The Chris Buck

The Chris Buck

Chris Buck enjoys taking pictures and has been doing so professionally for 26 years.

Irving Penn Homage 

My guest blogger today is my long-time friend and photographer colleague Rick McGinnis:

A “Style” in photography is acquired with bitter effort, and while a young photographer can be excused for aping their influences overtly early on, one must digest their inspirations or else become swamped by them. For Chris Buck and I, Irving Penn was the one photographer whose influence was hardest to digest - mostly because it was so monolithic, and the photographer himself such a paragon.

I asked Chris which of his photographs was most obviously influenced by Penn, and he sent me a New York magazine cover shoot: Rainn Wilson hunched into a slightly scaled-down version of the corner that Penn once made Truman Capote and others back themselves into in his studio. I wouldn’t call it a Penn rip-off, but rather an homage that probably only other photographers, photo editors, and art directors would get. The set-up is Penn, but the lighting and subject’s expression are clearly Chris. Still, the anxiety of influence lingers, and in a later e-mail Chris wrote:

"I actually wrote a letter to his studio with an apology," Chris said. “I’ve been thinking about the Penn influence on us, I want to be careful of how it’s framed in terms of my work and work development. When I turned 30, I had a difficult time coming to terms with whatever successes I’d had (or lack of). The Penn influence really shows most prominently, and to the best effect, during this period. However, I think that it allowed me to truly digest it and move past it to define my own style, which really came together in those years. Clearly the Rainn Wilson shot (2007) shows he is still lodged in my brain somewhere, but for the most part I moved on from his and other early influences after the mid-nineties.”

For my own Penn rip-off, I settled on a group portrait I did in 1992 of three comic book artists who were (and still are) identified with each other. Even before I got this assignment, I had Penn’s portrait of George Jean Nathan and H. L. Mencken on my mind. Aping that would have been a step too far, so I simply tried to copy Penn’s beautifully modeled lighting. I also placed the ashtray on the table for Seth and, as a final Penn touch, reached in and tipped some of the contents out onto the table. It was final clue for anyone wondering “is he doing a Penn?” - a nod to Penn’s incredible still-lifes of street trash and his "After Dinner Games."

In the nineties, Chris and I made a pilgrimage to Temple Penn - the studio that Conde Nast apparently rented for him on Fifth Avenue (in what used to be known as “The Photo District”). “I can tell you that it was Wednesday August 22nd, 1990, just over a month after I’d moved to New York,” Chris recalled. We took photos of the door outside, of us standing in the door outside, of Penn’s name on the lobby directory, of us looking at Penn’s name on the lobby directory, etc., etc. It was all very thrilling.

We took the elevator up to find tarpaulins on the floor where workmen were plastering and painting the hallway outside Penn’s studio. The door bore the legend “Conde Nast Corporation” while Penn’s name was printed discreetly on a card mounted under the peephole. Worried that the workmen might come back from lunch we got shooting, taking pictures of the door, of ourselves in front of the door, and finally of each other prostrating ourselves in the direction of Penn.

I was inspired to revisit this day when Chris forwarded me an e-mail he’d received; Penn’s old studio has been renovated and is available to rent for shoots. “WE ARE WELL AWARE OF HOW SPECIAL THIS PLACE IS,” the current owners say on their webpage, “AND HOW FORTUNATE WE ARE TO HAVE IT IN OUR POSSESSION.”

I bet you are. I hope Chris rents some time there. He’d better take lots of photos.

Irving Penn died in 2009.

Top Image: Irving Penn’s Peephole, 1990

Second Image: Rainn Wilson for New York Magazine, 2007

Third Image: Seth, Chester Brown & Joe Matt, Toronto by Rick McGinnis, 1992

Fourth Image: Rick McGinnis, in front of Penn’s studio’s building, 1990

Bottom Image: Chris Buck, showing respect at Penn’s doorway, 1990

Lou Noble recently interviewed me for The Photographic Journal and it’s unique for it’s level of candor. I’m not sure what he did, but I say things here that I usually keep to myself. Here is a sample exchange:
You mentioned in the beginning that there’s a lot of stuff you still want to work on. What kind of things do you feel you’re deficient in?
I guess…I wish my pictures were more visually interesting. I mean it’s an ongoing conflict in that I often like pictures, of other people’s work, that do something interesting that’s really simple, but in terms of lighting and context, there will be something going on, it’ll be kind of odd and somewhat disturbing, but it will be subtle. And it won’t be dramatic or literal. And yet…I feel my work could be more clever or just more, I don‘t know, taking it further. I’m not a technically-minded person, and I‘m certainly more technical now than I was when I was starting out. But I wish I could more easily pull that stuff out and deliver. Make the pictures more visually dynamic.
Hm, because I’ve always considered your work visually arresting.
He also included my mentions of my photographer friends, which is nice to see; including Andrew Hetherington, Greg Miller, Alex Prager and Timothy Archibald.
Click here to read the Q & A in The Photographic Journal: 
http://thephotographicjournal.com/interviews/chris-buck

