 7e, packed with more features than I ever imagined in the old EOS, including eye-following autofocus, a truly magical bit of wizardry that, for some reason, Canon hasn't featured in any of its subsequent digital cameras.

I bought the 7e knowing that it was probably my last film camera, and expected to be using it for at least a few more years. Peru was, in fact, the last time I would use it seriously, as the free daily would buy a Canon DSLR for me to use a few months later. The Peru trip was my first real shooting job in at least two years, and I had obviously decided to keep things simple - there's an awful lot of symmetry happening in these shots, and subjects located directly in the centre of the frame.

I had hoped that a long lay-off from taking photos would revive some of the inspiration I felt I was losing at the end of the '90s, when the frustrations of a flagging career had made me second guess myself more than I usually did. Clean, clear, unfussy - I wanted to find my way to taking photos that could be described this way, and I was encouraged by the results when I got back all those rolls of film from the printer. I particularly liked these photos of Inca mummies taken at the museum of archaeology in Lima. They looked like I felt.

Inca mummies, National Museum of Archaeology, Lima, Peru, 2003