Photographing Glen Hansard
My name appears on the masthead of the Fretboard Journal as "Color Consultant" which is a fancy name for pre-press. The Fretboard Journal is a terrific high-end coffee table style magazine for guitar geeks. It features well known guest writers, wonderful production values and limited advertising. I also do some actual photography assignments in the Seattle (headquarters for the publishing staff) area.
For one such assignment I was asked to Photograph Glen Hansard. Hansard is a well known Irish singer/songwriter for the group The Frames and Swell Season. He got his big break appearing in the movie "The Commitments". In 2008 he won an Academy award with Markéta Irglová for the song "Falling Slowly" from the film "Once". He also stared in the film. The story and photography went so well, that it became the cover story for the magazine.
Hansard grew up busking - playing and singing for money - on the streets of Dublin. I accompanied Fretboard Journal publisher, Jason Verlinde (who would also write the article) to Glen Hansard's hotel in Seattle. We needed some nice shots of Glen and his famous guitar - a well weathered instrument - that was prominently featured in the movie and the Academy Awards broadcast. The hotel turned out to be all modern chrome and steel, less than ideal for the subject here. Glen then mentioned he was hungry so I suggested we all head down to Kells, a well known Irish pub down near the Pike Place Market in Seattle.
This proved to be an ideal location as Kells is a warm, rustic pub - a familiar setting for one of Ireland's sons. Jason and Glen setup in the front corner near a window for the interview. I grabbed the guitar and set up an impromptu studio in the entrance alcove. I used a tripod mounted Canon 5D and just two lenses, the Canon 45 TSE (Tilt-Shift) and my old Minolta Rokkor 58/1.2 that I had converted to the Canon EOS EF mount. I used three off camera Canon strobes to help give a little "extra" to the soft lighting. I shot a lot of images of the guitar and its weathered case. The guitar is made of soft wood and heavy playing has created a large hole in the center. As I was wrapping up two young girls walked up and peered over my shoulder as I was working. Twenty seconds later one of them asked "is that Glen Hansard's guitar?" I could not believe it!
I then went back inside and took some shots of Glen next to the window with the guitar case leaning against the background. The warm window light, the wooden walls and Glen's Irsh garb all made for a nice "look" - an atmosphere that would have been impossible had we stayed at the shiny downtown hotel.
Pushing my luck a little I asked Glen if we could get some more shots as we walked through the Pike Place Market which is one of Seattle's more famous rustic attractions. Glen readily agreed which was great. He then walked right up to this guy - "Sleepy Joe"- who was playing the harmonica for tourist tips. Glen simply asked him if he could join in and before you knew it the pair launched into a warm duet that soon drew a crowd. Glen sang a number of his best known songs in a firm voice with absolutely no shyness, given the public situation. After all, Glen had spent years on the street singing and playing for his meals. Before too long you could tell that folks in the crowd had recognized just who was singing here: cameras and cell phones were out in force documenting the event.
I still used the 45 TSE and 58mm Rokkor to get my shots. The Rokkor delivers a wonderful look with a nice bokeh and color. The 45 TSE produced some interesting focus affects by tilting the lens plane away from the film plane, something you can not achieve with normal lenses.
Before leaving Glen posed with his hat, now bulging with "tips" from the receptive crowd. He then gave a stunned Joe all the proceeds and told Joe to come to the concert - his name would be on the guest list. Until then Joe had no idea who he was playing with.