Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Liane Balaban

Liane Balaban, Toronto, Sept. 2004

I'M VERY FOND OF SAYING THAT PORTRAITS ARE THE HARDEST KIND OF PHOTO TO TAKE - in fact I said it to someone just the other day. Not coincidentally, I've spent most of my career taking portraits - alongside concert photography, news stories, street photography, landscapes, travel photography and still life work. Which means that I think I have some authority to make this sort of statement, but your mileage may vary.

The weak point in this idea is the fact that you can't take a bad photo of some people, thanks to their physical beauty or - back to the Duane Michals rule - the simple fact of their fame. The combination of the two explains why paparazzi were able to make money in publishing when editorial portraiture (my specialty, unfortunately) had effectively died. I'm reminded of this when I look at shots like this one, of Canadian actress Liane Balaban, the last one I did at the 2004 film festival.

Liane Balaban, Toronto, 2000

I had photographed Balaban before, just after her breakout role in New Waterford Girl, when she was just twenty years old. (I have no idea who I did this job for - it might have been the National Post - but I do know that that this might have been one of the last portrait shoots I did with my beloved Rolleiflex.)

I was a big fan - of her, and of the film, which was that rare thing: A Canadian movie I didn't hate. Balaban put me in mind of Winona Ryder, and her role in New Waterford Girl was like the ones Ryder would take at the beginning of her career. She came off as pretty and smart - the sort of combination that I loved in my favorite actresses of the '30s and '40s, like Jean Arthur or Rosalind Russell or Myrna Loy.

Liane Balaban, Toronto, Sept. 2004

Balaban showed up for my shoot with her at the festival done up for photos - hair and makeup and clothes. As I wrote in an earlier post, she immediately put me in mind of Cecil Beaton's photos of Audrey Hepburn, posing with a similar gamine confidence. After just a few frames I knew that this was going to be a good shoot.

But I can't take too much credit for the results, or with any other shoot where my subject brings some mixture of beauty and glamour and charisma to the room. Liane Balaban was ready, willing and able to be the subject of a captivating portrait; I don't know that I've seen any other shots of her taken that day, but I'm sure a few of them might be as nice as mine, which is a good reason to be humble even when you're feeling proud of your work.

Liane Balaban, Toronto, Sept. 2004

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