Portfolio: The Star as Artist

The photography of Viggo Mortensen, Brett Ratner, Jeff Bridges, Eva Mendes, Colm Feore, Aaron Eckhart, Adrien Brody, Julie Delpy, and Tim Roth.

Portfolio-The-Star-as-Artist

Portfolio-The-Star-as-Artist

In one sense, the photographers featured on the following pages are just like many of the readers of American Photo: Most are devoted, talented, avid amateurs. Some have even taken their appreciation for the art of photography to the next level, shooting as professionals, publishing books filled with their own images, and showing their work at art galleries.

In another sense, of course, these photographers are nothing like the rest of us. They are actors, actresses, and filmmakers -- celebrities who are famous for work that has nothing to do with the pictures they take. And yet photography is part of their everyday lives. Indeed, they inhabit a world that is based on imagery -- of both the moving and the still variety. They make their livings in front of the camera. It is through images that the public knows them.

Given all that, it makes perfect sense that they would want to pick up cameras themselves, to point them where they want to. Jeff Bridges turns the tables artistically when he brings his Widelux panoramic camera onto movie sets to take pictures of his costars; when the movie is finished, he often presents the entire film crew with books of his images. He now also features his work at the Rose Gallery in Santa Monica, California. Viggo Mortensen's passion for photography has led him to launch his own book-publishing company.

In addition to his film work, director Brett Ratner now shoots stills for Jordache and Jimmy Choo ad campaigns. The fact that Adrien Brody loves still photography shouldn't really be a surprise, since his mother, Sylvia Plachy, is a well-known photographer.

For all of the actors and filmmakers on the following pages, photography is more than a hobby. It is a means to an end. Being behind the camera allows each of these much-photographed people to regain a measure of control over their lives, to assert their creativity. In that sense, once again, they are very much like the rest of us.

When it comes to Viggo Mortensen, costar Elijah Wood was right in deeming him a "Renaissance man." Besides acting, Mortensen can add poetry, music, painting, publishing, and -- most importantly -- photography to his list of talents. In 2002, Mortensen and his brother founded Perceval Press, an independent publishing company that has worked with photographers and writers, large and small. Perceval publishes Mortensen's abundant artistic exploits, often a mix of his photography and prose. Miyelo, which he published after working on Hidalgo, included ethereal, panoramic photos of the Lakota Native Americans and documentation about their tragic history. For Mortensen, photography and art are "a way of being in your life and paying attention -- participating in life by recording it, commenting on it, offering your own notions and responses." Although Mortensen's books always sell out and demand several reprints, Perceval still prints them in small runs; thus most people got their first glimpse of Mortensen's photography in the extra features on the DVD for The Lord of the Rings. Mortensen spent the 15 months of the film's production in New Zealand photographing the cast and crew both on and off set. He plastered his trailer with the photos, creating a sort of all-encompassing collage that (in true Mortensen fashion) recorded that specific time and place in his life. Many of these images, in addition to several of his paintings, were exhibited at Track 16 Gallery in Santa Monica, California, and can now be found in his book Signlanguage.

-Lindsay Sakraida

Brett Ratner stumbled into professional photography by honoring one of its legends, Helmut Newton. Ratner -- the director of blockbusters such as Red Dragon and X-Men: The Last Stand -- was with the photographer the night before he passed away in 2004 and snapped a photo of him by chance with his Mamiya RZ67 Pro. When Vanity Fair was publishing a Newton retrospective, it featured one of Ratner's photos, which became his first published work. "There are hundreds of great portraits of Helmut, and out of all of them, they chose my picture," Ratner recounts. "At that moment, I thought to myself, I am a photographer." From this break proceeded a long line of serendipitous events for Ratner, including guest-editing VLife magazine, photographing Al Pacino, and snapping the cover of French Vogue. These led him to a fortuitous career as a photographer who shoots editorial as well as commercial ad campaigns such as Jimmy Choo. Ratner is particularly known for his portraits, which have included Edward Norton, Mariah Carey, and Kirk Douglas. As in his day job, Ratner the photographer has an affinity for directing his subjects and extracting a story from them. "I'm trying to capture the persona," Ratner says. "It's about the face. Each lens fits a different person based on a face. I'm trying to direct them in that moment, discovering who they are." It's this desire to capture what is true about the subject that led Ratner to install the now famous photo booth in his house (featured in his book Hilhaven Lodge: The Photo Booth Pictures). Though its entertainment value is clear, Ratner has a philosophical take on the photo booth, which demonstrates his goals as a photographer. "It's just you and the camera -- there's no inhibition," he explains. "It's a machine that people go into, and they transform. They let their true selves show. There's no airbrushing; it's the true essence of a person."

-Lindsay Sakraida

It's difficult to separate Jeff Bridges the photographer from Jeff Bridges the actor, since his experience in film has greatly influenced his photographic career. Bridges dabbled in photos when he was younger, but his interest wasn't revived until his role in the 1976 film King Kong. "I was playing a character [who] was a paleontologist, and he happened to carry a motor-driven Nikon with him wherever he went," Bridges says. "In preparation, I started taking pictures again." His wife took note of his newfound love and bought him a Widelux camera, which has a lens that pans the subject from one side to the other for an extra-wide angle of view and a stretched-out aspect ratio.

