Monday, March 3, 2008
Matthew Rolston - Simply Glamorous
Matthew Rolston's photography has graced the world's most renowned fashion magazine covers. In a rare interview, he shares his thoughts on photography, gear and lighting.
DPP: Since you grew up in Los Angeles, did you ever have the opportunity to meet Mr. Hurrell?
Rolston: I was very fortunate to meet Mr. Hurrell during the formative years of my career. I asked him a somewhat naive question: “What is glamour?” He said, “I dunno, kid. I think it's kind of a suffering look.” Typical of the man, his answer was curt, unromantic and right to the point. And when you look at his photographs from the '30s and '40s, you can see that suffering—elegant, glamorous suffering, of course. So Mr. Hurrell saw the pain inside the exercise of beauty. I think that's poetic and beautiful. They do say you have to suffer to be beautiful. And the kind of beauty that Mr. Hurrell was trading in was a beauty of artifice and fantasy.
DPP: What techniques do you use to evoke strong emotions and reactions out of your celebrity subjects?
Rolston: First of all, I think it's very important to engage your subjects in the process. I work mainly with performers. I want them to “perform” in a photograph. My subjects are gifted, complex, beautiful creatures. I want to unlock their creativity within the context of whatever my idea is. Sometimes that's impossible for whatever reason. When that happens, I'll do whatever it takes, including begging, pleading, cajoling, flattering and, if necessary, I'll perform what I call “The Chicken Dance.” I hope you or your readers never have to see this. But if I can't get at least a laugh out of my unholy Chicken Dance, I'll try something else. The main thing is to realize that your subjects are there to participate in the process. They're not wax fruit or sculptures. Engage them.
DPP: What type of lighting do you use?
Rolston: I don't use any one type of lighting. I try to choose the tools that suit whatever image I'm trying to create. Very often, I'll shift lighting radically from shot to shot in a single day in order to try out lots of different looks on my subjects. I use strobes, hot lights, Kino Flos, natural light, candles, flashlights, campfires—even the headlights from my car. Sometimes the most beautiful light of all is no light. I've found corners of shadow in natural light studios and on location that are unbelievable. The light in shadows can be so subtle—it's something you have to know how to see—and it's almost impossible to re-create. Understanding light is the photographer's greatest tool.
DPP: What equipment are you working with these days?
Rolston: I use a wide array of tools for my work. I don't have just one way of doing things. I shoot mostly medium format, mostly with the Mamiya RZ Pro. I've used the Hasselblad H and V systems. Each has specific strengths and advantages. I somewhat prefer the Mamiya because of the rectangular format, which most closely resembles the shape and aspect ratio of a magazine page, the usual venue for my photographs. I'm a magazine photographer.
I've used several generations of Hasselblad and Phase One medium-format backs with a range of Apple computers. Each piece of equipment has its own special and individualistic merits. Speed of shooting, system integration, color consistency and reliability are just a few of my deciding factors. Software used on my shoots ranges from Adobe Photoshop, Hasselblad's FlexColor, Phase One's Capture One and DFStudio, which is a proprietary software of Digital Fusion, a wonderful digital capture and retouching company I work with in Los Angeles a good deal.
Tech talk aside, it's important to remember that these are tools, not a substitute for creativity. I'll use whatever it takes to get me where I need to go, and I'll always be interested in the latest innovations in imaging technology. But it's not technology that drives me; it's creative problems that need solutions.
To see more of Matthew Rolston's photography, visit www.matthewrolston.com.
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