Friday, August 31, 2018

Kathryn Bigelow

Kathryn Bigelow, Toronto, September 9, 2008

I WAS STILL IN HIGH SCHOOL WHEN I WENT TO MY FIRST FILM FESTIVAL. I can't remember any other film I saw during that festival except one - a weird, almost campy biker film starring a then-unknown young actor named Willem Dafoe and the rockabilly singer Robert Gordon, who was probably the big draw of the film for me. (I was - and remain - a huge fan.) The Loveless was the sort of film where a character would say something like "We're goin' nowhere. Fast." with just enough irony to make it both hilarious and awesome. It remains one of my favorite films.

The film was co-directed by a recent Columbia University graduate named Kathryn Bigelow. I filed the name in my mind and was not surprised when, six years later, she made Near Dark, a really clever vampire film that didn't let its intelligence get in the way of being a vampire film. I felt very proud that I'd noticed her talent early on, and felt that strange pride and almost possessiveness that a fan feels when I watched her move from one project to another, working with bigger names on each film.

Kathryn Bigelow, Toronto, September 9, 2008

So I was thrilled when I was assigned to interview and photograph Bigelow by the free daily during the 2008 film festival. Bigelow had endured a bit of a career slump; it had been seven years since her last film, K-19: The Widowmaker, but there was a lot of buzz around her new film - an Iraq war film about a suicidal bomb disposal technician played by Jeremy Renner. I was on my own at this festival because Chris Atchison had left the paper - part of a slow exodus of staff inspired by our almost universally unloved new editor. I didn't mind having the job of interviewing someone like Bigelow, though I missed being able to concentrate wholly on the portrait shoot. Still, I think I got decent quotes, like this one:
"The war is, certainly as I understand it through his eyes, searching for IEDs. That's the signature of this conflict - it's like the jungle in Vietnam. And I think it's really unique - that's the war. There's no air power or other engagements - you're constantly seeking out this invisible threat, and it's insidious and it's futile, and I think the futility of it is what kept coming across to me. And my feeling is that if I could share that without polemics, or without being dogmatic, if we could just somehow humanize the experience for an audience then we've certainly done our job."
Still, I wish I'd had more time to think about the portrait. They're competent shots - I was certainly able to do something at least competent after four years of steady shooting at the free daily - but it wasn't inspired, and I wanted to do something inspired with Bigelow, a director whose work I knew well, and who had certainly inspired me with The Loveless all those years ago, back when I was looking for art that looked like something I imagined in my own head.

In any case, this would be one of my last portrait shoots at the free daily, and my last film festival for almost a decade. For a while, it looked like it was my last one ever, which made my shoot with Kathryn Bigelow seem appropriate - a kind of closure.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Jay Baruchel

Jay Baruchel, Toronto, July 10, 2008

JAY BARUCHEL WAS THE LOCAL BOY MADE GOOD WHEN I TOOK THESE PORTRAITS. If by "local" you mean born in Ottawa and raised in Montreal and living in Toronto. In any case, he'd gone from Canadian television to a small part in Almost Famous to membership in the Judd Apatow comic universe, and my best guess was that I was photographing him as he was publicizing Tropic Thunder, which came out around this time.

I didn't do a lot of portraits in my last year at the free daily - not as many as I'd done previously. So when I did get a decent portrait assignment, I wanted to make it count; I was no longer just pointing the camera and hoping for the best, as I'd done more often that I'd care to admit back at the beginning of my return to portrait work a few years' previous.

Jay Baruchel, Toronto, July 10, 2008

I shot Baruchel at my usual stomping grounds - the Intercontinental on Bloor. We didn't have a room for the interview, so I shot this on a couch in the ground floor bar, which just happened to have some nice light and a dark grey wall just behind my subject, the product of a recent renovation of the hotel. I actually used to spend a lot of time in the same bar over a decade previous, when it had a decent piano player who favoured standards, and my own stubbornly single social life revolved around restaurants and hotel bars.

