Acting Like a Photographer

ChaseInCoal, originally uploaded by carolsLittleWorld.

This just in…in David Tennant news, David is going to star in a new BBC Drama called “Single Father” about a photographer whose “world comes crashing down when his wife Rita dies [and] he has to raise his children single-handedly.” Since you know I’m a total David Tennant fan, I’ll be watching this. Just reading the announcement got me to thinking though about acting and photographers and, of course, David himself.

I can’t act. I couldn’t play a photographer in a movie or TV show even though I am one in real life. Honestly. It’s one of those art forms I’ll never master, not even close. (Seriously.) I joke about being so bad at acting that I could not even play a corpse on Law and Order. (People at home would be scratching their heads, squinting at their TV sets, asking, “did that corpse just move? And wasn’t it wearing a different shirt a moment ago? What’s going on? Is this a zombie movie or something?” Really, I’m that bad.)

But, that’s not what I’m *really* thinking about. No, what I’m really thinking about is, how do actors play photographers? What makes a photographer, well, a photographer? Different from all of the other professions, jobs, trades out there? Nothing really, right? Have there every been really good, historical portrayals of photographers on stage or screen? Rear Window comes to mind-I honestly think that was the best one and, frankly, there haven’t been many more. Even the recent Diane Arbus movie Fur was, how to say this, a bit of a let down.

This presents an interesting dilemma. Now, I know David’s going to do an excellent job in this role-he’s one of the best actors of our time and, frankly, after playing a mad Doctor and Hamlet, I don’t see how he could *not* convincingly play a photographer. But it begs the question, why are photographers so hard to play? Why aren’t there any “tells” with photographers, like there are with other fields?

Another quirk, in case you haven’t noticed, is that there really aren’t famous photographers out there. Sure, over the course of history, there have been a few-Adams and HCB spring to mind, but, for the most part, we’re an anonymous bunch. Nobody knows our names. Nobody recognizes us. It’s not like we’re wearing a sign “I’m Great!” or some such thing. We move about unnoticed and that’s often by design-so we can get the best shots before anybody even notices we’re there shooting.

I think photographers are interesting people, I really do. The problem is that we’re the type of people everybody wants to sit next to at a dinner party and have a deep discussion with. We’re not the flashy flamboyant type of person who instantly becomes a celebrity and fills the room with nothing but eyes on him (or her.) We’re not the starlet type, we’re not the “stand back! I’m a photographer” type, no, we’re more the people who, if you should happen to bring up the wilds of Madagascar can say things like, “oh, I understand there’s a bird sanctuary there and you can go and photograph…” People are interested in what we have to say, they just aren’t all that much interested in, well, us.

So that brings me back to how can an actor best portray a photographer? How can you make that interesting? Oddly enough, this isn’t even a question I can answer really.

Maybe it’s all in the look. Photographers wear chino pants a lot. And the shoes-almost always some kind of comfortable shoes, if not hiking boots. Yes, we all have a well worn pair of hiking boots. That and we can blow without spitting (comes with the trade.) But, even when you look at us, there’s nothing really that smacks of “I’m a photographer!” really.

I think though the single biggest “tell” of a photographer is that we always have our head buried in pictures or buried in a camera. Yes, we’re always looking, scouting, arranging the universe, figuring out the light, the angle, the perspective to get a good shot. At any given moment, if you were to hand us a camera, even during that otherwise boring dinner conversation, we could “make” a picture come to life. That’s really at the heart of what we do and now, I guess, it’ll be David’s job to show us that in story.

Yes, that’s probably the best way to sum it up. The man who catches shadows is always looking for the next one, isn’t he? It’s either that or the hiking boots I’d guess.

Until next time…

PS In case you were wondering about today’s image-this is my charcoal rendition of Chase. It was done from this photo if you are curious.

1 Comment

  1. Janice / Dancing with Sunflowers
    March 4, 2010 / 9:43 am

    Chase looks a little bit cross to be having to pose for his portrait in the original and I think you've removed the crossness in the charcoal.

    As for David Tennant and photographers – I'm sure you could have the same discussion about many professions. It's just that you know about photographers and so you're looking for certain characteristics that you know to be realistic when you watch someone play a photographer.

    A good few years ago I made a video for my work organisation to be used as part of new staff induction, in which I interviewed several key members of staff. My colleague filmed it and we edited it with help from a technician who used to be a TV cameraman. He let us in on a few tricks of the trade, for example 'nodders'. Whenever you see a close-up of the interviewer nodding during the interview it's because something the interviewee said has been cut. I see this all the time now, and have often thought that TV and film cameramen must have a really hard time watching anything for enjoyment, because they'll be able to see how all these tricks have been employed. Similarly, I'm sure doctors and police investigators find all sorts of faults with portrayals of their role.

    I just hope David T appreciates the magnitude of the task ahead of him in terms of continuing to live up to your expectations after you've seen the programme. (I know you'll be rooting for him!)

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