This panoramic style has become a Bridges trademark and indulges the actor's sense of playfulness. In grade school, a photographer showed Bridges and his classmates how a Widelux works, and "some kids figured if they ran very quickly, they could beat the moving lens and be in the picture twice," Bridges recalls. "They were right. Years later, I started using this technique to take pictures of actors creating the theatrical masks of tragedy and comedy. The result was someone frowning and smiling at himself, all on one negative." Bridges also began capturing candid moments on movie sets; while working on the 1984 film Starman he was invited to add his photos to those taken by the unit photographers as a gift for everyone on set. The practice became a tradition and culminated in his 2003 book, Pictures, a collection of his favorite set images. According to Bridges, this endless association between film and photography makes perfect sense -- if you use a Widelux. "The frame is a lot like the 1.85:1 ratio of a typical movie," he explains. "So it functions as sort of a bridge between still photography and moving pictures."

-Lindsay Sakraida

Eva Mendes became an overnight success in Hollywood in the time-honored way -- by working hard for years. She started her career by appearing in music videos such as "Hole in My Soul" by Aerosmith and by doing bit parts on soap operas. Her breakthrough came when she appeared with Denzel Washington in 2001's Training Day, which led to other leads, opposite Will Smith in 2005's Hitch and Nicolas Cage in this year's Ghost Rider. Meanwhile, she also built a career in front of the still camera. As a model she has starred in ad campaigns for Revlon and Dolce & Gabbana. Perhaps her most famous pose, however, came recently when she appeared in the nude as part of an anti-fur campaign for PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).

It's not surprising that Mendes is fascinated by the power of the camera, though she is quick to describe herself as an amateur when it comes to making pictures. Like actor Adrien Brody, Mendes recently worked with the charity group Signature International while attending the Venice Film Festival. Mendes agreed to record her memories of the festival, which included long hours stuck in hotel rooms. Like any other photographer in such a situation, she looked around and found inspiration nearby: a bouquet that she lit with light from a nearby window. She also used a slow shutter speed on her digital SLR to photograph car lights at night -- a visual drama that, naturally, looks more than a little cinematic.

-David Schonauer

While actor Colm Feore was playing Marcus Andronicus in the 1999 film Titus, costar Jessica Lange showed up with a Leica M6. "I thought, that is a terrific camera," remembers the actor, who plays the First Gentleman on this season of 24. From that point on Feore became an avid student of photography and a collector of vintage cameras. Frequently these cameras -- old Leicas, a Rolleiflex, an old Hasselblad, a Polaroid 340 -- were gifts to himself after finishing a difficult movie. Then at the end of The Chronicles of Riddick, a sci-fi action flick in which Feore wore a heavy metal suit and "tried to beat up Vin Diesel," the Shakespearean-trained actor decided he deserved a special reward. Having seen the Littman 45 Single featured in American Photo and praised by top photographers like Bruce Weber, Feore sent his money off to William Littman, who makes the 4x5 rangefinders by hand and only distributes them through his Website. "It was exactly what I was looking for," Feore says. Although the Littman is relatively easy to use compared to other 4x5 cameras, it's no point-and-shoot, and Feore isn't afraid to ask for help from the cinematographers he works with. "It's a terrific way to be engaged with an awfully boring practice," Feore says. During the downtime between his scenes, he often shoots 4x5 Polaroids with the Littman. The odd-looking camera tends to draw attention, and the instant, one-of-a-kind images help ingratiate Feore with fellow actors who are wary of being photographed. Plus, understanding that photography and cinema are "closely tied" helps him give directors and cinematographers what they want. "I go where the light is best," Feore says, "because I know it is helping me tell the story."

-Miki Johnson

A photography buff on a film set is like a kid in a candy shop, as actor Aaron Eckhart knows very well. The actor takes full advantage of the still photographers hired by studios to document daily activities on set. These experienced photographers are often generous with their know-how, according to Eckhart, who is best known for his role as a callow spin doctor in the 2006 film Thank You for Smoking and is due to be seen later this year as the villainous Two-Face in the much-anticipated Batman sequel, The Dark Knight. "I can usually be found between takes talking to the still photographer," Eckhart says. "Dale Robinette is a set photographer that I have worked with many times. I bring my camera, and we go around the set and location taking photos." Though he is grateful to have learned from the best in the business, Eckhart is quick to note that, as in acting, "the technical aspects of the craft must be mastered in order to forget them, [so you can begin to] really create." With his mind now relatively clear of distracting technique, Eckhart is a self-proclaimed street photographer, which is, like his method of learning, affected by his paying gig. An actor often has heaps of downtime away from home, so to fill the void Eckhart walks the streets taking photos. "The faces and lives of the people in those places are my passion," Eckhart says. "There's no better way to explore than with a camera and a good pair of shoes." His favored equipment includes his Leica M6, Nikon F6, and Hasselblad, all outfitted with "short, fast lenses for portability and concealment." Whether Eckhart comes across a skater or a demonstrator, his goal is the same: to use his on-screen training to fashion a narrative from his still images. "As a filmmaker, your energies are focused on how to best tell the tale," he explains. "Those energies naturally flow from one medium to the next."