Like my portraits of Ben Stein a month earlier, these pictures are the result of four years of shooting, starting from a point where I didn't consider myself a photographer any more. I often refer to the work I did for the free daily as being a style with no style, mostly because I'd completely abandoned the look I'd developed and the working method I'd relied on in the '90s. After four years, a new style - simpler and cleaner than the one I'd had before - was emerging. I felt cautiously optimistic. Big mistake.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Ben Stein

Ben Stein, Toronto, June 19, 2008

I HAVE VERY NICE MEMORIES OF THIS SHOOT. Which is worth noting, because I don't have a lot of good memories of my last year at the free daily. It was an anxious time; my editor (and friend) Jodi Isenberg had been pushed out by management and the direction of the paper was doubtful, so a few people who I'd worked with closely for years had left or were preparing to leave. I ended up having to cover a lot of bases, including more combined shooting/writing gigs - like this one, interviewing and photographing Ben Stein, who was in town promoting Expelled, a documentary he'd co-written and hosted.

I didn't see Ferris Bueller's Day Off until a few years ago, so most of what I knew about Stein came either from his years in the Nixon and Ford administrations as a speechwriter (I have been fascinated by Nixon since the Watergate hearings preempted my favorite afternoon TV shows as a boy) or from Win Ben Stein's Money, which ran in syndication when I was watching a lot of TV while writing a daily column for the free daily. I mostly remember his thinly-concealed distaste for Arianna Huffington, one frequent guest, and a just as thinly concealed crush on Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan.

Ben Stein, Toronto, June 19, 2008

It would be an understatement to say that Expelled was controversial. A documentary defending Intelligent Design and asserting that Darwinism was ideologically complicit in the rise of eugenics and the Holocaust was going to piss off a lot of people. I personally think Creationism is ridiculous but I was impressed by Stein's willingness to get behind the film and its thesis, even if I didn't agree with most of the message.

(For the record, I consider the theory of evolution is broadly correct, but that it's going to see a lot of revisions in the decades to come, as more evidence is uncovered and research is done. A hundred years from now our current understanding of evolution will probably seem as basic and misconceived as public health was before germ theory and antibiotics. Which is why we shouldn't treat it as dogma.)

I was open about my opinion, but told Stein that I supported what he was doing as a free speech issue, and we ended up agreeing that academia in particular (and the media in general) had become remarkably hostile to anyone challenging conventional wisdom and the status quo. We got along so well that Stein asked his publicist if he could just blow off the next few interviews and keep talking with me. Naturally, this made him a more pliable subject when it came time to take my photos.

By 2008 it had been four years since Jodi had pushed me back into portrait photography. By then I had cautiously begun to imagine myself as a professional photographer again, and years of regular work had forced me to search for a new style. The portrait of Stein at the top was a stab at that, formed in the circumstances in which I'd been working for the last few years - hotel rooms like this one at the Royal York, where I had to look hard to find my light and my background and discover something usable, fast.

The result was something a lot more artless than the work I'd been doing a decade earlier at NOW magazine - direct and symmetrical and somewhat clinical takes on the subject in front of my camera. I was shooting with something in mind beyond what would run in the paper a day or a week later, and the shots I'm posting now are probably a lot closer to what I had in mind on that day. Not necessarily flattering portraiture, but I'd finally let myself downplay that obligation, which felt a lot stronger when I started shooting again for the free daily.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Luton Hoo

Luton Hoo, Bedfordshire, UK, March 2008

I CAN THANK WALT DISNEY FOR THIS ONE. My second trip to England after over ten years was a press junket organized by Disney to push the DVD release of Enchanted and National Treasure: Book of Secrets. This was, as far as I can tell, the last great golden moment for movie  press junkets, which I'd been doing regularly for at least a couple of years at the free daily, though mostly to either New York or Los Angeles.

I don't know how or why they chose this lovely 18th century manor house, designed by Robert Adam (with later additions) and landscaping by Capability Brown. It was being turned into a golf and spa resort and I think our group was part of the soft opening before they officially began taking guests. I suppose it fit the theme of Enchanted - sort of - though the connection to the latest Nicholas Cage film was tenuous. I wasn't complaining, in any case.

