Thursday, 19 March 2009

A sad farewell.

Today's news of Natasha Richardson's death is a terrible and unexpected tragedy for her family, friends and colleagues and though it is not really my place, I would like to humbly offer my condolences to anyone who reads this and knew her. 

I photographed Natasha Richardson in 1998 when she was in rehearsals for the revival of Cabaret that would win her a Tony. The Times had managed to get an interview with her in the run-up to the first night and commissioned me to take a set of black and white portraits for the profile piece.

It was one of those bright, brisk March days in New York that makes you believe in limitless possibilities when I stepped out of the station in Times Square and headed for the theatre. On arrival I was met by Natasha's publicist. She explained that I was the last of a reasonably long line of photographers that day and that I would have to be quick so as not to cut into Ms Richardson's late lunch.

She left me and went to check on the progress of the current shoot. My experience of photographing actors is not extensive but time pressures seem to be a given in these "press day" situations. So I was just mentally preparing myself for a perfunctory "head and shoulders" when her publicist returned to fetch me for my turn - so to speak.

As we walked to the room where she had been photographed all morning, the negotiations began....

"Would it be possible to photograph Natasha in the theatre?"

No, there were rehearsals ongoing.

"Perhaps her dressing room?"

Out of the question. Anyway, there wouldn't be room for me and my assistant. Ah... where IS the assistant?

"Um, don't have one for this shoot I'm afraid."

How was I going to set up my lighting in time?

"Working with available light today," I explained breezily, "I was hoping for the theatre and I know union rules don't allow me to plug anything in."

This was all met with an exaggerated arching of the eyebrow and a slight quickening of our pace.

Smartly dressed in black "turtle-neck" and tailored jacket Natasha rose to greet me as we were introduced. As I took out my cameras we exchanged the usual pleasantries  - the weather (as English always do!) the city, the rehearsals. After a few shots in the same bright room that she had spent the whole day I decided to chance another request for a location that gave more sense of the theatre. Natasha enthusiastically agreed and a dressing-room (not hers!) was found where we could take the last few pictures.

The room in question has unbelievably small. I was using a Fuji 690GW that day. I loved that camera for it's 35mm aspect ratio and low light usability but honestly, the room was so small that I had to jam my head against the far wall just to get minimum focus distance! 

Well, I had asked for this, so I had better make a picture before I wore out the patience of all concerned!

Natasha herself seemed entirely at ease. Radiating the kind of relaxed confidence that made it easy to be generous of spirit, she chatted as I tried to change rolls as quickly as I could. In the end there were a couple of pictures that were quite nice, I said goodbye, apologised for delaying her lunch and dashed off to get the film processed. 

Under normal circumstances I would have thought no more about the whole process but a week or so later I was back at the theatre for a different magazine to photograph her co-star in Cabaret, Alan Cumming. 

My "Rabbi" on this one was the Scotland On Sunday colour supplement and Alan's rather fierce US publicist clearly had never heard of it and cared much less. After a long wait I was finally being bumped for a late-coming photographer from USA Today. I was told in no uncertain terms that my publication would have to get pictures from one of the dozen or so agencies that had come in that day.

At that very moment Natasha Richardson entered the auditorium and, after saying hello to fellow cast members, she unexpectedly called out my name and strode towards me. 

Greeting me with a genuinely disarming warmth she said, "Thank you so much for that photo. The piece was horrible but I loved the picture."

Stunned and more than a little bedazzled I just about managed to say, "It was a pleasure!"

Smiling her goodbyes she re-crossed the room. I turned back to Alan's publicist to start pleading again but before I could even say a word she cut across me. 

"Five minutes, not a second longer." she said as she looked at me with a sightly suspicious and grudging respect.

"Thank you, I really do appreciate it."

Glancing at Natasha she dryly replied, "Don't thank me."

1 comment:

Abbie said...

good story :-) you can tell the classy ones can't you, live in gratitude, treat others as you would like to be treated yourself, RESPECT. RIP.