My first full time job as a photographer was to document events for the Office of Education, Los Angeles California. Years later, after moving to Canada, I became a photographer for a University’s Public Relations Department.
During my 40 plus years earning my living as a photographer I pointed my camera at quite an array of exciting subjects, but it was those two early jobs that fashioned my approach.
This past week I was asked by writer and director, Cjay Boisclair, if I would act as a staff photographer for her movie, “The Bench”, for a couple of the shooting days.
I am retired and stay away from anything that demands that I be on time. But the thought of taking behind the scenes pictures intrigued me.
Although I have many, many times enjoyed watching movies being made, I have never actually been part of the film crew. “Film crew”, that can’t be correct. I wonder what they call themselves now? Nevertheless, I was sure the photography would be much the same as any public relations exercise.
Public Relations photography in my experience is physically active, there is never a chance to sit and one must to constantly be looking for animated subjects. I never saw or presented myself as being important as those I was photographing, and always preferred to sneak voyeuristically around. And although my photographs were used by news sources and much of the time were in publications, I never thought of myself as a photojournalist. Photojournalists tell a story, whereas my job was to document the interaction and hard work of the people in the event.
It was with that attitude that I quietly walked on to the set the morning of my first day.
I guess I forgot how small Kamloops is, one would think that in a city of over ninety thousand people there would be some anonymity, but alas, that was not to be. A complete stranger said, “John, right? They are around the corner.”
I photographed everything that happened behind the scenes for two days. I am sure that many star-struck, first time photographers might think, “what a great chance for me to photograph a movie”. However, at this production there were three trained, creative, cameramen operating a two hundred thousand dollar camera, whose job it was to photograph the movie’s action. Taking pictures of the movie isn’t what I think my position as a still photographer needs to be doing. My job was to photograph the people that were actually making the movie and I did just that.
I shot for two tiring days. From time to time I was able to lean against walls, and once or twice even tried to sit down. But of course, as soon as I thought I could relax, I would see crewmembers doing something interesting and rushed to get that shot.
Mostly I wanted those classic images we see in the old newsreels of the Director in action. Pointing, talking to the lead, or working with the cameramen. The crew wasn’t huge and I got to talk to and photograph everyone working on “The Bench” at some point over the two days.
Photographing on a movie set was a new and certainly entertaining experience. I have always thought that movie people were a special breed, and now that I have had first hand experience being around them as they worked, I absolutely believe that.