Luton Hoo, Bedfordshire, UK, March 2008

We were a large group of English-speaking international press, and within a day or so we'd sorted ourselves into little cliques. I ended up in a group of colonials - Canadians and Australians, who seemed to appreciate each other's sense of humour more than anything else. The unofficial ringleader was Sam de Brito, an Australian who ended up writing a column about our little group. I was shocked to learn, from another Australian while on a travel junket two years ago, that Sam had died.

Our lodgings were, in a word, palatial. Sir Julius Wernher, who bought the house in 1903, had it redesigned by the architects of the Ritz, his favorite London hotel. My own room was in a new addition built for the new hotel, and was larger than my first two apartments put together. I had my first Full English breakfast at the hotel, which was a revelation, though I'm grateful it isn't a regular menu item here.

Luton Hoo Resort, Bedfordshire, UK, March 2008

I don't remember much about the junket - there was an etiquette lesson, and a ride in a car driven down an obstacle course by a stunt driver. The real star of the trip was the house and the grounds, which gave me my first glimpse of the English Country House up close. I could have - and should have - spent hours wandering around; I'm amazed that I didn't follow that long lawn down to the view that Capability Brown obviously wanted me to take in, but I was still unsure about shooting landscapes back then.

So I stuck close to the house and shot the ancient trees, the gazebo and its ceiling, and the ornaments and statuary placed around the gardens. It was my first glimpse of a really first class lodging, and I can say with authority after a few years of doing travel journalism that there are few things that give more pleasure than a really nice hotel - at least for me.

Luton Hoo, Bedfordshire, UK, March 2008

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Graeme Kirkland

Graeme Kirkland, Parkdale, March 1989

THE PHONE RANG EARLY AND I DIDN'T WANT TO ANSWER IT BUT I DID. It was Graeme Kirkland telling me he wanted to come over and do a photo shoot, right away. I tried to talk him out of it; it was early, I was tired, and I frankly wasn't feeling that inspired on that particular chilly morning caught between winter and spring.

"No, I just got out of the hospital," Graeme insisted. "I got beat up pretty bad at Sneaky Dee's last night by a bunch of skinheads. I want to get a photo of myself like this."

I don't think I thought about it much.

"Come right on over, Graeme."

Graeme Kirkland, Parkdale, March 1989

He was a mess. It's a shame I only shot these in black and white because Graeme's bruises were a really intriguing spectrum of purple and red and blue and yellow. (Colour film and processing cost money and I doubt if I had any sitting around the studio in those early, very penniless days.) I don't know how he saw through eyes that were swollen shut. He had a fat lip and stitches and tape holding his skin together and crusts of blood clinging to his face where the nurses in emergency hadn't cleaned it off.

I set up the light - my only light, probably - to give a stark effect, like a police evidence photo. We shot for two or three rolls - long enough to have Graeme shed his bloodstained jacket and shirt and finally wrap the shirt around his head like a turban. I can't remember whose idea that was. I asked him how it happened and he said that he was drunk and hitting on girls and he probably said the wrong thing to the wrong one and that the skinheads waiting for him by the bathroom at Sneaky Dee's were definitely not drunk and knew what they were doing.

Graeme Kirkland, "Clock Destruction," 1990

I photographed Graeme a lot back when he was the jazz drummer who knew how to get noticed in a city that didn't especially notice jazz musicians in general. He'd do shows like "Clock Destruction" - a performance piece as much as a show where he played in body paint and briefs and set about a big wooden clock with a chainsaw and a flame thrower. The inspiration, he recalls, was all the deadlines he had to deal with managing his own career. "What if I could be free of it?"

Looking back, it's a miracle he didn't burn down a club.

He also took to busking in a big way, and you'd find him out in the streets playing in all weather - like the snow storm where I photographed him in the shot below. Look closely and you'll see a copy of Sleep Alone, the record with a cover featuring my portraits of him after his skinhead encounter, taped to his tom. It wasn't the most audacious thing that Graeme did by a long shot, and those photos ended up being my own ticket to an encounter with the music industry legend that is Michael Alago, but that's a story for another day.

Graeme Kirkland plays in a snowstorm, Toronto, Winter 1992
Graeme Kirkland, Toronto, August 2018

By the late '90s Graeme felt that he was doing more work setting up shows - booking venues and getting grants and finding players and doing publicity - than actually playing music. "I didn't feel like a drummer any more," he told me. "This is marketing. I had become a businessman."

