Tuesday, February 8, 2011
Jake Chessum: Keeping It Light
Jake Chessum photographs celebrities and global power brokers with unexpected twists to their very public personas
DPP: Where does the underlying humor that seems to permeate many of your portraits come from?
Chessum: I’m not sure if it’s deliberate all the time but, yeah, that’s a part of my personality. But it doesn’t reflect a lack of seriousness about work. My general approach is to keep it light, and I guess that shows in the end result.
DPP: Your assignments often include portrait sessions with politicians who tend to want to be portrayed in a serious, powerful image. How do you evoke what you want out of them?
Mickey Rourke, Ewan McGregor and Viggo Mortensen seduce Chessum’s camera with their unique charms.
It’s vital to maintain someone’s interest in being photographed. I’m pragmatic and realistic about it. A lot of people who you shoot, they’re not that interested in being photographed. You often have very little time because they’re important politicians or CEOs or actors on a tight schedule. I’m very conscious of that.
DPP: Typically, how much time do you get for a session?
It’s disco in a box with the gentlemen of Coldplay.
If someone wants to be crazy, I’ll dive in with them and appreciate them for being a lunatic. If someone wants to have loud music and scream and shout or put on a sad song, great. I don’t treat people in a deferential way or a disrespectful way. I present myself as who I am. I’ll talk about my wife and kids, and if they join in, we can get a rapport. Or maybe we’ll talk about vacation plans. But, generally, the bigger the star, the smaller the talk. I photographed Robert De Niro. He doesn’t want to hear about how great he was in Goodfellas; he knows.
There are some people who are easy to talk with and some people that put up a bit of a wall. Chris Rock is a very nice guy, he’s friendly, but he doesn’t want to talk about anything that has to do with himself. So you have to find a subject that he wants to talk about, like a movie or somebody he thinks is funny or somebody he thinks is a piece of crap. It’s funny. You’re thrown in with these people who you’ve never met before and you have to figure out very quickly what’s going to work.
DPP: For shoots with politicians and CEOs, you probably have to go to them rather than them coming to a studio. What kind of equipment are you bringing with you on location?
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