Mr Jeff Bridges Talks Photography, Family And Films
Mr Jeff Bridges, on set of True Grit (2010). All photographs by Mr Jeff Bridges, courtesy of powerHouse Books
In the introduction to his book of photographs, Pictures Volume Two, Mr Jeff Bridges describes filmmaking as a kind of rolling carnival with the intention of, he says, making “something beautiful, or at least relatable, something that shows us who we are, where we want to go – and where we don’t”.
This enormously joyful book is quite beautiful, too, illustrated by Mr Bridges’ pictures, taken with his unusual wide-lens 35mm camera while on set making the movies for which he is famous. “I’m on the movie set in between takes,” he says. “I’ve got this camera that I kind of love. I figure it’s very unusual, but, to my taste, it’s more of an accurate way the eye sees. The camera almost has peripheral vision. It’s this wide thing that contains so much stuff in one frame. There’s just self-entertainment of taking pictures while I’m making the movies. Then it’s also kind of a historic record of what making movies is like, from a guy who’s right in the middle of the whole thing.”
In the book, you’ll see reportage snaps of directors at work, actors at play, Mr Bridges in make-up and beautiful locations. The candour of the locations and the fame of the subjects here are indeed special, but it’s this animating spirit, the voice in Mr Bridges’ pictures, the cleverness of his framing and direction of his subjects, the explicit glee in his filmmaking work and his picture-taking hobby that make the book something more than a scrapbook.
Mr George Clooney, “Tragedia/Comedia”, on set of The Men Who Stare At Goats (2009)
There is a belief, expressed in a variety of ways throughout Pictures Volume Two, that what he is doing (playing make believe in movies) is weird, wonderful and worthwhile, although he does wonder whether it is any good for him psychologically. His joy in the endeavour is irrepressible. It probably comes in part from his father, Mr Lloyd Bridges, whom he calls “my acting teacher in a lot of ways”. He shares a cherished memory of working with his father, having acted alongside him many times on his father’s hit show Sea Hunt, when the son was finally top of the bill and of the absolute delight his father had in going to work and bringing that same enjoyment to everyone else around him. “I was amazed when he would show up on the set,” says Mr Bridges. “There was a joy that he had in the work and how much fun he was having. It was kind of contagious. It would go through the crew and the cast and people would say, ‘Oh yeah, this is kind of fun what we’re doing.’”
Even after his star-making performance in Mr Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show, Mr Bridges wasn’t sure he wanted to be an actor, like, for ever – or at least not exclusively. “I consider myself a creative person,” he says. “I like to paint, mess with ceramics, photography, the acting thing, music, and they all kind of blend together. I find when I start shaking up my creative process, whether it’s making movies or music or whatever, it kind of shakes up all of them.”
Jeff Bridges: Pictures Volume 2 by Mr Jeff Bridges, courtesy of powerHouse Books
Momentum in any one of these artistic arenas gets him all fired up on another. So when he is rehearsing and shooting a film, he says, “I find I want to draw pictures or take pictures, sing songs, write songs, that kind of stuff.” It was while filming Starman (1984) that his co-star, Ms Karen Allen, suggested he compile the pictures he’d taken on set to give out as a present to all the people who worked on the movie. A sort of tradition was created. In 2006, Mr Bridges released a tightly edited collection of pictures , which included an introduction by Mr Bogdanovich. His new volume picks up from there.
In a way, this book is also something of a follow-up to The Dude And The Zen Master (2014), in which Mr Bridges partnered with the Zen teacher Mr Bernie Glassman to dispense humanist philosophical wisdom. A touchstone for Mr Bridges’ sort of Zen, or the atmosphere that envelops his work and his books, he says, comes from his mother, who, as he was rushing out the door to his early auditions, would give him some advice. “She would say to me, ‘Remember, Jeff, don’t take it too seriously and have fun,’” he says. “Have fun! When you’re having fun, you tend to relax. I find when you relax, it allows for your best work to come through. I still use that suggestion from my mom today. It’ll calm me down because, I mean, I’m as anxious as the next guy about how it’s going to work out, flop, sweat. Remember, don’t take it too seriously, man. It’s just a movie. You’re just taking a picture. You’re just writing a song. Don’t blow it out of proportion.”
On the last page of the book, there are pictures of Mr Bridges’ children, father and wife, Ms Susan Geston, making what appears to be a rather elaborate home movie in snowy Deer Valley, Utah. “Yeah, and in a way, these photos are like that,” says Mr Bridges. “Home movies.” Mr Bridges, who half-jokingly says he sometimes feels he is just an extension of his parents, grew up on film sets. His first screen appearance was at six months old and he was a regular on TV in his adolescence. So, in a way, the rolling carnival has always been his primary residence, the people with whom he has collaborated along the way, about whom he writes so tenderly in the book, are his extended family. The magic they get up to while they are there, the artwork and what Mr Bridges calls “the actual magic” are his life’s work. The movies and photographs, then, are just the artefacts.
Pictures Volume Two (powerHouse Books) by Mr Jeff Bridges is out on 17 October