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09/21/2009

Shooting JPEGs at TIFF

Jim Rankin, Staff Reporter

Yo, Keanu! This way, Robin! Oprah, dear, please! Over the shoulder, love! 

They hunt in packs, howling at their prey in a relationship that has allowed both to survive and to thrive. Together they fill pockets and many glossy mags, newspapers and websites with what many people want.

But, as seen during this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, sometimes the prey bite back. Colin Farrell manhandled a red carpet photographer for shouting at his little-known sister to get out of the way. , which made headlines around the world.

Let it be known, however, that very few of the red carpet shooters are of the paparazzi variety, as some might believe - and there is little glamour involved in red carpet still photography. The photographers stake out a limited number of official shooting positions three hours in advance. They are penned up in tight quarters for hours on end, often without water or food. They must mark their territory like animals, and pee in portable washrooms.

No wonder they occasionally get cranky. 

While the shooters who line the red carpet - many weighed down with up to nearly 15 kilograms of cameras, strobes, laptops and stepladders - may appear a singular mob, they are a collection of distinct subspecies, each with unique dietary preferences and hunting techniques. Cue the Hinterland Who’s Who theme, if you will.

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Robin Wright Penn walks away from photographers at TIFF outside Roy Thompson Hall

The Wire Guy

The wire photographer roams a wide territory, often spending weeks from home, feeding his or her service with images, which are then regurgitated into the open maws of client newspapers, magazines and websites. They are recognizable by the considerable amount of gear they carry yet are able to feed efficiently on an ever-changing diet of news and sports. A full-time wire gig is considered a prime gig amongst news photographers, and their numbers are few.

Most also privately admit they loathe the red carpet, but they are well-paid to be there so they do not complain. They remain quiet on the carpet, preferring not to engage in the celebrity mating calls of others (see The Celeb).

“I don’t yell, unless someone isn’t stopping,” says Mark Blinch, 26, a regular freelancer for Reuters based in Toronto. This is his third TIFF and, like others, doesn’t find the pictures that come of it to be particularly pleasing to the eye - of a photographer, that is. “I don’t find the pictures are that nice, as photos,” says Blinch.

“I look for the more artistic angles,” says Blinch. 

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Reuters photographer Mark Blinch rests during a long day of waiting.

The Staffer

Closely related to the wire photographer, but will and must eat absolutely anything. The full-time newspaper photographer’s day can consist of a fashion shoot in the studio in the morning, a news conference on new garbage cans at noon and a bloody double-homicide in the evening.

They are salaried, enjoy the comfort that comes with a pension and benefits and their hunting tools are usually supplied by their employer. Like the Wire Guy, they tolerate the red carpet assignment - barely.

Star photographer Carlos Osorio, 26, makes the best of the assignment and tried his hand at getting the attention of Ricky Gervais. In a faux Brit accent, he bellowed out the comedian’s name and got a direct finger-point in return, much to the appreciation of the photographers around him. A coup, really, for a staffer. See Ricky react to Carlos here

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The Toronto Star's Carlos Osorio awaits celebs on the red carpet.

The Freelancer

Always hungry for work, the freelancer has multiple clients and may only shoot celebs once or twice a year, and for that they may get $100 to $200 an assignment. It is not much when the job can stretch for hours, but it keeps this sort of shooter lean, cunning and nimble. They will endure a recession better than, say, a recently laid-off staffer type, unfamiliar with the hardscrabble existence of freelancing.

Brampton shooter C.J. LaFrance, 40, counts Baseball Canada, the Rose Theatre and a hockey stick company as regular clients. But it is a picture of Jennifer Aniston, shot at last year’s TIFF, that he shows off as an example of one that paid some bills - and may in the future as well, as he shares the rights on sales. In it, Aniston flips back her hair and flashes a pearly smile, and - man, this is as good as it gets - she is staring directly into his camera lens. The red carpet money shot. This is what sells, and this year he is feeding his pictures to Getty Images, a stock agency.

His trick for eye contact? Put down the camera. “Can you look at me for a second,” he says politely, and raises the camera to his eye. Works, he says, “98 per cent” of the time.

“I just stand beside people who yell,” confesses freelancer Ashley Hutcheson, 28, one of a handful of women in a male-dominated lot. Oddly, she notes, female celebs do not seem to even hear calls from female photographers.

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Photographers shoot away on the red carpet outside Roy Thompson hall at TIFF

The Celeb Shooter

Roams free of the pack and dines exclusively from a Hollywood menu. The alpha-dog of red carpet shooters is sometimes a minor celebrity unto himself and there is perhaps no better specimen than Toronto’s own George Pimentel. He’s been at it for 15 years, which is about when he finished studying art photography at Ryerson University and snapped his first celeb portrait, of Robert DeNiro. This year, Pimentel has access to about 80 TIFF parties, one of which was in his honour, courtesy of Hello! Canada.

Unlike the other species of shooters, Pimintel, 42, is not bound by the TIFF photo pit rules. He must still work to get eye contact but when you’re standing on the red carpet chances are you will get your shot. His approach: “Say something personal, know their dog’s name, where they’re from, and just say this one’s for Brooklyn.”

I know Pimentel from his Ryerson days. He is a teddy bear, but can be a bear of a different sort when he’s working. While he tries never to roar, he says you must be loud, directive, yet charming.

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Another TIFF another George Pimentel

The Lone Sniper 

Hunts alone and from a distance, with the prey often unaware they have been photographed. Pictures end up on Facebook and MySpace. The barriers outside TIFF venues are lined with fans with all manner of cameras, from small to near-professional. And then there are guys like Guy Diamond, a Toronto photographer who shoots weddings and proms (which he promotes using one business card) and scantily clad models (which he promotes on another.)

He shot the premiere of The Private Lives of Pippa Lee at Roy Thomson Hall from about a football field away, using an ancient 1,600-mm telephoto lens nearly a metre long, new digital body and sturdy tripod. The result: waist-up shots of Keanu Reeves and Robin Wright Penn.

“Old school, with new technology,” the 53-year-old says. And, “I’ve got a bigger one.”

jrankin@thestar.ca


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