Every once in a while I take a moment and look around. At where I am, what I’m doing, and who I’m about to photograph. And in the three years that I’ve been cracking on at this photography game, I’ve been fortunate enough to work on three different continents, travel to countless cities, and work with some truly incredible people.
So you can imagine my excitement when the folks at Bits and Pretzels announced that their keynote speaker on the opening day was to be none other than one of my stage and screen heroes, Mr. Kevin Spacey. The Usual Suspects is at the very top of my “must see” films of all time, and Se7en, well, if you know me, you can probably take a well educated guess how I feel about this masterpiece.
Naturally, I wanted to get some one on one time with Kevin, and did just about everything I could to see if we could make this happen. Unfortunately, (and I totally get it), any and all images of Kevin had to be run via his agency, and the request for a headshot was denied. Fair enough. Sadly, there are a few unscrupulous photographers out there that would seek to capitalise on such a shot, and they tend to ruin it for the rest of us.
The upside, however, is that the Bits and Pretzels team did secure a spot for the official photo team to capture images of Mr. Spacey while he was on stage. And yes, I’ll admit, there was a tiny little smile on my face when all the press guys were cleared out, and only I, and two other excellent chaps, were allowed to hang back and shoot.
Photographing an actor of Kevin’s stature on stage was watching a master at work. He slipped in and out of characters so often, and so fluidly, that by the end of his talk, I started thinking, “is this man playing a character of himself right now”? He delivered a 45 minute talk with looking down at his notes no more than 3, maybe 4 times. Wow!
It’s always a tricky thing when photography celebrity. Obviously, I want to get the best shots I possibly can, which often involves getting as close as possible. (If you remember, I got just a little TOO close to Fr. Angela Merkel a few years back, and I’m pretty sure the German secret service has a file on me by now). And in so much, it’s a matter of respect. E.g., how close can I get to Kevin without disturbing him?
To offset this, I like to let the celebrity see me before they’re on stage, and make it apparent that I’m one of the official guys. I did exactly this in Munich, and caught Kevin’s eye backstage, nodded, and made sure that he saw me as part of the team. In doing this, when a speaker is on stage, they know I’m supposed to be there, and that it’s all good.
The result, dear friends, is this shot of Kevin Spacey. I was able to get about 5 feet away from him in the front row, and then use my 50-140mm (76-213mm (35mm Equivalent)) lens to zoom right in, and capture the decisive moment.
Kevin spent most of his time on stage talking about not being afraid of taking risks. Going for it. And so when my friend and colleague Mike Butcher concluded his post-talk interview with Kevin, I thought, “Right. Take a risk. Ok….fuck it, go get the shot.”
I quickly headed backstage, and pulled Mike to one side and said, “Let’s get a picture.” Now remember, no on the headshot, and all images had to be approved. Mike asked for a picture, I introduced myself to Kevin, and said, “Mr. Spacey, you talked about taking risks. I’m heeding your advice right now.” He looked at me, looked at the cameras, broke intro a big smile, put his hand on my should and said, “Good. You ready? Let’s do this.”
So while I didn’t get “the” headshot I wanted, I think something even better came of it. Because for me, photography isn’t always about getting the shot, but rather, getting the message. And in this case, I had the rare opportunity to express to my subject that I just absorbed every ounce of what he had to say, and not 5 minutes later am putting it into practice.