lthough his academic parents already had him on track for medical school, Compton started playing the drums at his uncle’s dance hall on the weekends. But it wasn’t until he started studying biology at Wofford College in 1976 that he discovered theater. “My parents were so disappointed that I wanted to be an actor back then,” Compton says. “But once art grabs you by the throat and you realize that you are good at something, all you can do is go with it. I needed the stage so badly, it was the first thing that really made my heart soar.” Fast forward thirty years and Compton’s career includes roles in over 12 Hollywood films, acting along side the likes of Jodie Foster, Eddie Murphy, Morgan Freeman, and Sharon Stone. He’s walked on over 20 TV series, notably Seinfeld, Party of Five, and The Wonder Years. He’s learned to morph into the kind of loud, honky characters that directors snatch up to play the umpire, the Texan, and the witty police officer. Back home in South Carolina, he commandeered Lucky Boys, a highly successful film production company specializing in TV commercials. Big businesses across the Southeast sought after
lovers kissing under a bridge, a monk walking to town—all images possessing a reverence for the subject’s quiet quotidian. “One time, I was shooting a group of young people on a bridge overlooking the Thames River in London. They were clearly high on heroin and it was as if, in their wild state, they were crying out for the lens,” Compton recalls. “I’ve learned a lot about the needs of humanity from taking photographs. These kids had created their own little support group, and maybe the next day all they would care about would be their next fix, but in this moment, they were everything to each other.” Grown out of his need to be in the bright lights, Compton poured himself into preserving fleeting moments starring the anonymous. Within a few years, his private passion garnered the attention of international galleries, gracing the walls of the Michael Hoppen Gallery in London, Castle Haggenberg in Vienna, and a number of others in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, New Orleans, and Charleston. Today, his work hangs in the homes of old friends, Morgan Freeman and Emma Thompson. The likes of Billy Bob Thornton and Elizabeth Taylor have purchased his pieces from galleries abroad.
(left)O’Neal with Morgan Freeman in “Deep Impact”. (center) As Earl Haffler in an episode of Seinfeld. (right) With Anthony Hopkins and James Woods in “Nixon”.
his hilarious stock characters such as the hillbilly car salesman, the backwoods doctor, and the Southern front-porch gentleman. In a decade and a half, he became a stockpile of made-for-TV personas, the kind of quasi-star that always gets cast, sometimes gets recognized, but never quite fulfills his dream of producing a feature film. As the biz would have it, Compton racked up and burned out by the end of the 90s. Even though he had relished in his on-screen success, the fact that none of his screenplays were ever produced left him discouraged. So, he traded Hollywood for a Harley Davidson and a Pentax 67 camera, and left behind his California ranch. This time he headed for the Alps, seeking space, solitude, and unsuspecting subjects. “I went from being on one side of the camera to the other,” Compton says. “I had a long lens and a passion for capturing people in their natural environment from far away, it was all about finding that true sense of humanity.” Rolling from Alpine villages to major cities across Italy, Switzerland, Germany, and Austria, he drew on his production skills to teach himself the art of candid portraiture. From clandestine corners, he produced introspective shots of elderly women at the bus stop, field hands sweating in the sun, young
“Artists promote truth to me in this world, and as an artist I hope to participate in molding a healthy, liberal worldview. I seek just the right juxtaposition of beauty, honesty, and despair,” explains Compton. When not shooting in the field, he experiments with fine art photography, working primarily with female nudes. However, his approach is very similar to his hands-off, candid techniques. Rather than professional models, he shoots female friends, women who are ready to reveal themselves from the inside out. The title of his nude series “Interiors,” although staged inside of stunning architecture, actually refers to the interior souls of his subjects. “I’ve found that most women are very introspective, especially when they feel comfortable enough to take their clothes off for the camera,” says Compton. “Usually, I will leave the room and let them situate themselves a bit. Then I will come back and shoot them from a distance, maybe even from an adjoining room. It’s amazing how quickly they turn their thoughts inward, and how their body responds.” For all of the directions Compton has taken with his career, all of the dreams he has chased, ambitions he has fulfilled, cars he’s left booted in the street, it seems that photography has been his
Published on Sep 10, 2011
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