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

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