So if playing music had turned him into a businessman, Graeme quietly decided to pursue that path, and got himself an entry-level job at a securities trading firm. Nearly twenty years later he's a senior investment advisor who's been on teams that have managed over $850 million dollars at a variety of banks and firms. I visited him at his new office in a leafy and venerable west end neighbourhood and convinced him to sit for some new photos after over twenty-five years.

"That was always my deepest goal," he recalled. "I wanted to live something so intense that you wanted to die from it. I still have that in me very deeply."

"I had experiences nobody else has had," he told me. "Doing exactly what I wanted to do." The only thing he regretted, if only for a while, was that he'd never gotten an MBA like all the other struggling traders at that first securities job. He hasn't had a drum kit in years.

Graeme Kirkland, Toronto, August 2018

Monday, August 20, 2018

Mark Ruffalo

Mark Ruffalo, Toronto, Sept. 13, 2007

MARK RUFFALO WAS STILL IN HIS ROMANTIC LEAD PERIOD when I took these portraits - five years before his first appearance as Bruce Banner/The Hulk. This makes me wonder if I'd ever have a chance of taking his portrait today, as the Marvel Cinematic Universe has changed the ordering of the star system so completely.

I'd been seeing Ruffalo in a lot of films while I was at the free daily, doing film and DVD reviewing among my many other duties. He was having a good career - his filmography is pretty thick, but I mostly remembered him for his role in the erotic thriller In The Cut, co-starring with Meg Ryan. It was notable for some somewhat graphic sex scenes, and in retrospect it was the moment when their career paths crossed - his on the way up, her on the way down from her peak as America's Sweetheart.

Mark Ruffalo, Toronto, Sept. 13, 2007

For his part, Ruffalo didn't seem to have settled on his "photo face" - the expression (or mask, if you will) that many actors and other personalities learn to put on after their first few dozen photo shoots. There's a nice range of expression - something it's always nice to be able to hand in to your editors at the end of the day.

This was my final shoot of the 2007 film festival, as far as I can tell. Another room at the Intercontinental on Bloor, another warm spot of light by a wall; there was, if nothing else, a consistency to the work I did at the time that might be mistaken for a style, if you were feeling generous. I didn't know it at the time but this would be my last big festival for almost a decade, as some big changes were about to take place at the free daily.

Mark Ruffalo, Toronto, Sept. 13, 2007

Friday, August 17, 2018

Leelee Sobieski

Leelee Sobieski, Toronto, Sept. 12, 2007

IT'S ALL ABOUT LIGHT. And yes, about your subject and your bedside manner and your skill and perhaps a little bit of luck, but if you can't find - or create - the light, you'd might as well shoot everything in a bus station photo booth. (Do they even have photo booths in bus stations any more?) Which might actually work, in some situations, but real photographers spend their lives chasing the light.

Like a moth.

I actually felt a bit like a moth when I found this light in a hotel suite at the Intercontinental at the end of a long week of film fest shooting. It had taken me three years to find the elusive quality of light in that hotel after the luxury of shooting at the Four Seasons around the corner, so when this undistinguished suite of rooms managed to catch the late afternoon light and wrap it around my subjects, something in me went a bit weak and buzzy.

Leelee Sobieski, Toronto, Sept. 12, 2007

It helped, of course, to have a lovely subject. I know a lot of people who've never been sure if Leelee Sobieski was a really good actress or simply utterly beguiling to look upon. (And to be honest, major movie stars have built whole careers on little more than this.) Frankly, this sort of beauty can be something of a curse, since it will obscure talent, like anything backlit by the sun turns into a hazy shadow.

I love these photos. I'll probably put them in my new portfolio as a way of selling myself as a glamour shooter. (Good luck with that.) But I can only take so much credit for them. Off the top of my head, I'd say 55% Sobieski, 35% light and 10% me. Maybe 40% light. Even at the time I remember thinking that I was just the guy lucky enough to be holding the camera in that room, at that time, and I haven't changed my mind.

