An Interesting Person

In October, I photographed James Spader for Esquire. It’s now out in the January 2010 issue. This was the most nervous I’ve been before a shoot in a long time. Here’s what ran.:

James Spader © Emily Shur

And here’s an outtake…one of my favorites:

James Spader © Emily Shur


UPDATE: After being asked why I was so nervous about this shoot in particular, I thought to elaborate. There are some subjects that I feel walk onto a set and expect a certain level of talent, professionalism, and confidence from the people around them. These people usually make me a little nervous because I know I have to bring the A Game. This is not to say I don’t always bring the A Game on every shoot…blah, blah, blah…but there are times when I know that the subject is not going to want to fuck around. I kind of had this feeling going into the James Spader shoot. I’m a huge fan of his, and I wanted to make a picture of him that made sense. I wanted it to be weird and kind of creepy, yet flattering and sophisticated.

Now, I’m not professing to be the authority on celebrity portraiture, but there are some things I’ve learned in the past ten years that have helped me feel slightly more prepared and confident going into a shoot that I’m nervous about. There’s a skill that good portrait photographers possess, and that skill is the ability to read someone upon first meeting. We have to pick up on subtle things pretty much immediately that you might not normally pick up on if you weren’t trying to engage the person or get something out of them. It can’t come off as insincere. We have to be endearing and trustworthy. We have to project that we know what we’re doing and what we want, even if we don’t all the time. I think I am pretty good at figuring people out fairly quickly. Some things I look for first are their desire to experiment and how patient they might be. Do they want to spend time making this right, or is it better for me to make it quick and stay on their good side? Should I push it and ask them to do something outside of their comfort zone or stay in the comfort zone because they seem to like what’s going on?

I imagined James Spader as being similar in real life to some his on screen personas. I’m not sure if I was right or wrong, but one thing I did take away about him from the shoot was that he wanted to have purpose within the photographs. He didn’t want to make crappy pictures, and he didn’t want to just get it over with. We discussed every set up beforehand. I think that people who take what they do seriously respond well when we as photographers let them know that we take what we do seriously. I left the shoot with the utmost respect for Mr. James Spader. Plus, we share a love of Top Chef. Food sometimes really is the great equalizer.

5 comments to An Interesting Person

  • Anonymous

    I too am a huge fan of Mr. James Spader's and I loved the photograph you took of him for "Esquire". I loved it so much that I took it from the magazine and framed it. To my mind you really caught the intelligence and ecentricity of the man…at least this is the way I view him and the picture. I loved the other photo that was not published as well, thank you for sharing it and your story.

  • Anonymous

    Do you have any more outtakes? These are remarkable and I too love the photo in the magazine, it's absolutely one of my favorites of the man. You really have captured his essence. Thanks!

  • Susana

    i'm a big fan of mr. spader, have heard he is a very regular guy – have you seen secretary? your pictures are great – thanks for sharing.

  • elizabeth avedon

    On Celebrity Portraiture:
    Emily, So brilliantly put, which explains your high level of cool creative concepts.

  • colleen figg

    hell you are so lucky to have shot Mr Spader! Where can I see all the pics? This is such a cool site to have stumbled upon!

    Wow! again, so lucky

    (a rabid South African fan of James’s)

    Colleen Figg