-Lindsay Sakraida

This actor's connections with photography are well known by now, at least to readers of New York's Village Voice. His mother, Sylvia Plachy, was a longtime photographer for the alternative newspaper and specialized in shooting the characters and landscapes of New York City. She also naturally spent quite a bit of time photographing her outgoing son, and Brody has often credited her with making him comfortable in front of a camera. Here's another, less-known connection between Brody and photography: His famous kiss with Halle Berry during the 2003 Academy Awards program -- a backbreaking affair that he bestowed on the actress after receiving the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in The Pianist -- was inspired by a snapshot of his parents in an elaborate embrace. It is safe to say, in other words, that Brody understands and appreciates the power of the still image. At the Venice Film Festival in 2007, Brody participated in a program sponsored by Signature International, a nonprofit group that raises money by selling celebrity photography. For this shot of a fleet of gondoliers during a regatta, Brody used backlight and the sparkle of sunlight on water to etch his vision of the beautiful city. In January, he served as special photographer for an auction sponsored by Signature International to benefit UNICEF. His images were displayed at a reception at the George V Hotel.

-David Schonauer

Julie Delpy is known as a deft storyteller for her work as an actress (in films such as Before Sunrise and Broken Flowers) and a director (2 Days in Paris). And although fewer people are familiar with her photography, those who are find that the French actress seeks to create a strong narrative in this realm as well. Delpy's interest in photography began in her teens, when she would create photocollages to illustrate her journals. Now equipped with an SX70 Polaroid camera, Delpy groups her photos according to the relationships among them. "I like to put photos together like they tell a little story," she says. "Like dead birds versus a few live ones, or four very different women, with such different energies: One is calm, the others hectic, mysterious, and wise." Sometimes the connection in Delpy's photos is clear -- a photo of a dead field mouse paired with one of a cat -- and sometimes it's obscure. "They are put together the way my mind works, [so] for others they could mean nothing at all," she explains. This flexible interpretation is what Delpy loves about art. "I never liked going to organized museum tours and having teachers explain paintings to me," she says. Her equipment includes "odd" cameras bought in Russia that "make pictures look like [they're from] the '70s" as well as digital models. Delpy doesn't shy away from what she calls "girlish themes"; indeed, she says many of her favorite photographers are female. "I guess I like the woman's eye," she says.

-Lindsay Sakraida

For someone who doesn't consider himself a photographer, Tim Roth has gotten off to an exceptional start as an imagemaker. The actor, who is best known for his roles in the cult classics Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs and who directed The War Zone, began snapping photos, as many parents do, to document the growth of his children. Roth's personal hobby became a public one in the fall of 2007 when Francis Ford Coppola invited him to publish his photos in the director's literary magazine, Zoetrope. Roth uses photography to "engage in his surroundings," often during distant movie shoots in places such as Thailand and Romania. He finds someone who intrigues him and asks permission to spend several weeks to a month observing that person. "It's not just spy camera," Roth explains. "You have to give something to them. You have to find a way to respect them so that it's not just stealing, because it can be abusive. It can be theft." Roth's intimacy with his subjects even brought him to a wedding in Romania where he served as the official event photographer for a couple he met there. Now equipped with a Canon EOS 20D, Roth often whips out his laptop to show his subjects how he has interpreted the seemingly mundane moments of their lives. "Usually [they react] with huge amounts of laughter," Roth chuckles. "And for me, that reaction's good enough."

-Lindsay Sakraida

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A boy in repose.
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Ratner's editorial portrait, of Edward Norton.
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A Jimmy Choo ad with Quincy Jones.Brett Ratner
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One of Feore's shots from the set of ABC's mini-series Empire.
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One of Feore's shots from the set of ABC's mini-series Empire.Colm Feore
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One of Feore's shots from the set of ABC's mini-series Empire.Colm Feore
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One of Feore's shots from the set of ABC's mini-series Empire.Colm Feore
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One of Feore's shots from the set of ABC's mini-series Empire.Colm Feore
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One of Eckhart's street portraits.
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One of Eckhart's street portraits.Aaron Eckhart
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One of Eckhart's street portraits.Aaron Eckhart
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One of Eckhart's street portraits.Aaron Eckhart
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One of Eckhart's street portraits.Aaron Eckhart
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A regatta in Venice last September.
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One of Delpy's visual vignettes.
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One of Delpy's visual vignettes.Julie Delpy
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One of Delpy's visual vignettes.Julie Delpy
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One of Delpy's visual vignettes.Julie Delpy
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Image made while on a trip for a movie shoot.
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Image made while on a trip for a movie shoot.Tim Roth
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Image made while on a trip for a movie shoot.Tim Roth
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Image made while on a trip for a movie shoot.Tim Roth
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Image made while on a trip for a movie shoot.Tim Roth
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