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Why war photography is getting riskier

How to devise a dance shoot in five steps

JOURNAL BY RICK FINDLER

FEBRUARY 2018 / VOLUME 158 / NUMBER 2

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Jeff Bridges

exposes

Hollywood


WIDE BOY

The Oscar-winner Jeff Bridges began taking photographs to calm nerves between takes. He tells Teddy Jamieson why shooting with his beloved Widelux gives him a unique insight in to the world of acting

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JEFF BRIDGES


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Bridges as Rooster Cogburn in True Grit, 2010

SOME ACTORS, JEFF BRIDGES SAYS, READ between takes on the film set. Others knit cardigans. Bridges prefers to take photographs. He has been doing it on nearly every movie he has made since he shot John Carpenter’s sci-fi film Starman in 1984. By now, for him it’s become part of the process of making films. ‘Often, when I’m working on a movie I’ll think: “Oh look at that beautiful shot,”’ he says. ‘Or “I want to draw a picture,” or “I want to write a song.” ‘It used to kind of bother me when those ideas came into my mind because it would distract me

from what I’m doing. But over the years I’ve learned that when I start to shake up my creativity – which is certainly what making movies is all about – all kinds of aspects of my creativity come up. ‘And photographs, they’re a way of relaxing or distracting you from what you’re doing, which can be very helpful. You can put too much effort into something. A lot of actors, you’ll see them reading or knitting sweaters; just something to get their mind off what they’re going to do on the film when the cameras are rolling, so it comes off fresh and not too studied, you know?’ VOL 158 / FEBRUARY 2018 / THE RPS JOURNAL / 113


JEFF BRIDGES

This morning it is a balmy 28°C in Santa Barbara, California, and Bridges is sitting in his office behind a desk that belonged to his grandfather, looking out at a fir tree that has been there for 40 years, and which he and his wife Sue refer to as their ‘first child’. He is at home, in every sense you might say, surrounded by guitars and a ‘little keyboard’ in case the mood to make some music takes him. And as he speaks he is looking at some of the photographs he has taken down the years on and off set. Bridges talks in a slow, friendly drawl so familiar from the films he has made. Listen to his voice and 114

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maybe you think of the taciturn pianist in The Fabulous Baker Boys (in which he played opposite his older brother Beau and Michelle Pfeiffer), the ageing stoner in The Big Lebowski or faded country musician Bad Blake in Crazy Heart, a performance which landed him the best actor in a leading role Academy Award in 2010. While his screen persona often toggles between enthusiasm and indolence, Bridges’ attitude towards photography defaults to the former, although he’s not one to make grand claims about his work. If anything, he plays down its worth. He had been making films for more than a decade

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‘I love her concentration – she almost looks like a statue’


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before he started taking photographs on set. But his interest in photography goes back to childhood. As a child he borrowed his actor father Lloyd’s Nikon and took pictures of his family. The teenage Bridges set up a darkroom in their bathroom and would take Polaroids of his friends which he would later use as source material to paint portraits of them. In his later teens he drifted away from photography. But a chance viewing of images by Mark Hanauer taken on a Widelux swing-lens panoramic camera, developed in Japan in the 1950s, sparked his interest. And when Sue bought him a Widelux as a present he was hooked.

JULIANNE MOORE The Big Lebowski, 1998 I’ve got a lot of favourites [such as] Julianne Moore dressed up as her Valkyrie character. I love her image and her concentration – she almost looks like a statue but she’s working on

this dance routine, and I love the psychedelic appearance of the floor and what that’s doing. And if you look, some of the dancers are just lying down taking a break, and there’s a guy’s leg coming in. I’m fond of that one.

