Archival Pigment Print
Signed and Numbered by the artist
Edition of 50
11x14", 16x20", 20x24" or 30x36"
Photographing comedians is always fun for me. Usually they will sacrifice vanity in service of a laugh, and are always willing to try something unexpected. It is the rare comedian that just wants to be photographed on a grey background. So whenever the call comes in to photograph a comedian, I jump at the chance to create a funny picture.
When I was in college I was briefly the political cartoonist for the Gonzaga University Bulletin. Every week I was tasked with coming up with a single frame that poked fun at the current political events in the world. And let me tell you, that is not an easy task. I would sit in the library late at night pouring over The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine, Newsweek, and other publications searching for a topic I could grasp on to and create an idea. Usually I would wait until the last minute, which added to the pressure. Luckily, Ronald Reagan was president at the time, and he could usually be counted on to provide fodder for humor and ridicule. I would finally come up with an idea, and begin sketching it lightly in pencil as I developed the best way to tell the joke in a single frame.
What I realized later, well into my photography career, was that my early dabbling as a cartoonist was the perfect primer for creating images of comedians. The process is essentially the same. Although I no longer have to go to the library, I will spend a lot of time trying to come up with an idea or theme that I can build upon. Once I have an idea, I will start sketching different approaches on paper, trying to see the finished photograph in my mind and figure out if it is funny. And finding a single frame story that is surprising, revealing, funny, and true to the subject is still just as hard as it was all those years ago.
I remember a Rolling Stone cover from around that time that featured Robin Williams in a shirt that was custom made so that his head was sinking into his collar and tie. He had this look on his face that fit the scene so well, and just made the image funny. And best of all, it was such a simple idea that it immediately registered. It required no headline or explanation. And those ideas—the simple ones that seem to have existed forever but are actually new -- are always the hardest ones. They are the gold standard.
Zach Galifianakis is a funny guy. He is an absurdist, a straight man, and a surrealist all at once, and he can make almost any scene funny, just by being in it. So when I got the call from Vanity Fair magazine to make a portrait of Zach, I knew I had an opportunity to make a humorous image. The challenge was, could I make it timeless and simple, like the pictures I admired so much?
I kicked around a bunch of ideas in my head – Zach steals a kid’s bike, Zach kicks sand in the face of a pretty girl at the beach, Zach joins a group of Japanese tourists, Zach goes swimming in a bathing suit that is way too small, etc. These were all potentially funny ideas, but I wanted something more. Then I started thinking, “what if Zach commissioned his own photograph, and saw himself as a fashion model. How would he want himself photographed? I figured he would want to dress like Ricardo Montalban, and be photographed in some location that felt like paradise. But that he would also want an element of artifice and design in that paradise, like a painted backdrop. And then it hit me: I would photograph Zach at the beach, in a white suit, but I would have a backdrop that was painted to look like a beach for him to stand in front of. Why? I can’t really answer that. But the idea of Zach being photographed at the beach, in front of a facsimile of the beach, made me chuckle. It was simple, and it seemed to fit his particular brand of weirdness.
On the day of the shoot, Zach immediately connected with the idea. His pose and his faraway, heroic glance completed the character so perfectly—he is a man unaware of the irony of the picture, and is basking in the glow of his own particular brand of vanity.
Well, it’s funny to me, anyway. And I had a great time making this picture. And then Zach put on a women’s one piece red bathing suit and we went down to the water’s edge and made some truly weird photographs as a bonus to the day. What more can you ask for?
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