Werner Herzog, A Hornet On The WallSaturday, April 23, 2011
When I photographed German film director Werner Herzog in 1996, the man I met was gentle, thoughtful and full of intelligence in an introspective kind of way. My photograph of him makes him look like a fiend. I have no idea what it was that led me to take this portrait as it is here. It is not often that I let my light shine away from my subject’s eyes. In this case it works very well if the direction of the portrait is toward scaring those who see it.
Or perhaps I simply lucked out to get that little light to still crop up in the eyes. This portrait is one of my favourites ever.
In Sunday’s New York Times (which crashes on my front door around 8pm on Saturday) I found an article, written by Larry Rohter, on Herzog’s latest film which is a documentary (in 3D, no less!) called Cave of Forgotten Dreams. It is about the Chauvet Cave in southeastern France that has paintings that are 32,000 years old. By becoming a temporary employee of the French government (Herzog gets a symbolic 1 Euro salary) and giving France’s Ministry of Culture copies of the raw footage, Herzog is the first person to have obtained permission to film the cave.
For more details on the documentary readers can look for the article on the NY Times at your own peril as content on the NY Times site is no longer free. I agree that good content should never be free.
But the reason for the posting of this photograph is that the article by Larry Rohther, contains a quote by Herzog that I have seen and read before. The second time around, it still shocked me in how incisive and passionate Herzog is about his work. Few might know that since the early 60s, when he began directing film, a great part of Herzog’s work has been the documentary. Of the documentary Herzog says:
“I insist that even if you make documentaries, we are filmmakers, and we must never be flies on the wall, unobtrusive and just registering. As filmmakers we should be the hornets that go out and sting. The fly on the wall is a perspective that is suspicious to me per se. Every single camera angle is already a choice and a statement.”
Herzog’s statement comforts me. I often laugh of people (and photographers) who might comment that this portrait as opposed to that one looks more natural. What do they mean by natural? I have no doubt in my mind that my portrait of Herzog is not natural, after all I chose the camera angle and the light. The result is certainly not cinéma verité. It is my own imagined one.
Fly on the wall