Can Celebrities shoot?

August 21, 2006

HandsIn several past posts, I’ve commented on my theory that highly talented people – such as Stanley Kubrick, Gordon Parks, Tony Bennett and Henri Cartier-Bresson – did great work in art forms different from that of their principal fame. I started to wonder if that is generally true. I came across a web site devoted to celebrities and their photography. I don’t know what you’ll think about what I’m about to show and discuss. I found some of it hilarious and some of it depressing.

Here is a note on the pictures in this post: I’ve selected about an equal amount of photos by the celebrities from a) the “best” of them and b) the “worst” of them – according to my opinion, of course. The pictures occur in a random order. They are not linked to the text at all. Can you spot the good ones from the disasters? Maybe yes, maybe no – after all, it is just a matter of personal taste. There is no right or wrong answer and certainly no score card.

Here is a link to the Celebrity Site “Take Great Pictures, Celebrities That Shoot“. The article covers no less than 19 celebrities and their photographic talents. The site includes side articles and slide shows. I thought that this must prove or disprove my talent theory. Here is what I’ll do: For each of the 19, I’ll provide a link to their photo slide show for you to explore. Click on the name of the reviewed person.

I’ll make some statements on my view and show some quotes from or about each celebrity. Again, the principal question is – Can Celebrities Shoot? Check my totally subjective ratings!

Let’s go:

The Celebrities

1 – David Berkeley – a musician and song writer who did some photographic work on assignment in Alaska for a travel guide. A quote:

“What draws me into photography as a form is similar to when I write songs. Both photography and song writing are very emotionally instigated and desired forms. Some things just call out to take a picture of it, such as a stupid sign or a striking shadow. That is easy to capture, but often I have to be moved by something visually to photograph it. What I really like about photography is that I can see an image I want to capture but then the trick is to try and figure out a way to photograph it. You can’t create that emotion with just a mirror image of what you see. You have to try and figure out the best way the camera can capture it and still convey the emotion that you felt at that moment.”

Not a bad statement at all. I think it is right on. Question is, do his photos live up to his words? I think there are several photos of his that are quite nice. But there is little commonality or any particular insight. Have camera, will travel. Grade: C.

2 – Matthew Modine – Veteran actor, perhaps best known for his role in Full Metal Jacket (Directed by Stanley Kubrick!). He published a book about his experiences playing a photographer in the film. Here is a quote:

My interest in photography really began with the tremendous generosity of my friend Joe Kelly giving me the Rolleiflex to take with me on my trip to London to work with Stanley Kubrick. Joe said that Stanley would be really impressed (he felt) if I had a knowledge and understanding of photography.

Now that’s a novel idea – having a camera promote your career. Most of the pictures are from the movie set. Enough said. Grade E.

3 – Barry Zito – Oakland A’s Pitcher. A happy amateur enthusiast. The enthusiasm is reflected in his work but it is pretty much snap shots. Curiously, he uses a Canon EOS 7N – a film camera much beloved by me and one of my principal cameras.

Q: ….It seems like you try a number of different styles of photography, whether it is candids, landscapes, or abstracts – what kind of photography is your favorite to shoot?

BZ: Hmm… I don’t know. I like shooting people. I mean, I’m an extroverted person and I love capturing someone’s spirit through their eyes. But I don’t even like to say I’m a photographer. I just like to document my life and have experiences, some of which not everyone gets to enjoy and see, so I put it on film or digital. I’ve already got 7,500 pictures just from the past three years with so much random stuff. I’ll bring my camera with me to restaurants and bars and always have it on me because I never want to miss that shot.

Well, the pictures are all over the place. Exposure is a weak area. But he’s got the right idea and some humility – bring that camera along and keep shooting. One day it will work. I did the same for many years. Grade C.

4 – Carmen Electra – Actress. It appears most of her photographic experience occurred when:

“Carmen and fellow actress Bai Ling, who appeared on the cover of the May 2005 issue of Playboy, snapped when they were able to borrow a D2X from WireImage Professional Photographer Michael Caulfied the night of the Force of Nature Concert for Tsunami Aid at Stadium Putra in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.”