Lou Noble recently interviewed me for The Photographic Journal and it’s unique for it’s level of candor. I’m not sure what he did, but I say things here that I usually keep to myself. Here is a sample exchange:

You mentioned in the beginning that there’s a lot of stuff you still want to work on. What kind of things do you feel you’re deficient in?

I guess…I wish my pictures were more visually interesting. I mean it’s an ongoing conflict in that I often like pictures, of other people’s work, that do something interesting that’s really simple, but in terms of lighting and context, there will be something going on, it’ll be kind of odd and somewhat disturbing, but it will be subtle. And it won’t be dramatic or literal. And yet…I feel my work could be more clever or just more, I don‘t know, taking it further. I’m not a technically-minded person, and I‘m certainly more technical now than I was when I was starting out. But I wish I could more easily pull that stuff out and deliver. Make the pictures more visually dynamic.

Hm, because I’ve always considered your work visually arresting.

He also included my mentions of my photographer friends, which is nice to see; including Andrew Hetherington, Greg Miller, Alex Prager and Timothy Archibald.

Click here to read the Q & A in The Photographic Journal: 

http://thephotographicjournal.com/interviews/chris-buck

French Twist

I’m pleased to announce that I’ve joined with Agent Mel to represent me for assignments in France. Mel already works with my friend Lauren Fleishman, who moved to Paris from Brooklyn a few years ago, and that went a long way in convincing me to come on-board. 

Top Image: One of a half dozen email blasts from Agent Mel, each one clever and fun. I love that this one plays off the connection to Robert Doisneau’s Picasso portrait.

Second Image: Amazingly we shot a job together within days of the ink drying on the contract! This is a story for Stylist Magazine about the development of the make-up look for Thakoon’s show at fashion week last month. We worked with the lead make-up artist Diane Kendal and her team from NARS. Additional photography from Michelle Watt.

Third Image: Here I am pictured the last time I was in Paris. It seems like a lot of my blog posts are revolving around food, but it’s a fact that taking on a Paris-based rep is largely about getting over there for some Confit de Canard.

Steal This Lighting

I’m happy to have been brought in to do photography for this asthma inhaler PSA with John St and The Asthma Society of Canada. It was a great day with a hard working team.

Top Image: This shot would be great for one of those websites that obsess over lighting set-ups. Luckily those sorts of things don’t interest me.

Second Image: Our finished ad, with excellent retouching and CGI by Mark Jackson.

Bottom Image: Our creative team, trying to match the facial expression in the ad. Left to right: Chris Buck, Leslie LeRoux, Sobi Velauthapillai Phillips, Christy Battell (our model), Amy Sawyer, Alisa Pellizzari, Stephanie Ferrari, Ghadeer Thaher, Leianne Vergara. 

Lena Dunham Goes Commando 

Lena Dunham arrived promptly for our Guardian Weekend shoot at a Brooklyn studio. And then she announced that she’d be needing some underwear. As we moved forward with the shots that we could do sans undergarment there remained an undercurrent of questions: Would the underwear arrive? When would it arrive? And how might it alter the shoot?

In the meantime Lena couldn’t have been more sweet and generous with the crew and myself. For someone who has a media reputation for being self-involved it’s hard to imagine her being more gracious with everyone around her. Complimenting people, asking them questions. It even crossed my mind that that perhaps we were getting Punk’d - celebrities aren’t usually this nice.

She was also generous where it really counted - with the photography. Her love of clothes and her genuine embrace of all that is odd and creative made working with her a photographer’s dream. Playful, dirty and weird - everything I look for in a collaborator!

I look forward to our next sitting, where the availability of underwear may provide even more photographic opportunities.

Did my oath of allegiance this morning! I’m finally an American citizen after living in New York for 24 years. I do still love Canada but the United States has been a very welcoming and inspiring place to live and work and I am grateful for that.
My next step is to register to vote and begin swaying the New York State vote.

