An intimate exhibition of black-and-white photographs by Jeff Bridges opened at the George Eastman House in July. Whether entirely intentional or not, the exhibit is a subtle companion to Site Seeing: Photographic Excursions in Tourism. It continues to foster our ongoing romance with photographs, and perhaps more importantly, with photographic memory.
Pictures is a selection of 70 images that Bridges has taken on his various movie sets for more than 28 years --- from King Kong to The Door in the Floor. It is also the title of his new book.
Bridges started taking pictures when he was a teenager (in town recently to receive the George Eastman Honorary Scholar award, Bridges fondly remembered playing with his dad's Nikon and being entranced by the click of the shutter). But the idea to capture the otherwise forgotten moments on a film set and put them in a book for cast and crew was actually suggested by Starman costar Karen Allen. Bridges says in his exhibit statement: "Karen's brainstorm marked the beginning of a series of privately published 'albums.' These were given in appreciation to the cast and crew... [celebrating] the work we did together."
Bridges uses a fairly rare panorama camera called the Widelux. But he uses the camera not in its normally intended way --- photographing vistas --- but by coming close to the subject that interests him. He also captures things that happen to be on the periphery of his vision. And it's what's on the periphery that is quite often more interesting than what is central to the photograph.
In First Day of Shooting, The Fabulous Baker Boys, 1989, brothers Jeff and Beau are in a large bathroom getting ready for... the first day of shooting. Here we get to see the photographer, his reflection "captured," as it were, in the mirror. He is poised to "capture" his brother Beau who seems to be looking straight at us but is really looking at Jeff. But wait. As the eye travels right, there's the crew, complete with microphones and big lights. All they need is "action."
Since everything is in focus, your eyes can explore all that unfolds. Take, for example, Peter Bogdanovich: Lining up a Shot, Texasville, 1990. We see on the left members of the film crew assisting the director in the middle, who peers into the windshield to set up the shot. In this instance, we "share" space with actor-photographer Bridges, whose knee also peeks into the frame. Continuing onto the right is the rest of the steering wheel and expanse of dashboard. We are "up close and personal."
The edge-to-edge sharpness and format of the frame, which has a very similar ratio to the film format of CinemaScope, brings us behind the scenes as if it were a movie in itself. Come to think of it, if movie theaters would check out Bridges' photographs as examples of what a movie should look like when it's projected, then we moviegoers would see films the way they were intended. Instead, too often we're subjected to nauseatingly out-of-focus parts of the screen, not to mention bad sound, that end up butchering the incredible craft of the director and cinematographer as well as the rest of the crew that created the magic for us in the first place. Interestingly, Bridges also remarked that one of his objectives in making Pictures was to leave something in place at a time when the filmic process may be a dying dinosaur.
As you walk around the gallery, you're drawn to the images --- either because of some familiarity with the actors or with the particular movie itself. You can tell that Bridges has a great fondness for what he does both as an actor and a photographer. Still, Bridges worries that these up close and personal peeks behind the scenes "[expose] a bit of the magic... [unmasking] things that were never meant to be seen." On the contrary, these candid snapshots, as large as they are and just like the various films themselves, become fragmentary possessions and as such, are also illusory reminders that somehow we can have what we seek.
Jeff Bridges --- Picturesis on display at the George Eastman House, 900 East Avenue, through September 19. Hours: Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. with Thursday nights until 8 p.m. Sunday 12 to 5 p.m. $8, $6 seniors, $5 students, $3 children. 271-3361, www.eastmanhouse.org