The most interesting part are the pictures that Carmen Electra apparently took of herself. It reminds me a bit of the equally astonishing picture of Hippolyte Bayard that I discussed in “On Reality 3a” below. Of course, he managed to photograph himself while dead. Ms Electra apparently is not dead in the pictures she took of herself. Grade: F.

5 – Brendan Fraser – Actor in a great many films. There are no quotes available. Too bad, I’d like to find out more about his photography. This guy has got talent although perhaps not much patience and discipline. But then, why should he? It’s not like his livelihood hangs on this. I do like his stuff. It’s got this nice improvised, irreverent vitality feel – check it out. Grade A-.

6 – Kyle MacLachlan – Prolific actor, mostly on TV. Link to article doesn’t work. The photographs are labeled “Photos From Around The World” and they seem to be. Snap shot quality, nothing special that I can detect. Grade C-.

7 – Robert Tourtelot – “Renowned litigator best known for his high profile work in the OJ Simpson trial”. Ah well. Here is a series of quotes:

“In the last four years, however, Tourtelot has committed a lot of time and energy to the craft of photography. “Digital cameras drew me back in and peaked my interest,…”……“He has also committed himself to learning formally, saying, “I’ve studied a lot at the UCLA extension school and completed a course at the New York Institute of Photography.” Returning to photography, he says “makes me look at the world differently…”

“Robert Tourtelot photojournalistic approach reflects his opinions on the condition of contemporary photography, “I am of the firm belief there exists in Photography today a certain element of ‘elitism’ amongst certain well-known photographers, galleries and critics.”…..”that is so out of focus that I want to laugh. Of course the reviewer or whoever is commenting on the photo accepts the photographer’s explanation that it was shot this way on purpose to convey some sense of mystery or whatever.”

I always like people who can consider changes in their lives from one career to something entirely different. They may have dreamt about such a change for ages and finally act on it. I’m not sure if Mr Tourtelot is one of them but he may be. I personally certainly made the change of a life time when I abandoned my high tech, high pay career for photography and art.

Many of his photos are quite nice. There is a commonality, a line of though missing in most of the work of others discussed in this post. Nice going. Grade B-.

8 – Marty Stuart – Country Music Entertainer who is “Shootin’ From The Heart”. I like that. Let’s see if it is true, as reflected in his photography. Quotes:
“As an entertainer Marty has enjoyed a special kind of relationship with his subjects, because they are more often then not close personal friends. It is this connection that has allowed him a unique kind of access that other photographers would not ordinarily be able to achieve.”“Stuart feels country music gets back to the core of human existence and through his through (huh?) the craft of photography he’s succeeded in capturing a fading generation of stars, in a not-always glamorous profession.”

I suppose that tells us something – sounds interesting. Unfortunately, the slide show displays only two pictures. Hard to tell if they come from the heart or if they capture a fading generation. I guess we have to buy his book to find out. Amazon reviews are positive so he must have something to say. Grade: none.

9 – Frank McCourt – Celebrated Author (Winner of a Pulitzer Price) with the “Luck Of The Irish”. Maybe so. Here is another example of an alleged photographer that seem unable to shoot anything but himself. That’s right – every picture in the article and the slide show is showing Mr McCourt having a grand time. I hope his Pulitzer Price work wasn’t quite as obnoxious as “his” alleged pictures of himself. First prize for worst photos so far. I wish he had the insight to keep them in the family album in the bottom drawer. Grade: F-.

10 – Leonard Nimoy Photographer/Director/Actor/Photographic Expressionist AKA Spock of Star Trek. Oh man. Mr. Spock surely must be one of the multi-talented people I’m so desperately (by now) searching for. Let’s check a quote:

“While he’s also published two books of poetry, it is photographic images that have drawn Nimoy completely away from show biz. He worked on Shekhina some seven years, and he’s continuing to devote his energies to photography rather than on acting or directing. “I’m withdrawn from both. I’m not accepting any acting or directing offers. I’ve had enough of that,” Nimoy has said. “This is what I’m doing.”