Leelee Sobieski, Toronto, Sept. 12, 2007

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Tricia Helfer

Tricia Helfer, Toronto, Sept. 12, 2007

I'M NOT SURE WHY 2007 WAS THE YEAR THAT MY FILM FESTIVAL felt like I was shooting for a fashion magazine. Perhaps it was the direction our editor, Jodi, wanted to take the paper, in pursuit of the ideal young female reader demographic. Perhaps we'd simply accrued enough pull that we could ask for interviews and shoots with some of the more glamorous guests at the festival.

In any case, I wasn't complaining. 2007 might have been my busiest festival ever, and while doing up to seven shoots a day can be taxing on your creative inspiration, it helps if a) your subject is physically attractive and b) they have some training in posing for cameras. As your classic farmgirl-turned-model-turned-actress, Tricia Helfer fit this bill perfectly, and while I might have pushed for her to provide me with something less than a model's repertoire of looks if I'd had more time, this shoot came at the end of a long day and I was frankly willing to coast.

Tricia Helfer, Toronto, Sept. 12, 2007

Helfer was still in the middle of her run as the Cylon baddie Number Six on Battlestar Galactica when I took these photos - a cultural phenomenon that was part of the avalanche of shows that made premium cable the new Hollywood, and began shooting the kneecaps off of both cinematic features and prime time TV. As an ex-model-turned-actress she was perfect for the role of an unnaturally beautiful humanoid created by a machine race that achieved sentience, inasmuch as really beautiful people often embody what's called the "uncanny valley" effect - that trait of computer-generated actors that might look realistic but possess an ineffable but undeniably disturbing quality that doesn't seem quite human.

But perhaps that was just the light. I photographed Helfer in a suite at the Intercontinental that, due to the time of day, was filled with the strangest but most flattering available light I'd ever encountered in a hotel room. The rooms at the Intercontinental were famously dim, so I could scarcely believe what I was seeing through my viewfinder when I had Helfer sit in what I'd just assumed was the brightest point in the room. I doubt that I could have duplicated that light with a kit full of strobes.

Tricia Helfer, Toronto, Sept. 12, 2007

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Emmanuelle Seigner

Emmanuelle Seigner, Toronto, Sept. 12, 2007

I WON'T LIE - I REMEMBER SOME VERY STRANGE CHEMISTRY HAPPENING DURING THIS SHOOT. Perhaps I imagined it; I might have been projecting my own very conflicted feelings about my subject and her circumstances into an otherwise normal situation. Perhaps. But as I'm someone who struggles to remember much about the thousands of shoots I've done, any memory at all has to be significant.

Emmanuelle Seigner was at the film festival promoting her role in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, a big critical success and directed by the painter Julian Schnabel. (Another shoot with some weird chemistry, but more about that here.) Seigner wasn't a household name here but she was a major one in France, where she'd probably have been a celebrity even if she wasn't married to the (in)famous Polish director Roman Polanski.

Emmanuelle Seigner, Toronto, Sept. 12, 2007

Perhaps it was because she was French. I'm not the first person to observe that cultural differences accelerate once English-speaking people cross eastward over the English Channel. But Seigner walked into the room acting both wary and wired at the same time, like she had some sort of agenda in mind for her photo shoots, though she wasn't going to let any photographer know what that might be. I honestly can't remember anyone who'd given off a similar vibe since my shoot with Bjork, a decade previous.

It's not like Seigner was flirting with me - though the broad wink she gave my camera might suggest otherwise. But she definitely had an image of herself - former models-turned-actors have that extra level self-possession that normal people never have enough practice to formulate - and it felt like she was seeing if I was able to catch it on the fly. It was a situation where her English and my French were probably never going to provide the common ground where we'd come to a mutual understanding. And whereas I often imagine that a little bit more time might have moved us toward that goal, I'm not sure if that would have been the case with this shoot.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Evan Rachel Wood

Evan Rachel Wood, Toronto, Sept. 11, 2007

IT WOULD BE AN UNDERSTATEMENT TO SAY THAT EVAN RACHEL WOOD was prepared to have her photo taken. At the film festival and elsewhere, most actresses will arrive for interviews and photo sessions with hair and makeup people on hand. Most of them seem to regard this as a somewhat regrettable necessity, and usually present themselves with a carefully put-together "natural" look.

