Text By Alice B. Miller • Images By Jerry Avenaim
Jerry Avenaim Delights and Disarms His Megastars
Winning the trust of some of the brightest stars, Avenaim has a client roster that reads like a "Who's Who of Hollywood."
Jerry Avenaim's faces are everywhere. Halle Berry. Helen Hunt. Mel Gibson. Dr. Phil McGraw. Angela Bassett. Patricia Arquette. Brooke Shields. Julia Roberts. Winning the trust of some of the brightest stars, Avenaim has a client roster that reads like a "Who's Who of Hollywood."
Easy Does It at Warp Speed
In only a fraction of the time movie directors have to capture the mood or look they're after, Avenaim artfully brings out the vulnerability and humanity of his stars. His tools of the trade: Flexibility, consistency, technical mastery, and the ability to perform under pressure to get that iconic image.
"As artists, we have to take chances to make memorable images," he says. "Not everything goes the way you originally envisioned it and that's a beautiful part of the creative process. The key is to be prepared for anything that may arise. By being malleable, you often get gems you hadn't planned on. I try to set an easy, relaxed atmosphere for celebrities and their publicists. It's important to have a sense of humor and be truly engaging with the person I'm photographing. To make people laugh with an impersonation or story almost always puts them at ease. But at the end of the day, trust is what's paramount in photographing celebrities."
His photo sessions with Angela Bassett and Helen Hunt give us a sense of the ease and flexibility that flow at his star shoots.
"Angela Bassett is an amazing spirit," he says. "We were almost finished shooting when I got the idea to pour milk over her (p.14). She said sure. I had my assistant go to the studio kitchen and get all the milk, a pan, and a broom handle. With the pan taped to the handle, he stood over Angela on a 12-foot ladder waiting for my cue. I told her to scream when the milk came pouring down. It wasn't until the milk lay still, with a few drops flowing down her face, that I felt this peace about the image we had created."
His experience with Helen Hunt is equally as collaborative. "She reminds me of a vintage Hollywood star." She is blessed with talent, a kind heart, and a classic beauty. I envisioned Helen in the glory days of Bette Davis and Katherine Hepburn, which inspired the retro look (p.16). I rented a peach '57 Thunderbird, and shot in the courtyard of the infamous Chateaux Marmont hotel on Sunset Blvd. Open-minded and willing to contribute ideas of her own, she was never afraid to take a chance. It was one of the most enjoyable times I'd ever spent on a shoot."
And then there's Halle Berry, our cover star. His encounters with her are golden. "While Halle is an extremely approachable star, superstardom has its price and for her it means time has become a luxurious commodity in short supply. Because she began her career as a model, Halle is very comfortable in front of a still camera and needed very little direction. Celebrities always walk in the door with clean hair and clean face, to give the makeup artist a clean canvas.
"Halle knew we were there to do beauty shots and didn't require lots of direction. Once or twice I yelled from behind the camera if I needed a shoulder to come over a bit or to get a full smile. Five rolls of film and 15 minutes later, we were finished and the look was pure Hallegorgeous and approachable."
Since that shoot in late 2002, magazines from around the world have picked up Avenaim's Berry images, including Ebony, Woman, German Premier, the 2003 People yearbook (cover), and now SP&D.
That shoot, as much as any other, demanded lighting mastery as well as lightning-quick skills to get it done in an especially period window of time.
Just before press time, in early February, Avenaim shot a 16-page editorial on 8X10 Polaroid for Angeleno magazine's April issue. (See p. 17 for a peek at one of the fashion article's images.)
"What I love about 8X10 is the discipline it requires, from me and my subjects. Because the image is composed upside-down and the film holder is then placed in the camera, you can't see what you're doing through a viewfinder. Since it costs about $50 a sheet, I can't just hold down the button on a motor drive and hope one comes out right."
ZugaPhoto.TV, a website dedicated to photography education, which debuted at the end of February, filmed the shoot. Monte Zucker captured Avenaim signing March SP&D cover blowups at the Cygnus Business Media booth during PMA for website download.