Bill Maher, at home with his dog Chico © Emily Shur
Bill Maher. I’m a huge fan. Big time fan. Still a fan after this shoot, but I just have to say a little something about this experience because I took away something important from this shoot. When I got the shoot, I was extremely grateful and excited, but I was pretty sure that photo shoots aren’t Mr. Maher’s favorite thing to do. Totally understandable. Understandable, but necessary I suppose. When we met in person, my thoughts were confirmed, and clearly this was not going to be a lengthy shoot. Totally cool. I was ready to move quickly. I had one set up on seamless lit and ready to go and another in the backyard (above) also lit and ready to go. The magazine had high hopes of an unexpected and jovial moment, but I quickly got the vibe that was not going to happen either. So in my opinion, the best way to handle this type of situation is to make the environment in the photograph somewhat unexpected or funny or sarcastic or ironic or whatever and let the subject be themselves. The humor will come through on it’s own that way. Know your subject (the best you can). Don’t base a picture on the hope that this person is going to do a cartwheel across the frame when that’s clearly not in their character or photo shoot activity repertoire. Not to say one day you won’t be pleasantly surprised at what someone is willing to do, but keep in mind that sometimes you have about 15 minutes to get the shoot done and need to bring something usable back to the magazine/client.
Anyway, Bill Maher. Sometimes I feel as though a few bad apples have given photographers, especially photographers who photograph celebrities in some capacity or another, a bad reputation. It seems our profession is not always respected as much as it should be. Granted, there are some serious cheeseballs out there, but I (and lots of photographers I know) work very hard to make good and interesting pictures of all different types of people. This stuff ain’t easy. Let’s compare a portrait shoot to an interview. The interviewer could show up with a list of very well-prepared and thoughtful questions. It doesn’t matter how smart and interesting those questions are if the interviewee continually replies with short one word answers. No one will ever reap the full benefit or impact this interview could’ve had. Oh well…I mean, clearly not on the short list of pressing world problems that require immediate attention, but I’m just saying…
I’ve watched every episode of Real Time and will continue to do so. I agree with Bill Maher’s point of view on almost every topic. I think his voice is an important one, and he is someone I was extremely excited to meet and photograph. I get that photography and pictures of oneself are not why most actors, comedians, politicians, writers, scientists, etc. do what they do. It’s for the most part an annoying consequence of fame, success, and attention, and that’s too bad. I would like for that to change, possibly for purely selfish reasons, but also for the sake of the art form.