Celebrity Portraits Command Attention
His wife calls him a "cockney character." But although traces of
an East London lilt rhythm his speech, celebrity photographer
Richard McLaren, conversing by phone from his office in Los Angeles
between bites of lunch, comes across most of all as a whirlwind, a
joyful work junkie who hails from a region all his own.
"By the time I was 18, I'd been around the world twice," he says. Now 41, it seems he's never let up. Mauritius, Jamaica, Brazil, Hong Kong, South Africa, Antarctica, Australia: he's been to these places, perhaps even to all places, to photograph every breed of famous person you can think of, from Halle Berry to Billy Zane to Nelson Mandela.
McLaren travels almost like a celebrity himself, with an entourage of 12, including assistants; a hair-makeup-styling team specially chosen for the assignment; his wife, Hedda Moye (his indispensable studio manager); and their two children.
Literally every one of his cameras—Gowlands and Nikons and Leicas and Canons, you name it (28 cases)—made the trip to the Australian outback ("I wondered how the prop planes were going to take off"), and 43 cases went to Hong Kong. All in the interest of his vision: making "women look beautiful, and men look rough-and-ready."
It's a vision that has proved enormously successful. Only beginning to achieve renown in the U.S., McLaren has built up a base of 3,000 magazine clients worldwide. He's quick to point out, though, that his "vision" should in no way be confused with a "formula."
"I have no specific style. I can achieve any look, anywhere, anyhow." On a major shoot for a movie studio client, say, McLaren will use SLRs, medium- and large-format, even plastic throw-aways.
At day's end, he will come away with hundreds of variously flavored images of a single celebrity. He may use Photoshop to add effects—"it can give it longevity of usage." But he adds that he likes to get a shot "in the camera. I never want to rely on digital manipulation to 'fix' an image."
McLaren's hair and makeup-styling teams are crucial to his varietal purpose. Working with action star Kelly Hu, female lead in the upcoming Scorpion King, McLaren used three different teams: one to show Hu high-kicking in couture, to pitch to publications such as Harper's Bazaar; one to show her glammed up, for the likes of Cosmopolitan; one to show her sultry and scantily clad, for the men's magazine market. The resulting images from that shoot appear in upwards of 60 international magazines.
Having moved his base of operations to L.A. one year ago, McLaren is talking about building a studio complex of his own there, but the prospects sound dubious.
"Every studio has a different vibe, a different smell, a different look—you don't get stale," he insists. "In the same studio all the time, you shoot the same pictures." And of course, he'd rather travel. Hearing him wax rhapsodic about his adventures, it's no coincidence that an assignment for which he traveled to war-riddled Croatia to shoot B&Ws of an appealingly disheveled Pierce Brosnan (above) ranks as his absolute favorite.
Or maybe that shoot was his favorite because he took only 20 minutes to complete it. Breakneck speed is another of McLaren's fortes. It allows him the benefit of jam-packing his schedule. He admits: "It would freak me out if I only had to do one head shot in a day. I wouldn't know what to do with myself."
In fairness, McLaren is not merely a fanatical work fiend. The speed, the variety, the skill—he's worked up them to with experience. A job at the age of 16 with a London photo agency, in which he assisted "all the best photographers in England," also greatly contributed to his method.
"I spent eight years carrying cases, doing the doggy work. I was seeing not only how the shots were taken, but with what film, what lens, what aperture.
"I don't have my assistants do that. I'm in total control of the lighting, the apertures, the exposures. Nothing happens on set without me giving instructions."