Review by Wayne Swanson •
Now playing at a bookstore near you is a behind-the-scenes look at the spectacle of moviemaking, filmed in epic widescreen black and white.
Jeff Bridges: Pictures, Volume Two, by an accomplished photographer who also happens to be an actor of some acclaim, is a welcome sequel to Bridges’ 2003 book about the movies he has appeared in. Over the course of his film career, Bridges’ interest in photography turned into a ritual of creating photo albums that he would give to the cast and crew at the completion of each movie. That led to the books. The proceeds are donated to The Motion Picture & Television Fund, which provides charitable care and support to film industry workers.
Bridge’s images present an insider’s view of moviemaking, but what makes them more than mere movie-fan snapshots is his camera of choice. To match the cinematic scope of his subject matter, he uses a camera with a widescreen format — the Widelux. This is a panning still camera that uses a 28mm swing lens to create images with a reach similar to 70mm motion picture film stock. It takes a few moments to make an image, playing into the cinematic feel. Bridges says he likes the way the images show movement and “slurred time.” “It’s almost as if the camera has peripheral vision: registering multiple stories within a single frame.”
In Bridges’ hands the Widelux creates photos that can capture the illusion and mechanics of filmmaking, often in a single shot. His images range from the playful to the dramatic to the surreal. There’s some show-biz fodder for star-struck movie fans, but for the most part the images stand on their own. Bridges has an interesting eye, as well as a sense of framing that uses the wide-frame format to great effect. The Widelux gives even mundane scenes cinematic weight.
There are formal compositions that make the most of the widescreen aspect ratio, as well as loose shots befitting the messy reality of a movie set. His photos of actors, crew members, and all the machinery behind movie magic are captivating — like his image of a phalanx of Panavision cameras facing off against a horse and rider from Seabiscuit. Bridges’ wry sense of humor comes through in images like a widescreen on-location self-portrait from True Grit that includes an unfortunate victim of a hanging, dangling from a tree in the background. And he slurs time in his playful “Tragedy and Comedy” shots, which use the slow capture of the Widelux’s swing lens to show fellow actors frowning and smiling in the same frame.
Interspersed are conversational annotations that provide insights into the mechanics of moviemaking and gentle inside-Hollywood tidbits about his costars and colleagues. Some images would just be mundane were it not for the star appeal of his subjects. But most are composed with a true photographer’s eye. His widescreen imagery is presented long and large, with many images printed full-bleed, to accentuate the cinematic impact.
Few photographers these days have unfettered freedom to capture the intersection of fantasy and reality that is moviemaking. Access to sets and permissible shots are tightly controlled. But if your name happens to be Jeff Bridges, the usual rules don’t apply. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s a fine photographer whose love of his other profession is clear in his imagery.
Jeff Bridges: Pictures, Volume Two, Jeff Bridges
Photographer: Jeff Bridges, born Los Angeles, California
Publisher: powerHouse Books (New York, NY, USA, copyright 2019)
Forward: Kerry Brougher, Essays: Jeff Bridges
Hardcover book with dust jacket, sewn binding, black-and-white lithography, 192 pages, 11 7/8 x 10 5/8 inches, printed by Dual Graphics, Brea, California
Photobook designer: Jana Anderson