I’m going to assume that you know who Jeff Bridges is. If you don’t, a quick online search will tell you all you need to know about his amazing career as an actor, and a few more minutes will reveal that he is also a musician, visual artist, and photographer.
I’ll admit right at the start that I have been a fan of Jeff’s films for decades, but I didn’t know he was a photographer until about five years ago. That was about the time I connected with the international film photography community. This connection has led me to my work with SilvergrainClassics, the international print journal for film photography.
Taking all that into consideration, you can imagine my reaction when my colleague at SGC, Andreas Waldeck, called me one day and said, “You have to check email — we have a contact from Jeff Bridges!”
Actually, what came out of my mouth was more like a “w” sound followed by a squeak.
Since Jeff’s fantastic panoramic images had been on SGC’s bucket list from the very beginning, I had tried to get in touch with Jeff’s team early on but hadn’t managed to find the right contact. My mind was racing; was this just a delayed response to my attempted contact? If not, how the heck did Jeff hear about us? And holey moley, am I actually going to talk to Jeff personally?
As it turned out, Jeff had never heard of us (slight let-down) but Jana Anderson had. Jana helps facilitate and coordinate Jeff’s photography exhibitions and had discovered SGC in her favorite local newsagent, Smoke Signals, in San Francisco, California. As I later found out, she read SilvergrainClassics cover to cover, something she says she very rarely does, and thought that Jeff’s photos might be a good fit for us.
The ball got rolling pretty quickly, all things considered, and we planned to feature a portfolio of Jeff’s images in the very next issue. (That is Issue 8, which has just become available for pre-orders at our website, silvergrainclassics.com). The team that Jeff has assembled are amazingly friendly and down-to-earth people who made the entire process of organizing an interview as simple as possible when dealing with a celebrity of Jeff’s calibre. My impression from the very first was of a crew who like and respect Jeff and are committed to working in a way that he approves of, non-elitist and collaborative.
I always do a bit of research before I interview people and figured researching Jeff Bridges would be a snap. There are literally thousands of interviews available online, in both written form and on video. As I started to plow through the ones that were focused on his endeavors outside of acting, I noticed that he gets asked the same questions over and over again.
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In his case, the challenge wasn’t finding information, it was identifying topics that he hasn’t covered in multiple interviews already. But it was a very entertaining challenge, and by the time our appointment came around I felt ready and excited to ask him some questions that I hadn’t been able to find the answers to in other interviews.
Since all this was happening during the height of pandemic restrictions, the interview had always been envisioned as a video conference. A few days ahead of time, Jeff’s assistant, Becky, let me know that he would be talking to us from his ranch in Montana. (My fan’s brain supplied the added information that it had been the “whorehouse” location in the film “Heaven’s Gate” before he bought it.)
SGC’s Editor-in-Chief, Marwan El Mozayen, and I were a bit nervous on the day, but Jeff put us at ease with his “Dude next door” manner. We had sent a long list of questions ahead of time, not knowing how much time we would have or how much we would be able to cover. Much to our surprise, Jeff had not only made careful notes about his answers to each question but was also open to chatting about related topics.
Somewhere in the middle of the interview, Marwan and I were struck by the surreal quality of seeing Jeff on a screen in front of us and having him be speaking to us directly, live. He really is as you would expect — an intriguing combination of Zen philosopher and passionate photographer — and was accessible and warm throughout. His well-known laugh, a high-pitched “ha haa,” accompanied by a lively sparkle in his eyes was infectious. The expected comments like, “It’s wild, man!” were present, but not so often that they risked becoming a caricature.
Jeff spoke at length about his passion for photography. He described early experiences in a bathroom darkroom in his parents’ house listening to music with obvious affection and a little nostalgia. “That was in the sixties… those tunes, man! Can’t beat ‘em!”
He spoke about his Widelux camera, or better said, his collection of Widelux cameras. He always has a few in his possession to make sure that at least one will be fully functional. One tidbit that didn’t make it into my article for SGC is that his longtime friend and stand-in on set, Lloyd Catlett, who he calls “Litt,” usually holds his Widelux for him when he’s working. If Jeff sees an image he wants to capture quickly, he calls out, “Litt! Lux!” and Catlett pulls the Widelux out with gun-slinger efficiency.
In a charming tangent, Jeff mentioned Stanley Kubrick, who was a photographer before he became a director, and who also used a Widelux. Jeff said that whenever he does video conferences, he thinks of the scene in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey in which Dr. Floyd uses a videophone to call his family from the space station.
At some point in our rambling chat, Jeff checked his list to make sure that he had answered all of our questions, and we were amazed to see that an hour had passed. We had covered topics ranging from mindfulness in photography, to the extreme film speeds and exposure times necessitated by today’s digital-based film sets, to his unorthodox use of panoramic photography in an almost documentary style, and even got his own personal tip for panoramic photographers.
One thing that particularly intrigued us was Jeff’s heartfelt worry that Widelux cameras may not be available to future generations. “That would be a real loss, you know? Tragic.” Jeff is someone who puts large amounts of time and effort into causes that he believes in; No Kid Hungry, Motion Picture Television Fund, Amazon Conservation Team, and his signature Breedlove guitars — made of sustainable wood — are just a few of the projects he tackles in his “spare time.” Who knows, if Jeff puts his mind to it, he could make a new swing lens panoramic camera available to all of us.
~ Charys Schuler, Developmental Editor, SilvergrainClassics magazine
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