Celebrities Behind the Lens - Famous Photography Enthusiasts and Their Work
Quite often when I hear of a famous actor or musician delving into another medium, the words stay in your lane spring to mind—and not without justification. Many celeb side projects fall flat. A famous name is, after all, no guarantee of quality.
But for every Keanu Reeves, plucking his bass in a miserable grunge band, you have a Brad Pitt (who unveiled a surprisingly impressive sculpture portfolio earlier this year). For every Ringo Starr (with his colourblind MS paint art), a Daniel Day-Lewis creeps away into the Italian hillside to apprentice with a master shoemaker.
Photography is a popular side hustle for many celebs. And while they spend most of their time at the end of a lens, many like to put an eye to the viewfinder themselves. Many are hobbyists or amateurs, or simply hopeless. But not all.
Among the famous snappers, a few names stand out, with the originality and quality of their work gaining them plaudits and acclaim regardless of their A-List day jobs.
Let’s check them out.
SPOILER ALERT: Brooklyn Beckham’s work doesn’t feature.
Everyone has their favourite version of Jeff Bridges. The veteran actor has played a multitude of iconic roles: tough cattleman John L. Bridges in epic fiasco/masterpiece Heaven’s Gate; washed-up counterculture casualty ‘The Dude’ in The Big Lebowski; grizzly US Marshal Cogburn in True Grit. Bridges is an actor of remarkable breadth and presence, and in 2009 he claimed the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in Crazy Heart.
Bridges has his camera with him whenever he shoots a film, taking fascinating photographs of the machinations and personnel of a Hollywood film set.
Shot on a Widelux with a 28mm swing lens, the resulting images offer a multilayered, panoramic glimpse behind-the-scenes. While on surface level the photographs show some of Hollywood’s conjuring tricks (one memorable image shows Tobey Maguire on a soundstage, galloping on the top half of a dummy horse during the making of Seabiscuit), the work is far from voyeuristic or sensational. Most of the images have a sense of intimacy and collaboration: it’s people at work, going about their jobs, making movies.
Format should be acknowledged as central to Bridges’ idiosyncratic work. The cinematic widescreen adds a sense of movement, a feeling of immersion in a place that hovers between the familiar and the ‘other’. And despite their candid nature, the pictures still project a film set as a secret place, one where fantasy is constructed.
One of the most revered American actors of all time, double Oscar winner Jessica Lange’s decorated career has spanned more than five decades. A noted actor since the late 1970s, she became increasingly prominent in 1982, when she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, for the classic comedy Tootsie.
Lange is noted for the emotional range and intensity of her acting, often portraying troubled women without affected melodrama, such as in 1994’s Blue Sky (for which she took home another Oscar).
Lange’s photography isn’t easily classifiable. Part documentary, part surrealist—the images bring to mind both Magnum and Man Ray—but as a body of work it is universally acclaimed.
“It’s a great counterpoint to filmmaking because it’s a private, solitary experience. It’s like writing or painting; it’s something you can do on your own. Acting is a codependent art form, and the actor is not in control. And filmmaking definitely informs the decision to photograph something. I’m drawn to situations with a dramatic feel to them as far as lighting or backdrop or people’s presence, the way someone stands.” – Jessica Lange on photography
One notable collection is Highway 61, the result of seven years of travel up and down the eponymous road, which rolls 1,600 miles from Minnesota through the Mississippi valley to New Orleans. The work is meditative but powerful—at times the collection is uplifting, but more often it seems to mourn an old world, lost or abandoned. Through the images one gets a sense of the deep affection and respect Lange, a Minnesota native, holds for the region and its people.
Most recently Lange has published work based on the situationist concept of dérive, where someone allows their surroundings to direct their movements during an unplanned journey. The resulting series (also called Dérive), which was shot in New York during lockdown, presents the city stripped of its usual cramped, surging energy. The cityscape becomes serene, the scenes timeless, without cars or fashion to date them.
But, far from being eerie, there is a quiet rhythm to the deserted diners and sparse streets that differs from the regular, pulsating beat of the Big Apple.
Big sound, big sales, big… scarf? Lenny Kravitz is one of the most recognisable rock stars of the last 30 years. His debut album Let Love Rule dropped back in 1989, introducing his distinctive voice and style to the world. Since then he’s been blending rock’n’roll, soul, blues, reggae, and jazz, notching up four Grammys and countless other awards.
A hand-me-down from his father triggered a lifelong interest in Leica cameras (and photography), and Kravitz took to carrying his Leica with him as his music career took off.
In 2015, Kravitz’s series Flash was exhibited in New York, with an accompanying book. His images deal with the day-to-day life of a musician on the road—occasional meditative moments in a succession of anonymous hotel rooms are juxtaposed with hordes of photographers and crushes of fans, punctuated by Studio 54-esque snaps of parties and nightclubs.
To come full circle, Kravitz has teamed up with his favourite brand of iconic rangefinders, who have released two special edition Leica models—The Correspondent in 2015, and four years later The Drifter, to mark his 2019 exhibition of the same name. As with many contemporary Leica models, you may need to remortgage your home to buy one.
Kathleen Norris “Koo” Stark is an American actress and photographer. While her career in the movies was pretty low-key, Stark became famous due to her relationship with Prince Andrew, who she dated for two years, either side of his deployment during the Falklands War.
Reportedly the relationship dissolved under pressure from Buckingham Palace, but she remained close to Andrew, and was one of the few voices who stuck up for him after he was engulfed by the Jeffrey Epstein scandal.
While her royal love affair may have been short-lived, it did provide a unique starting point for a career in photography, a career which has endured to the present day.
In the early 1980s, the British paparazzi swarmed all over Stark, laid siege to her home, and tailed her wherever she went, until she did what any rational person would do.
Stark was possibly the first to take photographs of the paps in all their ugly glory, and before long publishers sought out the work and produced a book deal.
Stark then dedicated herself to her craft, for a time apprenticing under fashion photographer Norman Parkinson. Her body of work developed, encompassing not only reportage, but formal portraits, nudes, still life, and landscapes.
Using the simplest of tools—camera, film, and natural light— Koo Stark tells stories through her intimate, personal photographs, and shares herself on her terms, rather than on the pages of tabloid newspapers.
Canadian soft rock supremo Bryan Adams is one of the best-selling artists of all time, with an estimated 100 million units shifted across a 40-year career. His rough, powerful voice is instantly recognisable, and his music ubiquitous, with hits like Run to You and Summer of ‘69 spewing from car radios and drunken student karaoke nights worldwide. Indeed, my youthful memories of the summer of ‘91 are blighted by the absolutely relentless airtime granted to (Everything I do) I do it for you.
Adams also has a highly respected career as a photographer, and is the recipient of many accolades, not least in 2015 he was made an honorary fellow of the Royal Photographic Society in London. He primarily shoots portraits, and often uses his fellow celebrities as subjects—nothing groundbreaking there, you’d be forgiven for thinking.
But look at some of the shots of musicians and actors, and you’ll notice how relaxed the subjects are. Perhaps one of their own species taking their photo helps them to loosen up, allows the mask to slip a little further. Adams doesn’t rely wholly on this candid approach, however. Many of his portraits are constructed, Lana Del Rey in a room of mirrors, or Die Antwoord playing with white rats.
Adams’ work reaches beyond the world of celebrity in his haunting Wounded series—stark, straightforward portraiture detailing injuries sustained by British soldiers on the battlefield.
Looking at the work of these varied and talented individuals, it becomes clear that these celebrities don’t rely on their fame for their photographic reputations— their work speaks for itself.