Wood, on the other hand, had clearly thought about how she wanted to be seen, and had collaborated with whoever did her hair and makeup on a look that wouldn't have been out of place in the studio of a portrait photographer working for one of the big studios in the '30s and '40s. As someone who'd spent a lot of time studying the work of people like George Hurrell and Clarence Sinclair Bull, I was both surprised and grateful when she walked through the door of the room at the Intercontinental.

Evan Rachel Wood, Toronto, Sept. 11, 2007

I didn't, of course, have the benefit of a barrage of fresnels with barn doors providing spot and kick lighting. All I had was whatever big, soft light made its way into the room through a window - an uncommonly large one for the Intercontinental, looking at these shots - and a big black curtain that had somehow made its way into the room.

Just as she had put a lot of thought into her look, Wood also knew how to pose without much direction from me, and I was pretty pleased with the results even as I was shooting. But just as with Hollywood glamour photography, I've done a lot of careful retouching in Photoshop after the fact to give Wood's skin an even more flawless finish. The free daily's Canon EOS 30D only put out an 8.2 megapixel image uncompressed, and I was shooting compressed jpeg at ISO 800, but the resolution was still remarkable, and needed to be smoothed out to achieve the look that I'm sure Wood wanted to deliver that day.

Evan Rachel Wood, Toronto, Sept. 11, 2007

Monday, August 13, 2018

Hayley Atwell

Hayley Atwell, Toronto, Sept. 11, 2007

TOWARDS THE END OF EVERY FILM FESTIVAL you find yourself in ever more unfriendly spaces to take photos. The spacious hotel suites with convenient windows give way to the patios of busy restaurants of the corners of windowless boardrooms. I'm not sure just where in the Intercontinental on Bloor I shot these photos of Hayley Atwell, but it was definitely a room without a view.

The original colour jpegs from this shoot were a mess - a mix of two different light sources with clashing colour temperatures that must have made providing a serviceable image or two to the free daily a nightmare. Thankfully I can revisit this shoot in black and white today, which lets me paper over the colour issues by pretending I was shooting for a newspaper at least a decade previous to the actual date these photos were taken, when spot colour was expensive and even the front pages of a paper might have featured a black and white shot.

Hayley Atwell, Toronto, Sept. 11, 2007

I have posted portraits of Atwell here before - a session I did at the film festival a year after these were taken, when she was in town promoting a film of Brideshead Revisited with Matthew Goode. In 2007 she was still fairly unknown - a young British actress whose credits had mostly been on television, but who had made a splash with a role in Woody Allen's latest film earlier that year. Now, of course, she has had become part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and play's the wife of the grown-up title character in Disney's Christopher Robin this summer.

The room where I took these must have been particularly unpromising - besides the lighting issues, there wasn't a wall or corner worth considering as a backdrop, so I went very, very close for these portraits. Atwell - just twenty-five at the time - was obviously able to handle the scrutiny, and met my camera with confidence admirable in someone whose career was really only just beginning.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Paul Haggis

Paul Haggis, Toronto, Sept. 10, 2007

WHEN I SHOT THIS PORTRAIT OF PAUL HAGGIS, it was confounding to me that the man was a Scientologist. He was accomplished and successful, to be sure, but that was in Hollywood, in an industry where L. Ron Hubbard's cult has it's highest profile followers, recruited and sustained within the cult because of their fame and success. But he was also clearly intelligent, and that was baffling: How could anyone possessed with some clarity of insight remain in a cult whose core cosmology could be parodied effortlessly in an episode of South Park?

The Oscar-winning writer and director became, ultimately, one of the highest profile defectors from Scientology - two years after I took these pictures. This made him a target of the harassment that famous ex-Scientologists inevitably endure, and which reinforces the organization's status as a cult - for anyone on the outside of the cult, at least.

A 2011 New Yorker story about defectors from Scientology ends with the Canadian-born Haggis wondering, as much to himself as to the interviewer: "I was in a cult for thirty-four years. Everyone else could see it. I don't know why I couldn't." In the decade-plus since I took these photos, I've learned how perfectly intelligent people can hold contradictory, untenable beliefs that they'll cling to despite - in fact, often because of - their intelligence, or more precisely because of their perception of themselves as more intelligent than most people.

