DPP Home Profiles Patrick Hoelck - Film Noir

Friday, May 25, 2007

Patrick Hoelck - Film Noir

Patrick Hoelck's distinctively dark style casts today's brightest stars in a new light

Instead of worrying about digital issues, Hoelck prefers to spend his time refining interactions with subjects and conquering on-set technical challenges. When he found that he wasn't holding detail in the shadows, for instance, he began pull-processing his film to get the densest, most detail-rich negatives possible. He's also meticulous about the placement of the many lights on set. It's all necessary if he's going to pull off such a dark, dramatic style.

“It's funny,” he says. “People say, ‘You're dark,' and I'm like, ‘No! I used to be really dark!' My retouchers guide me here. I think I'm popping the models out and bringing them out of the environment. I see the world in a different way and I alter reality to fit the way I see. I always like the complications of altering it as opposed to going natural. I've always seen the world that way, and that's how I shoot it. I see things popping out—like somebody's eyes or soul. And I try to light accordingly.”

While Hoelck once worked solo, he now believes fully in the concept of teamwork. He raves about his crew, which consists of a few great assistants who meticulously prelight scenes so that time-crunched celebrities can simply walk in and out, all without Hoelck ever sacrificing the shot he has in mind. Among his top assistants are Eric Larson, Keith Lehman, Christopher Baldwin and Robert Epifano, to name a few.

“I work with five or six different people who have really shown me that what's in my own head shouldn't be compromised,” Hoelck says. “I use a dynamic amount of lights—which isn't always what clients want to hear when we propose the budget. I tend to put light on features that I think are interesting characteristics of the person—applying light to bring out who the person is.

When I photographed Ian McKellen, I really wanted to hit those cheekbones and the gauntness and the strangeness of his face and in the eyes. You're looking at probably 13 or 14 strobe heads for that photograph: there were a couple above him, one for an eye light, two slamming the sides of his head, two backed off for fill, edges...sometimes three, sometimes 17. It depends on the day. It depends on the time allowance.”

From Video To Stills

Hoelck began thinking about lighting early in his video career as he worked his way up through the ranks in New York. He took that experience and lighting philosophy into his still career, which has evolved side by side with his video work for the last several years. Improbable though it may seem, Patrick Hoelck, the still photographer, has only been around for eight years, and he continues to do video production on a regular basis.

“I started in the art department,” he explains, “and then I got into gaffing—actually lighting videos. When I started shooting stills, I started shooting gangs in documentary style, portraiture in the shadows, getting real occurrences because I was coming from a staged world. The progression of it was, ‘Let me bring back my lighting sensibilities and then put them in the realistic world that I've got in this documentary style.' Then I finally connected both of the things that I knew.”

Adds Hoelck, “I'm the opposite of most cats. I was a music video director in New York City and then Los Angeles. About 12 years ago, I went through a period when I wasn't doing much work at all. After that period, I basically had a dated reel as a director and I started shooting stills. At first, it was to prove that I could get back into video with visuals, to show clients current work. But I really enjoyed stills and went further in that direction—which is kind of the opposite of everyone I know.”

Hoelck brings much from his video experience, not the least of which is an understanding of lighting and an ability to work well with celebrities and their publicists.

“I wanted to direct films,” Hoelck says, “and music video was my first step in that direction. And then in the middle of it, I felt that I was a waiter waiting on tables wanting to be in a movie. I felt like films and music videos couldn't be any more different. I felt like I was moving in the wrong direction. Photography, for me, is moving in the right direction—a more timeless direction.”

Hoelck's aggressive approach and finely tuned style have helped him reach places networking alone never could—including a quick transition from an unknown to a big name. “I think I hit photography as hard and as fast as I could,” he says, “recognizing any boundaries I learned from video. I really dedicated myself to staying in a room and learning my technique and my style until I had it. And then I really just didn't listen to ‘no.' Five years went by in a blur because I was just going after it so strongly.”


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