Celebrity photographers glide aside the red carpet to capture a glamorous world that we enter through their photographs. Ever wonder what it’s like behind the lens?
Toronto-based photographer George Pimentel, famous in his own right as the go-to photographer at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), reveals the secrets and craft of a well-travelled Hollywood insider with an eye for art.
His project with Lifetime Developments, in which his glamorous black-and-white photographs will be prominently displayed and incorporated into the design of the new Oscar Residences in the Annex neighbourhood, is for him a step in a new direction.
Q: What attracted you to do the project with Lifetime Developments and the Oscar Residences? Is it a first for you?
Pimentel: I formed a great friendship with Brian Brown, principal at Lifetime, prior to embarking on this project together. He told me about the idea he had for Oscar Residences last summer when we were out golfing, and when he asked me if I wanted to be a part of it, I immediately said yes without hesitation.
For me, this is the first project partnership like this I’ve worked on, and to be partnered with an industry leader like Lifetime, who was inspired by my lif
e’s work, is incredibly humbling.
Q: What do you hope those who see your work in the installations take away with them as an experience?
I feel Hollywood glamour as we’ve known it for the last 100 years is slowly fading. Through social media, celebrities have opened up their lives, being less private and diminishing their mystery. I hope my pictures can remind the viewer of the old Hollywood world that once existed.
Let us not forget a world that glorified talent, beauty and glamour. The goal of my work in black and white is to continue the legacy of the silver-screen legends, icons and stars who were always larger-than-life personalities, even when they aren’t in a project.
Q: For you, what is an artfully lived life in a city? Can art – particularly photography – help us to achieve it?
For me, an artfully lived life is one that’s enriched by all forms of art. As a photographer, when I think about a time where the city of Toronto really shines, it’s during TIFF. I’ve been covering the festival for 25 years and, year after year, it just keeps getting bigger and better.
My American friends always tell me how jealous they are that I have such an amazing city to myself to capture where people are so nice and approachable.
During TIFF our city is star-studded, vibrant and absolutely buzzing – all in the name of art in film! I’m so lucky to call Toronto my home, one of the most dynamic global cities for culture, art and diversity.
Q: What is your favourite photograph you’ve taken and how did you feel getting it?
The shot that immediately comes to mind is Jack Nicholson at the opening of the film About Schmidt at Cannes. I am personally a huge fan of him, but he’s known to be somewhat hard to capture. For years, I had repeatedly missed Jack at events – he’d either slip out the back door, or I’d miss him at a Lakers Game. I hadn’t found that perfect moment to capture him.
At Cannes, I got access to photograph his pre-party for About Schmidt. The setting was absolutely perfect: We were at the Carlton Pier right at dusk with a beautiful sunset in the back. He arrived and it was like looking at a god; I was in total awe. He went out for a smoke and I followed him and got that shot I had always wanted. The look in his face, the character that came through ... I can honestly say he’s the coolest celebrity in Hollywood.
Q: Who are the easiest and most difficult celebrities to shoot on the red carpet?
Favourites to shoot: Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez and Halle Berry. Gaga loves having her photo taken and loves to be directed. The more you treat her like the star she is, the more flashbulbs that go off, the more she gives back, which is incredible to be on the other side of the lens to witness.
Jennifer Lopez is all business and an absolute pro. She always makes sure that designers get credit, and shows off her dress, including all the brands that make up her look right down to the jewellery, hair, makeup and shoes.
Halle Berry, because she’s just absolutely gorgeous! I can’t answer this question without mentioning that I miss Brad and Angelina as they were so great to shoot as that iconic Hollywood couple.
The toughest: George Clooney. He is the nicest guy in Hollywood, but he is always on the go. It’s hard to get him just to stand still and smile. It’s just not his style. He loves to talk while posing on the carpets so oftentimes you get shots of him with an open mouth or waving arm.
Q: What is the most surprising thing most people don’t know about the photographers and celebrities on the red carpet?
It’s very stressful on the red carpets. Photographers are squeezed together so there can be aggressive pushing and shoving. There is a lot of yelling, and chaos going on. Sometimes security or publicists get in the way. It’s a true challenge to get that perfect shot.
But what happens on the carpet stays on the carpet. We are all in this industry together and everyone has a job to do. When it’s all said and done, we still remain friends.
Most people forget that celebrities are humans, too – they make mistakes, they get nervous while they’re posing, it’s overwhelming. They have to put up with photographers screaming at them, they have to make sure they look into everyone’s lens giving the photographers the perfect eye contact, while working how they look: Is their bra strap showing, fly down?
Take away the fame, the glitz and glamour, and they’re just humans like you and me doing their job.
Q: What photo is your greatest triumph?
Hands down, my first celebrity photo of Robert DeNiro at the Elgin Theatre in 1993 during TIFF. This photograph was such a huge turning point in my life.
After I got this shot, I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life – I had found my destiny. Just three years ago, I had the opportunity to meet and show DeNiro the photo and told him about the experience and what it meant to me and my career. If I never went to the Elgin Theatre that night, I really wonder where I’d be today, or what I’d be doing ... It was truly that big of a moment for me and I will never forget it.
Q: What is the one photo you hope to shoot?
Kamala Harris! I would love the opportunity to photograph her. She has inspired many and made history. Even though she is not a Hollywood actress I am a huge fan.
This interview has been slightly edited and condensed.
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