Monday, July 9, 2018

Billy Bob Thornton

Billy Bob Thornton, Toronto, Jan.30, 2007

IT WAS NO SECRET THAT BILLY BOB THORNTON COULD BE DIFFICULT. His reputation - founded on a perfectly reasonable distaste for celebrity culture - preceded him, and I knew that my shoot would be short (no surprise - they all were) and that I wouldn't get more out of him than he was willing to give depending on his mood.

Which potentially meant nothing; until I had my camera in my hand and Thornton sitting in front of me in a suite at the old Four Seasons in Yorkville, I was prepared to learn that there would be no shoot happening with him at all. With this in mind, I found the best piece of light I could - easier at the Four Seasons than most other hotels - and met his eye briefly, in the hope of establishing the bare minimum of a connection before I began shooting.

Billy Bob Thornton, Toronto, Jan.30, 2007

For many photographers - and a lot of publications - something like this might be enough. As a younger photographer impressed that I came away with anything on a roll of film, I might have been content with it, but Thornton's difficult persona was intriguing, and I wished I'd had the opportunity to get him to express something more than a passive engagement with me and my camera as representatives of the media-celebrity machinery he barely tolerated.

My friend Chris, for instance, had managed to produce a really indelible image of Thornton a few years earlier. It was obviously nothing that I could ever hope or want to reproduce, but I can say with some authority that this was the point in my career's "second act" where I was becoming frustrated with rising to the level of merely inspired competence, just out of reach of situations where I could try to elicit another level from my shoots - a bit more of the "editorial" part of editorial photography.

A FOOTNOTE: I found the image below in the folder for this shoot, right at the top of the sequence of frames. I was testing out cameras for a tech column I was writing for the free daily and the nice people at Olympus had lent me a fisheye lens to go with one of their E-330 DSLRs. I must have put it on the camera and handed it to Chris Atchison, the writer, while we were waiting for Thornton to arrive, and he obviously clicked off this single frame. I have very few photos of me at work; this is one of the few, and a helpful clue to just what movie Thornton was in town promoting.

Waiting for Billy Bob, Four Seasons Yorkville, Toronto, Jan. 30, 2007

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