As with Mr. Tourtelot above (perhaps), here is a guy that seem to understand art and being an artist. Very much my kind of person. I’m also happy to say I like his photography a lot. It’s very dramatic, expressive and generally engaging. Nimoy qualifies all the way. Grade A.

11 – Henry Winkler – Prolific Actor/Producer/Director, mainly TV. There is an amazing amount of celebrities I do not really know anything about. Although I recognize his face and remember seeing him in a few shows, I really know nothing about him. That goes for many on this celebrity list. I guess I’d make a lousy paparazzi. Unfortunately, the side article contains almost no information about his photography or anything else except showing some of his photos. Here is the lonely quote:

“I love reflections, as you can tell. I’m drawn to them. I always try to capture the symmetry of reflection”

Well, that’s fine if not exactly original. I like reflections too but I rarely shoot them – the field is a bit overcrowded. He is a combined nature/travel photographer. His images are quite nice although by no means original. Grade C+.

12 William Shatner – Veteran Actor, “A True Renaissance Man” and, of course, another Star Trekker. Interviewed in the side article by Photographer Joe DiMaggio. Now that might have been a real double take. However it turns out there really is a Photographer Joe DiMaggio who is NOT a dead, famous Center Fielder. Now, about the Renaissance Man part, Leonardi da Vinci was a Renaissance Man. So was Michelangelo, Donatello, Machiavelli, Gorgia Popes and, to some extent, Rafael. The Medici family was part of the period. A quote from Wikipedia:

“Historians have begun to consider the word “Renaissance” as an unnecessarily loaded word that implies an unambiguously positive “rebirth” from the supposedly more primitive Middle Ages. Many historians now prefer to use the term “early modern” for this period, a neutral term that highlights the period as a transitional one that led to the modern world, but does not have any positive or negative connotations.”

On the other hand, here are some more current “definitions” of Renaissance Man from

“A man who has broad intellectual interests and is accomplished in areas of both the arts and the sciences.”….”a modern scholar who is in a position to acquire more than superficial knowledge about many different interests” and “a scholar during the Renaissance who (because knowledge was limited) could know almost everything about many topics”

Interesting issue. It seems modern views have little to do with historical reality. Anyway, I digress. Mr. Shatner may have broad intellectual interests. He might be accomplished in both the arts and the sciences. Unfortunately, his photography does not reflect such talents. I dislike the use of pompous descriptions of inferior talents. This is not unique to Mr. Shatner. It is extraordinarily common to many of the celebrities in this post. Self promotion beats modesty and honesty any day, it seems. Grade: D.

13 – Jamie Elman – an Actor with what seems to be a real interest in photography. Strictly an amateur and essentially a point and shot photographer, he nevertheless has some interesting things to say:

“I’ve learned quite a bit from watching Cinematographers work with light, angles and composition. The beauty of my shooting is that I can see things that are beautifully lit. I can watch them create compositions and I can talk to them about what they are looking for. And it has helped me with my digital camera because I am much more aware of what makes good pictures.”

I might have liked his stuff if the shots were not all of himself. What is it with these people? Aren’t THEY supposed to take the pictures they imply are theirs? Perhaps he uses some sort of remote control technique but even so, self promotion is the only factor here. The grade is automatic. Grade: F.

Jeff Bridges Photography14 – Nathan Purdee – Actor. There is only a self promoting article on the site. Not a single photograph. However, being your diligent blogger serving my alert readers, I did not stop there. It turns out Mr. Purdee really is a photographer and, actually, a pro portrait/people shooter. The name link will take you to his art. He really is pretty good but I penalize him for the self promoting part. Grade: B.

