film festival diary '97
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Day Seven



 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

>>Almost no one is as uncomfortable having their picture taken as a movie actor, in my experience. I still can't explain this. (2002 update: Four years later, I still can't explain it.)
 
NOTHING MUCH TO REPORT TODAY. Didn't touch a camera, or make a print. Spent the day waiting to hear about the Jennifer Jason Leigh shoot, and still hadn't heard anything when I went to see a movie at 8:30 pm. Rushed out of the film to a phone booth where I heard that: 

   a) John, the other film critic, has a 15 minute slot with J.J.L.booked tomorrow, but still doesn't know whether a photographer is allowed - J.J.L. is apparently not comfortable with cameras. (Then why is she a movie actress?  Stupid question?) I would have to shoot during the interview, if at all; a prospect I do not relish. 

  b) Ingrid has a half hour booked with Mike Figgis (director, Leaving Las Vegas) at 10:00 am, fifteen minutes before I would have to be at the J.J.L. interview. If I can't do it, she'll call another photographer, but I have first choice. 

>>A year later, I don't think I'd need to think about it.  I care more about just working now than the status of the person I shoot.  There's almost no one I can think of who I'd want a picture of that badly.  I'm not so sure, ultimately, that anyone cares about celebs in my portfolio, either.  I just want to work.  I just want to get paid.
 
Now, it doesn't exactly require the wisdom of Solomon to solve this dilemma, but I have to be careful. I call John first and explain to him what Ingrid said. He tells me to go with Figgis. The result is that I'll definitely have pictures of a balding, bearded director, as opposed to possibly having pictures of a pretty, slightly controversial movie star. I don't have to tell you which will look better in my portfolio. 

I go over my options with John one more time on the phone, and decide to go with Figgis.

I call Ingrid, who's halfway through watching Figgis' new film on tape. She really likes it, and thinks it might be a cover. I'll definitely have enough time for a proper shoot. I tell her that John reccomended I do Figgis over Leigh, leaving it unspoken that John would probably be happier without me at his interview, considering his longtime crush on Leigh. I tell Ingrid that I'd probably be much happier working with her, anyway, and getting a real shoot. We agree to meet at 10 minutes before 10:00. I hang up feeling strangely relieved.

>>I once bribed a publicist with toy Godzillas, stolen from a shop where I worked, to get a shoot.
 
I know this doesn't sound like a big deal, but let me give you a bit of history. When I started doing portraiture, I really worked hard, sometimes making an ass of myself, trying to get access to celebrities, knowing how much their presence in my book would enhance my career, and because of a more than residual fascination with the whole issue of fame. I would actually brag about who I had shot, which is only mitigated as a disgusting thing to do by the real interest people took in the notches on my lens, so to speak. At the same time I would feel obliged to complain about the petty humiliations I endured from publicists, and sometimes from the subjects, during these shoots.  There's no way I could admit to really enjoying this process, but the results seemed worth the aggravation.

 
 
>>Famous people Chris has shot:
  • Pat Buchanan
  • Cal Ripken
  • Janeane Garofalo
  • William Kunstler
  • Michael J. Fox
  • Julia Child
  • Robin Leach
.
>>Famous people I have shot:
The Bruce Dern shoot was pretty funny.  We didn't exchange a word.  I placed him next to a window and shot two rolls in four minutes.  When it was over he shook my hand and said: "That was very good.  You'll go far."
 
My friend Chris and I would sit around making "wish lists" of people we'd die to get access to, and would call each other when a prominent figure on the list croaked -- we were both crestfallen when Nixon died.  Chris moved to New York, and has since shot some pretty well-known people, and I used to envy him painfully. Time has passed, however, and my attitude has been changing as I've gotten older and much less staruck. I think about all the really beautiful portraits I've taken of "nobodies" that will never make it off of the contact sheets. Sad but true. Frankly, I've finally come to love the process of portraits more than the trappings my subjects bring to the photos. 

I hope I'm not sounding like I'm patting myself on the back here. 

The truth is that I get as much joy out of taking a picture of a piece of fruit, or the results of the "park sex" shoot, which are the first real successes I've had in making my photos look like paintings. I know that for as long as I do editorial portraiture, most people will be impressed by who I've shot more than the pictures themselves, and that includes art directors and photo editors, unfortunately. Of course I would have loved to get a beautiful portrait of Jennifer Jason Leigh for my book, but the likelihood of that happening looks pretty slim, and the decision to take the Figgis shoot instead is less informed --  I hope -- by a convenient but guaranteed "second best" scenario than by the simple pleasure of getting to exercise the best part of my craft in halfway decent circumstances. 

This is, to me, the important distinction that has to be made between what I do and "paparazzi" work, which is less about the photo, and the process involved in making the photo, than the simple fact of the subject of the photo. Paparazzi put themsleves in a subordinate, abased position -- to their subject, in their craft -- whereas I like to think that I approach my subjects on something like an equal, mutually amenable, footing. 

I repeat -- I hope. Maybe I'm fooling myself.  You tell me. 

 Photos and writing ©1997 Rick McGinnis.  All rights reserved.

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