Did my oath of allegiance this morning! I’m finally an American citizen after living in New York for 24 years. I do still love Canada but the United States has been a very welcoming and inspiring place to live and work and I am grateful for that.

My next step is to register to vote and begin swaying the New York State vote.

Montreal, Not Just For Bagels

My wife and I went to Montreal last weekend to compare bagels from different shops and to sample the smoked meat; while there I also had an exhibition open.

Much respect to Juno Youn and his Galerie Youn for hosting us. And his team was fantastic: Keoni Le, Josieanne Boivin and Diep Truong - thank you!

The turnout for the two events was impressive, including a number of people who traveled to attend. Favored photo assistant Michelle Watt drove up from New York, and photographer John W. MacDonald came from Ottawa. We were also lucky to get lots of time with my former mentor (dare I say it) Alastair Sutherland (the editor-in-chief of Canadian music magazine Graffiti when I was the photo editor).

But the true highlight was spending a long weekend with my wife, Michelle Golden, without a certain charming redhead in tow. In this sense Montreal lived up to it’s reputation as a romantic city.

Turn of the Century Portraiture

Over the years I’ve come up with countless ideas for photo projects, books and exhibitions; most of them don’t go anywhere but I always manage to come up with clever or stupid titles. So when Galerie Youn urgently needed a name for our show I was ready with the grand and pompous “Turn of the Century Portraiture”. Amazingly, they went with it.

Hopefully the exhibition itself will be grand and pompous itself as a lot of thought and energy has gone into the printing of it. The black-and-white prints were done by Griffin Editions, with a mix of traditional enlarger prints and digital LE (Laser Exposed), both on fibre paper. Laurent Girard, Eric Jeffreys and Grace Pomeroy are my heroes over there.

The color prints are by my friend and loyal compatriot Carl Saytor of Luxlab. Carl and I have worked on my color prints for many years and I always feel well taken care of in his hands.

My wife and I head up to Montreal tomorrow to celebrate the exhibition, and to drink lots of red wine and eat bagels.

Top Image: A 40x50” Jay-Z from 1998 being dried by a fan at the Manhattan location of Griffin Editions. Shot on 4x5” film, this looks so sweet so large.

Second Image: Posing with final 40x50” prints of Bryan Cranston & Jon Hamm (2007), and President Obama (2013). This iPhone snap does not do these prints justice (surprisingly).

Third and Fourth Images: The show features five very large prints and 22 at 20x24”. Amongst these are a few images rarely seen before, including these portraits of David Cronenberg (2005), and Cindy Sherman (1997).

Bottom Image: The invite to the VIP event tomorrow evening. Note the phrase “World Renowned Photographer.” There is also a more casual reception on Saturday September 13th at 2 PM - all are welcome, so please come.

The New New Pornographers

The New Pornographers have just released a new album, Brill Bruisers, and I’m pleased to say that I shot the publicity photos. I traveled with the band in 2001 and did a couple of group shots then and have been listening ever since. 

The label asked that I come up with some ideas for pictures as they hoped to push things a little visually and conceptually. The band was game, doing a Beatles Avedon homage for one shot, and a cliche family portrait wearing button-down white shirts for another, but drew the line at my idea of a formal band shot with one member taking a hit off of a bong. One of the guys explained, “It’s bad enough crossing the border from Canada with the name ‘New Pornographers’, then add to that a quick Google search that shows photos of us smoking a bong.”

Behind-the-scenes photos by Kurt Dahle.

keyframedaily:

Harry Dean Stanton by Chris Buck.

My wife and I watched the Harry Dean Stanton documentary Partly Fiction this past week so it seems fitting that I found my portrait of him on Tumblr today.
This was our second set-up and as Harry was standing there he blurted out, “How long is this going to f**king take?” In a steady voice I told him that we had a number of shots planned and that we’d likely be shooting for another two hours. He had no response to this and was patient and co-operative for the rest of the session.

keyframedaily:

Harry Dean Stanton by Chris Buck.

My wife and I watched the Harry Dean Stanton documentary Partly Fiction this past week so it seems fitting that I found my portrait of him on Tumblr today.

This was our second set-up and as Harry was standing there he blurted out, “How long is this going to f**king take?” In a steady voice I told him that we had a number of shots planned and that we’d likely be shooting for another two hours. He had no response to this and was patient and co-operative for the rest of the session.