15 – Jeff Bridges – A Great Veteran Actor shooting “Go behind-the-scenes of a Hollywood movie set”. I actually have seen his photo work before. Which is lucky because the site contains none. Nor does it contain any meaningful information. Again I have to practice my investigative skills. It’s not hard to find references to his photo work – after all it is all about the glamour of Hollywood, right? Well, not really – his work is definitely several steps above that. He is a good photographer. Certainly he is one of the multi-talented crowd – small as that crowd seems to be. The name link takes you to his “Baker Boys” collection. Here is another useful link to Jeff Bridges photography. By the way, high marks for his innovative web designs. Grade: A-.

16 – Bill Eidson – Mystery Writer “Inspired by Photography”. I like mysteries. I read them all the time. But this one goes too far. The site contains no hints he actually shoots photos. Maybe he does. The slide show shows the covers of his books. I doubt those are his photos. I found an article of his describing the work of a real photographer. I found no conclusive evidence of any photographic work done by him. Case closed. Grade: none.

17 – Kenny Rogers – Country Singer of great fame. Here are a few quotes that we sorely need because the slide show contains only two photos:

“Rogers’ photographs focus on two very different types of images: landscapes and portraits. In shooting the vistas of America he has crisscrossed many times in his years on the road, Rogers says he looks for form, design, texture and organization, such as the brick and mortar of the urban landscape and the endless variations of light and shadow in the country.”

“The quality of Rogers’ photography distinguishes him as a visual artist notwithstanding his fame as a performer. The proof is in the images—the talent and vision evident in Rogers’ photographs make them stand on their own as fine artworks.”

I guess I have to check this out. The slide show told me very little. So did my research. He has two books out. Buying them seems to be the only way to find out what his work is about. Amazon is rather mum on the subject. I give up. Grade: none.

18 – Rudolph Giuliani Former New York City Mayor In Pursuit Of That Elusive City Image. Come on, he might be one of the heroes of 9/11 but a photographer? I think not based on the single photo in the slide show. Here, however is an excerpt from a Larry King interview that might be informative in our quest for talent:

KING: Another aspect of the life and times of maverick Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Giuliani the photographer. Here’s a picture of the former Yankee Cecil Fielder batting against the Orioles, that’s Cal Ripken there at third. When did you get into photography?
GIULIANI: Oh, years ago, 25 or 30 years.
KING: As a kid?
GIULIANI: Sure, I used to do weddings.
KING: You’re kidding.
GIULIANI: Yeah, for fun.
KING: For fun, Bar Mitzvahs or just weddings?
GIULIANI: I may still do one. Maybe I’ll do one for charity, and do a wedding.
KING: Why don’t you publish some of these?
GIULIANI: I did an exhibit at the Likka (ph) Gallery, and we sold about forty of fifty thousand dollars worth for charity.
KING: Look at this one.

GIULIANI: That’s one of my favorites.
KING: Where did you shoot this one?
GIULIANI: I shot that from a boat, and that was used by Amtrak as an ad for about a year and a half on the Metroliner.
KING: That’s a great shot of the city. It’s in your eye, huh — that’s where the photographer…
GIULIANI: And the lighting was the thing that we were very fortunate.
KING: And this one.
GIULIANI: That was a…
KING: Tell us this one?
GIULIANI: That was a subway derailment in the Bronx, that I went up to late at night.
KING: As mayor?
GIULIANI: As mayor. I had my camera with me.
KING: Do you carry your camera as mayor?
KING: And you took that…
GIULIANI: A picture of one of our firefighters. It is the force of the water that is keeping the subway car up there, so that they can eventually stabilize it.

Two American Icons having a sharply intellectual conversation. Rudy, I sure can’t discourage shooting pictures for fun and charity. But politics is probably your real game. Grade: none.

19 – Tyra Banks – Model and Actress “On Photo Assignment – As The photographer”. This is the last celebrity. What a marathon. I have to admit I’m a bit burned out on the subject. I suspect anyone actually reading this might be a bit fed up too. But let’s give Tyra a fair shake. After all, she is“a groundbreaking international fashion icon whose image campaign can be seen around the world” and, no less, “equally well known for her concern for today’s youth and such important issues as education and self-esteem.”. The slide show is all about charity work. Good charity work, but not interesting photography. Grade: D.

