Photographed at George Clooney's Los Angeles home. --- Image by © Sam Jones/Corbis Outline
Sam Jones on George Clooney:
By Elodie Mailliet / © Corbis Outline
Before my most recent cover shoot of George Clooney for Esquire
, I sent George the photo book Thank Your Lucky Stars
by John Hamilton, a photojournalist who shot a lot of Hollywood stars in the Fifties and Sixties. I sent it to him with a note saying, "I'm looking forward to our shoot. Here is the kind of photography I miss."
One thing that's exciting about George is that he is really good at looking at the whole scope of history in Hollywood. I think he is a little nostalgic for the days when stars were not put on such pedestals and everything wasn't so controlled by publicists.
I think that at some point in the Eighties, photography turned from an exchange between two people into an event. I think Annie Leibovitz-and don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of hers--was partly responsible for creating a style in which photography became a chance to make everything larger than life. With that came big productions, publicists, and control, and the idea of a photographer and a subject being in a moment got lost. In a perfect world, what I like is to find a balance between an event and an exchange, like a mix of Henri Cartier-Bresson's street photography and the portraiture of Richard Avedon or Irving Penn.
When I first called George, I offered him a trade-off: "I'll keep everyone from my end away. You won't have to deal with stylists or hair and makeup, or representatives from the magazine." And in exchange, I asked him to keep everyone from his end away. He agreed to let me come and spend the day with him at his house, and I agreed to only bring one assistant and a small camera package.
When I first got there, I walked into George's kitchen with a Leica on my shoulder. He started fooling around with an orange peel, cutting it into fake teeth. It was pretty early in the morning and there wasn't much light in the kitchen. The camera was at a fifteenth of a second with the lens wide open. That picture of him could never have been shot with bigger equipment or with anyone else around.
At lunchtime, he started barbecuing--I had brought burgers in a cooler. He said, "Sam, why don't you stop for a while and have a beer?" We had about an hour lunch, during which I only made a few images, caught up as I was between eating and George entertaining us with his great gift for storytelling. It was really hard to give up full control on the background and the location, but I wasn't about to try to move the barbecue. It can be a scary thing to not have the reassurance of lighting and an army of assistants, but the results can be a lot more unexpected and intimate. The cover turned out to be just him standing at his barbecue holding a beer. There was absolutely no setup.
By the time lunch was over, we had a to-do list, be it swimming or playing basketball; everything was an activity. The camera was just coming along. For the pool, what George didn't want was a beefcake-in-the-pool shot. He just put on the flippers and went into the water with the snorkel on. On the tennis court, we were pitching him these balls to hit with a big plastic baseball bat. Those big smiles when he has the bat in his hand, that's him trying to cream me! He wasn't trying to pose or project an image, he was just having a good time. I think who he would rather not be is this guy in a shiny suit on a magazine cover looking sexy in that horrible devilish way.
I particularly like the two-page spread of him in his Section 8 office on the Warner Bros. lot that we shot the following day. I completely reverted back to my photojournalism days, when I worked for The Associated Press. He was in a meeting for one of the shows he produces and invited me to come in. I just sat on the floor with my Leica. Later, he invited me into his office, where he read me excerpts from the script he is directing about the life of Edward Murrow. It was amazing to be part of this, and like the barbecue the day before, I took a few pictures, but mostly I just listened.
It takes time and trust to take pictures like that. George let me into his life and spent a day and a half with me, which wouldn't have happened without our history of past shoots together --I've shot him five times now. We don't need to break down the walls anymore. In fact, shortly after I got to his house that first day, George brought me upstairs to his library and said, "I want to show you something really funny." There, on one of the shelves, were two copies of the John Hamilton book, and I had given them both to him! I had sent him the first one before our Premiere
magazine shoot years ago. He was laughing, and I said, "Good, give one back to me so that I can give it to somebody else." He said, "No, no, I want them both with the five-year difference and the almost exact same inscription."