“Every Chris Buck photo is a mystery, a pervading, off-putting idea, always conceptual, often visceral, and sometimes unfathomable.”
Not our words, rather those of George Lois (Esquire Art Director, 1962-1972), but we’re happy to borrow sound bites when they so eloquently capture the essence of pas Life Framer judge Chris Buck’s utterly original portraiture style. Simon Cowell clutching a rabbit, Steve Martin with baguettes for fingers, Billy Bob Thornton urinating on a roll of wallpaper… To try to do any of his images justice in words is a fruitless task when each shot oozes such distinct personality, sharp technique and wit. Chris really is unparalleled in this field.
We put some questions to him, in an effort to get beneath the skin of a true creative.
You’re best known for your celebrity portraits. Can you give us an idea of how that came about? Did you get a big ‘break’? Did you always intend to focus on portraiture?
I went to school for photography, but I was actually much more interested in popular culture at the time and that’s where my heart was. As a young person you’ll have some voices around you telling you to pursue what you love, and not necessarily what’s practical, and I was very much into music – reading the NME, seeing bands like The Smiths… I was involved with a local music paper in Toronto as a photographer and photo editor (for Nerve). I managed a band for a while. Released local and international bands so I was really involved in the music world but the fact was I had no talent for making music itself. Ultimately I wanted to be involved in the creative side of whatever I did and so I decided to throw my weight behind shooting musicians and bands. That’s how I ended up being a photographer.
Your portraits are always inventive and unexpected. Do you go in to a shoot armed with concepts, or are ideas generated spontaneously during the shoot?
I certainly go in with lots of ideas. Some are complicated, involving props and costumes, and some are more simple; a gesture or a facial expression. I bring a whole range because you don’t know how game people are going to be, or whether the ideas will work with them. I try lots of things, and edit later to see what worked.
I like to be very prepared, but I also try to be very open to what might happen on the shoot. Subjects might give you an expression in the moment, but rarely do they have ideas, and the ones they do are usually bad ideas! You learn to not have any expectations of your subjects. I initially found it frustrating that subjects bring so little to the sittings but now I appreciate that I’m really in charge.
Of course on advertising shoots I’m working with a team from an ad agency, and they become my creative partners – which I love, because these people are usually so inspired and ambitious!