Friday, September 25, 2009

Interview With Red Carpet Photographer Frazer Harrison


All of this talk of the Emmy red carpet has me remembering my interview last week at New York Fashion Week with photographer Frazer Harrison.

Frazer Harrison is a ruggedly handsome, outspoken Englishman, based in Los Angeles as an entertainment photographer for Getty Images. You’ve seen his work in magazines, the Internet, anywhere there’s a celebrity event. When looking at magazine photos of the red carpet, be it the Academy Awards, the Emmys or even the VMAs, you’re apt to see Harrison’s photographs of Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Charlize Theron, even Paris Hilton. (But that’s hardly Harrison’s fault.)
(Frazer Harrison)
We met inside the cavernous lobby of Mercedez Benz Fashion Week, and settled down on the huge stone fountain for a quiet conversation. The talk ranged from fashion to Hollywood to the difference between photojournalism and paparazzi.

(Photo: Elisa DeCarlo)

Since his bailiwick is the red carpet, Harrison admitted that the runway media pits are not his favorite places to be.

(Isaac Mizrahi/Photo: Frazer Harrison)

We started with casual conversation about the shows. Asked which fashion shows he thought were the worst, he immediately answered, “Daviddelfin. And Duckie Brown. Those shorts looked like diapers. I looked at those shorts, and I wondered, where’s the colostomy bag?”

We were joined by his publicist. The talk turned from New York fashion to Hollywood. Harrison much prefers the red carpet, and has spent years honing his ability to get the perfect picture. There’s a generic Young Hollywood pose, hand on hip, one foot forward. Harrison wished some of the female stars would leave their hands at their sides for a more interesting picture. He urged those who would wish to walk the red carpet to “practice the pose that works for you, however you like it.”

“A very small number of actors and actresses know how to work the red carpet,” Harrison observed. “Most of them have no idea how to pose. They jump up and down; they don’t know where to look. To know how to work the red carpet, you look straight, you don’t react to the shouting.”

Then how to get that certain celebrity to look into your camera when you’re surrounded by screaming colleagues? “You’ve got to have a trademark,” he said. “I yell ‘Over to the English guy!’ or, if it’s a big star like Drew Barrymore, ‘I’ll make you famous’!” He laughed. “That’s a line from a movie.”

(Amy Poehler at the Emmys/Photo: Frazer Harrison)

What is his biggest red carpet peeve?

“Celebrities don’t need to be led down the red carpet on a leash, by their publicists” he replied.

“It has to be done,” his publicist interrupts. “They spend too long—“

“Leave them alone,” Harrison responds. Harrison felt that the biggest problem with today’s red carpet is that there is not enough real celebrity. (Your faithful correspondent heartily concurs. ) “It’s been taken over by reality television stars,” he said, noting that few of them have the genuine charisma of real celebrities.

And digital photography has made photographers lazier, he stated. “You used to wait with your camera for that perfect shot,” he said, lifting his camera and carefully pretending to aim it at a moving celebrity. “Then you get that perfect shot. Nowadays, it’s just—“Harrison swings the camera, making a rat-a-tat noise. “You get hundreds of pictures.”

As a longtime professional photojournalist, Harrison gets most exercised when compared to the paparazzi. “None of us like to be called paparazzi. They’re scumbags. Photojournalists capture moments. What are remembered on the red carpet are the real moments, like Clark Gable hugging Marilyn Monroe. I call those action shots, or war pictures."

(Kathy Griffin at the Emmys/Photo: Frazer Harrison)

"When the history of Hollywood is written, those are the pictures that will be used. The line is slim [between photojournalists and paparazzi], because we’re both taking candid shots.”

However, he chuckles as he remembers an encounter with Liz Hurley during the Hugh Grant scandal. Harrison was at the airport, trying to get his shot, when he backed into a concrete post and fell. Hurley looked down at him and said, “Serves you right, fucker.”

But, says Harrison, “You don’t judge a person in the moment.” Sometimes the celebrity is under stress, but then that same celebrity will be perfectly friendly at another time.

"Everybody has their own thing," he concluded. "You have to ask yourself, 'what's special about me'?"

Fortunately, when it comes to moi, I do not have to ask. But Frazer Harrison is definitely a special gentleman. He's never done a nude shoot, but seemed amenable to one at a future date. Be sure, I know how to strike a pose!


Elisa & Bucky the Wonderdog

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