film festival diary '97
Day 1 > 2 > 3 > 4 > 5 > 6 > 7 > 8
Day Four
ONE SHOOT TODAY, with a first-time director named Thom Fitzgerald, whose film, "The Hanging Garden", is one of the successes of the festival. It's a possible cover, so I have to shoot colour and black and white. My other Rolleiflex is still at the shop (that's another nightmare) so I've been shooting everything on the Canon, which is not exactly how I like to work but it's been convenient to use this much faster, much less finicky camera on these shoots so far. Also...no one I've shot has been of the stature (to me, anyway) of someone whose shot would really enhance my portfolio, so I don't mind not having the big, detailed 6cm x 6cm negatives. A crass consideration, but nonetheless very true. I started getting noticed more when I started putting more celeb shots in the book.
>>Duane Michals actually wrote: 

"There is no such thing as a bad celebrity portrait... Essentially these portraits tend to be a kind of P.R. photo, puff muzak photography that is a form of celebrity packaging. One must never confuse the profound with the clever."
 
My theory is that most people still don't know from a good photo, so a photo of a famous person...well, once again, back to Duane Michals

   "There's no such thing as a bad photo of a famous person."

I hate to say it, but truer words have never been spoken. The Alan Rickman shot alone gets a lot of comments, since a lot of women seem to find him quite the tasty lunch. No one ever asks me about my approach to portraiture, or my technique, but I always hear the question; "What were they like?" 

I once taught some photography classes to "problem" kids in an inner city school. They sat there looking bored until I showed them my portfolio, with pictures of a couple of hip-hop stars that I'd put in the night before  I had their attention from then on, and a couple suddenly started talking about becoming photographers. Very few people are essentially different from these kids.


 
>>Ingrid is a total pro -- if she's late for anything, there's usually a good reason.  She always gets to the shoot before me. She times herself to leave me space at the end of an interview for my shoot, and actually leaves the room while I work. I can think of few people I'd rather work with.
 

I manage to get to the press suite before Ingrid, which is something of an accomplishment. We're taken to an empty room: four chairs, a night table and a poster for the film on an easel. The publicist points it out, inferring that if we want to put it in the photos. Ingrid and I laugh after she leaves; of course, we love giving big movie companies free advertising, don't we? 

The director is brought in, tired but still buzzing on this "best of all possible scenarios" dream he's living in. They start the interview and I scan the room:  southern exposure but no direct sun, the light hitting a wall behind Ingrid in a big, soft slash -- my spot.

Ingrid finishes up and leaves, and the director motions to the flower arrangment sitting on a glass end table in the corner -- his film's characters are all named after flowers. I say that I'd rather not use that in the cover shot, as our magazine's front page is so full of type superimposed over the shot that the less clutter, the better. I tell him to sit on the floor. This is something I could never do with a big-deal American celebrity, as such a request would send any toady publicist into a fit before I'd even finished my sentence. Being a Canadian (and tired), the director gratefully slumps to the floor in the pool of light. I shoot the colour roll quickly leaving a lot of room above his head and to the side for the logo and headlines. The light is flat and soft, and wouldn't be such a big deal on regular film, but I'm cross-processing the film (putting slide film through negative chemistry) so the colours will shift beautifully and saturate like no other film. My only colour trick. I sometimes think I should get another one. 

I change to the B&W roll, and by now Thom is getting a bit giddy. Without me asking, he's pulling roses out of the flower arrangement and putting them between his teeth, biting the stem off, putting the stub of the stem in his mouth and mugging shamelessly. Great. I didn't have to say a thing, and folks will look at the shots later and say, "You obviously had a good rapport with your subject!" Actually, no: he was tired and past caring about his dignity. I just like to shoot people reacting to the camera -- and me -- regardless of what they're doing. 

>>I can't go to Cuba any more. It's a beautiful place and I love the music but Havana is falling to pieces and I've lost the appeal of a "cheap holiday in other people's misery".
 

We've come a long way from the stiff, intense poses people would adopt in front of camera on the postcards and carte visites I collect. Photography is just over a hundred and fifty years old, and the ritual of being photographed has become a sort of charged banality for anyone but isolated rain forest tribes, and even their children get used to it in months, from what I've read by anthropologists working there. I'm reminded of time I was wandering around Havana taking shots in the old town, when a guy on a bicycle stopped me.  He made the gesture of posing -- a stiff, Napoleonic sort of parody of academic portraiture -- and motioned for me to take his picture. It took me a second or two to get my Rollei focused and composed, and he slapped my arm, impatient, obviously used to fast 35mm cameras. I took one shot, then another. He clapped his hands and gave me a little, ochre mango from his shopping basket. 

Some days, I really love being a photographer. 

 Photos and writing (C)1997 Rick McGinnis.  All rights reserved.

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