So – unbelievable as it must seem, that concludes our reviews. Time to summarize.

Summary: “Can Celebrities Shoot?”

Here are my grades of our 19 Celebrity Shooters:

  1. Really Pretty Good ones (A-B) – 5
  2. Somewhat Competent ones (C) – 6
  3. Please Forget It ASAP ones (D-F) – 5
  4. Insufficient evidence, un-rated – 3

Of course, this is not a scientific study but a subjective opinion. Based on the commonly quoted “Normal Distribution” the distribution is too flat – too many good ones and too many bad ones. The magic middle ground is too shallow. I do believe that is the story, though. Some of these celebrities are really very talented people and it shows in their photography, being a secondary talent. Then there is a gang into anything providing free publicity, self promotion or an ego trip. Any surprises?

So the answer? Yes, there are some really talented people out there. They are capable of being successful in many artistic fields, including photography. But the rest of the celebrities? No – their stuff is no better than that of your average Joe and Mary in AnyWhere, USA. Some of it is probably worse than average in an obnoxious way.

Now for the final step. I’ll select a few pictures from the “A” gang and a similar amount from the “F” people. Ill show these pictures spread out in the post in a random fashion. I hope you can tell which picture goes with the “A” people and which with the “F” gang. If not, perhaps my critical eye needs some serious overhaul!

Here is my unashamed celebrity list of “Pretty Good Ones”: Brendan Fraser, Leonard Nimoy and Jeff Bridges. I add Stanley Kubrick and Gordon Parks from earlier reviews. What’s your list?

Next post

Next time, I think I’ll get back to the quite popular “On Reality” series. Stay tuned!

Thanks for your attention, all you alert readers,



9 Responses to “Can Celebrities shoot?”

  1. fencer said

    Another interesting and thought-provoking post. You put a lot of time and effort into these!

    Celebrity photographers… hmmm. I’m not really well versed enough. In Canada here, rock star Bryan Adams was promoting his photography. I don’t know how good it is… be interested in your thoughts. Celebrity photogs could be really good if they have any talent, for they often have access to people and places the rest of us don’t.

  2. jo said

    you need to include sexy photos also

  3. Is it just me, or has Larry King had like 5 heart attacks and 5 divorces. I guess that’d be a broken heart for each.

  4. Hello karl,

    I am happy to say that my wife brought your site to my attention, and I must tell you that I appreciate you honesty. But more than that, your including me in your list of celebrity shooters was certainly an acknowkedgement of how hard work and dedication does eventually pay off. I read all of your (19) reviews. I consider myself one of the lucky ones.

    I was not aware that my photos had been removed from the “Takegreatpictures”web site. I was surprised to dicsover that. The images had always been on the site during the few occasions I checked in. I am dissapointed they were removed without my being notified. They were quite interesting and dramatic images, specifically shot for the Takegreat pictures Website. Here today, gone tomorrow. A constant recurring lesson in life

    As for my self promotion, there is not much to say about that except, guilty as charged. As shameful as it may seem, when launching a second career, marketing and promotion is everything. I hope you are around for a long time. My opinion is that your honesty will inspire motivation in those who do not fear the truth, but embrace.

    I wish you great success and a long healty life.

    Best regards,

    Nathan Purdee

  5. Karl said

    Hey Nathan – There was no luck involved – you are a terrific photographer. The “Takegreatpictures” web site was pretty shaky to lots of people. Anyway, thanks for the comment. I do recommend any one with an interest in great photos take a look at Nathan’s website


  6. rachel said

    is design by chance or design?

  7. How did you start blogging?

    If you think that I am totally wrong, please tell – especially if you launched a blog yourself, without thinking closer about content, network etc. prior to the launch. If you agree, you are more than welcome to tell, and I hope that you will write about your own history of blogging, and if you have other things to point out.

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