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JEFF BRIDGES

The Widelux is nothing like a Nikon of course. ‘For me,’ Bridges says, ‘it is most like how the human eye sees. It almost has peripheral vision. It’s a combination of a moving camera and a still camera. The shutter moves itself so it’s quite forgiving. You can handhold for 1/15 of a second and get a pretty sharp image.’ The resulting pictures offer a photographic equivalent of the widescreen cinematic format. ‘You can really look around in the picture and see different things to focus on,’ Bridges notes. ‘It’s almost a 70mm Cinemascope frame so that lends itself to taking pictures of movies.’ 116

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It was his Starman co-star Karen Allen (one of cinema’s knitters, by the way) who saw the pictures he was taking on set and encouraged him to make a book of them. Since then, he has continued to do that on nearly all his films. ‘I always ask permission,’ he explains. ‘I usually start it at rehearsal when we’re reading around the table. I usually ask: “Do you guys mind if I do this?” And I’m an actor, so I know intuitively when’s a sensitive time for a guy, so I won’t bust in.  ‘I try to capture what making a movie in the late 20th century, early 21st century, is all about. It’s changing pretty fast.’

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‘I know intuitively when’s a sensitive time for a guy‘


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Peter Bogdanovich, director of Texasville, 1990, with other crew members

Taking pictures is a chance, he adds, to give something back to the people with whom he has been working. ‘It’s a nice gift for the cast and the crew. It’s almost like having a home movie of that time in my life. I can look at those and it takes me right back to those days.’ The way he talks about the images, you could be forgiven for thinking Bridges sees them just as snapshots. And yet even the slightest glance at them will show that they are formally inventive and visually adept. But what is he seeking when he looks through the lens? He needs a concrete example to get him thinking

about that. ‘What are you looking at?’ What about his image of the director Peter Bogdanovich as seen through the windscreen of a car on the set of Texasville, say? ‘So, that one, the Texasville shot of Peter, that’s an actor’s point of view. Unless you’re an actor in that spot you’re not going to get that view, so that’s kind of unique. ‘And I love in that photograph that Peter is very focused. You can see he is looking right at me. But everybody else is doing their job. That guy in the hat to Peter’s right, he’s the camera guy. He’s looking at some light. How it’s bouncing. VOL 158 / FEBRUARY 2018 / THE RPS JOURNAL / 117


JEFF BRIDGES

‘There’s another guy who’s a grip. They’re all doing their jobs. And then as I look at that photograph I see the geometric shapes of the door and the steering wheel.’ Some of that is unplanned, he admits. Such is the nature of the Widelux. ‘You’re not looking through the lens. It’s got a viewfinder, so you’re going to get more than what you see. There’s something capricious about the camera.’ It’s interesting, I suggest, that he is not afraid of clutter in his images. They can be quite busy. For a filmic comparison, they sometimes perhaps resemble a still from a Robert Altman movie. 118

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‘Or Garry Winogrand,’ he counters, bringing it back to photography. ‘That’s somebody who comes to mind. They’re everyday pictures in a “making a movie” setting.’ Is Bridges a keen observer of the work of other photographers? ‘I don’t study too many. Some come to mind. Lartigue. Are you familiar with him?’ The French photographer Jacques-Henri Lartigue captured society at play in the early years of the 20th century and, like Bridges, has an eye for informal situations. ‘He used a Widelux–type camera,’ Bridges says.

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‘There’s something capricious about the camera’


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‘Most of the photographs from that time are very stiff. His are almost snapshots.’ The actor goes on to mention Richard Misrach, Anthony Friedkin and Mary Ellen Mark, who he worked with on the film American Heart, as influences and inspirations. ‘And I’ve been photographed by some great photographers myself,’ he adds. Did you ever ask for advice? ‘[Richard] Avedon. I remember him shooting a portrait and how fast he was. When you push the button that’s the deal. And you’ve got to be quick on the draw sometimes. And not be so worried about the frame. You just go.’

PATO HOFFMANN Wild Bill, 1995 It was [meant to be] a dream that Wild Bill was having, and it was going to be shot in the Los Angeles forest. This was July, right, and it was hot. We bring up all these snow machines and we’re up there and what

happens? It starts to snow. In the middle of July. So, in that picture you see the snow on the ground. That was a unique thing. We didn’t use the snow machines at all. The magic of that story enhances the magic of the image.

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The RPS Journal, February 2018  

Oscar-winner Jeff Bridges began taking photographs to calm nerves between takes. He tells Teddy Jamieson why shooting with his beloved Widel...

The RPS Journal, February 2018  

Oscar-winner Jeff Bridges began taking photographs to calm nerves between takes. He tells Teddy Jamieson why shooting with his beloved Widel...