Paul Haggis, Toronto, Sept. 10, 2007

I know that my puzzlement at Haggis' position in a cult was on my mind when I took these photos, but I'm not sure how they affected my approach to him as a subject. I knew that, as a non-performer but a creative, it would be easier to get past any projection he might have of his public image; if there was one thing I'd learned in the previous two decades it was that photographing writers and directors was usually more rewarding for this reason.

I doubt if Haggis would remember this brief portrait session. I doubt if any of the people whose portraits I've taken in a minute or less in the middle of a press day in some hotel room have any memory of our meeting. But I asked him to hold the gaze of my camera lens precisely because I was hunting for some evidence of misgivings or doubt in his expression. And it's probably because of my bafflement at Haggis the Scientologist that I framed him askew in nearly every frame, and why I keep projecting some glimpse of that turmoil into these portraits. But that might just as well be my own self-flattery in action.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Simon Pegg

Simon Pegg, Toronto, Sept. 10, 2007

COMEDIANS HAVE A STRANGE ENERGY. More than any other performer I've photographed - actors, musicians, you name it - comedians (in general - there are, of course, exceptions) have a compulsion to be "on" all the time, to project something at the camera that has the curious effect of revealing very little about themselves.

I can't help but see that happening in this shoot with Simon Pegg, done at the film festival when he was in town promoting his role in Run Fatboy Run. On one hand, shots like the one above, despite its technical shortcomings (sharp focus is overrated, to be honest), telegraph the most basic facts about the subject, or at least those fact that they want known before anything else. He fast; he's funny; he's too much for the camera to capture.

Simon Pegg, Toronto, Sept. 10, 2007

Nearly every comedian I've shot has this "come out with guns blazing" attitude for a photo shoot, and I can see why some photographers would be happy to work with it, to simply treat the session as a kind of wildlife photography. This isn't very satisfying to me, so I tried to wait Pegg out as he sat in front of me with the window in the suite at the Intercontinental behind me, providing a direct, unbounced north light.

The result was a stand-off; eventually he got tired of making faces, but when he relaxed (sort of) and simply faced my camera, it was hard to push past that hint of defiance in his eyes that seemed to say either "I will not show you what you want to see" or "I have no idea what you expect to see." This stand-off is where most shoots with comics ends for me, unless I have a little more time to wear them out and maybe even boss them around. It's also the reason why I always let out a little inward groan when I learn that I've been assigned to photograph a comedian.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

David Schwimmer

David Schwimmer, Toronto, Sept. 10, 2007

IT HAD BEEN JUST THREE YEARS SINCE FRIENDS AIRED ITS LAST EPISODE when David Schwimmer arrived at the film festival with his debut film as a director. That would make him a big star, but he was strangely subdued when I photographed him - as low key and eager to please as a young actor here with his first feature.

I understood his reticence; typecasting ruins careers, and after ten years playing Ross Geller, Schwimmer had to manage his next moves carefully to avoid playing high-strung nerds for the rest of his working life. I thought he'd already been terribly brave taking a role on the HBO WW2 miniseries Band of Brothers as the martinet Lt. Sobel, a character likely hated by viewers more than Hitler.

David Schwimmer, Toronto, Sept. 10, 2007

All of this - Schwimmer's uneasy career moment, his unprepossessing attitude that day - made me feel more than usually sympathetic to him as a subject. I'm not saying that I approach every subject as an adversary (though it's not a bad tactic when circumstances demand it) but I had an empathy for Schwimmer at that moment which I rarely feel at a portrait session. Perhaps that was his tactic all along.

Looking over the photos I shot at the 2007 festival, I'm amazed at how much I'd relaxed into the initially difficult lighting I found in the rooms at the Intercontinental on Bloor. There's a flattering softness to the room light that I'd have a hard time replicating in a well-equipped studio. I didn't know it at the time but I was passing through another steep learning curve, a challenge that I neither sought nor imagined when I had a camera put back in my hands just three years earlier.