Another year over. And what a year it was for R___ A___. Momentous experiences lie behind him – a film made and more or less finished (Black Sky), the excitement in the run-up to the movie premiere of the year, press junkets for The Hobbit and publicity shoots, red carpet events of a new scale, a huge response from the appreciative, female public, then a return to NZ and reconvening with friends and colleagues for remaining Hobbit-pick-ups, a new residence in NY (?), a whole new level of majesticity. And now another birthday. How quickly time is passing!
As I was pondering on how to celebrate A___’s birthday for his Army, I could not avoid the thought that birthdays mark the passing of time. Photography is the chronicler of maturing. Its propensity for documentary ideal for capturing the “state of now” for later. And how to better demonstrate the development of today’s birthday boy than by a look at photographs. As befits the occasion, I thus bring you
Mr A___ Through The Years –
A Comparative Study Of The Actor’s Headshots.
For the purpose of this extraordinary post, Guylty is deviating from her usual one-pic-only method. However, a chronological approach makes a thematic focus necessary in order to contain the amount of material otherwise at our disposal. The concentration on one particular type of photography therefore is deliberate. You can’t compare apples with
peaches oranges, and therefore only shots that were taken with the same purpose can be contrasted. In view of the chronological approach, the passing of time seems particularly well documented in the actor’s headshots – undistracted by costume, and theatrical make-up and styling. A true visual time-line from the beginnings to the present. Unfortunately not all available images are dated, and therefore this study only takes those images into account that have a date attached – unless obsessive staring careful perusal and comparing has provided evidence for dating a shot. [A number of extra images exist in the ever-trusty archive on RAnet; however, they are not dated and will therefore be disregarded for this study.] The study in total, it must be pointed out, does not claim completeness. There is reason to believe that other images could be languishing in an obscure photographer’s archive, oblivious to the public’s thirst for more historical imagery of A___. But without further ado, let us start at the beginning.
The earliest shot takes us back to 1995. Unfortunately the image is not all that easy to read – not only for the characteristic lack of context in an actor’s headshot, whose purpose it is exclusively to advertise the subject’s given wares, but also for the print effect over it. This is no doubt caused by the actual source of the image – a theatre programme from Cats, 1995, in which Armitage played, sang and danced Admetus and Macavity. We can be safe in assuming that this image originated on film – digital photography was still a while coming in 1995, and the image here is a scanned version. A portrait of the artist as a young man, a b/w headshot with all the trappings of bad 1990s passport photography. Those of us conscious in the times pre-biometric data may remember the unnatural poses we had to adopt for passport photography. Leaning into the frame with his head tilted and face slightly turned right, Armitage is exposing his left ear to the camera – the shape of the ear being a unique identifier, back then. The pose draws attention to the
then-fashionable long tresses of the young A___. A sign of things to come? Guylty is reminded of a similar look, albeit more unruly and tousled, for season 3 of Robin Hood. A young Guy of Gisborne, anyone? The shoulder-length hair is similar, and the sweet, innocent smile could just about have fitted on the face of pre-corrupted Gisborne, the good, honourable heir to the Gisborne lands, just before his life and fate will take a turn for the worse and steer him into the arms of heinous crimes and evil masters. No, this is a smiling A___, mouth curling up in a shy plea for acceptance, eyes similarly genuine in their warmth, yet with a hint of timidity. The actor at the beginning of his career – a modicum of modesty and waryness at what Melpomene and Thalia may have in store for him allowed in the fresh-faced countenance.
Let us move on to the next image. An image from RA’s album of holiday snaps? One could be excused to think so, on account of the background that gives the impression that this image was taken outside. It is dated May 2000 and has been put into context with RA’s appearance in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of The Duchess of Malfi. Again, the faint lines in the image give away that this is most probably a scanned image, and thus not available at higher resolution. Here we have Mr A in a slightly hunched pose. He must be leaning on a table in front of him, scrunching up his shirt in the process. It passes muster as a headshot – despite the RL background – because it suitably concentrates on his face. R___ has grown a few years older. Much older, by the looks of it, because the boyish sweetness of the long-haired, shy youth has been replaced by a more mature look. The hair cropped short, some traces of a goatee – “Look, mum, I can grow a beard now!”Although the headshot is taken straight-on, we have a first taste of the characteristic A___ head-tilt here. Not quite as manly yet, Richie? But a nice portion of confidence in the open-eyed gaze that does not seem to back down. This is A___ at a time when he has established himself in a prestigious theatre ensemble, holding a steady acting job and stretching his legs as an acting professional. He is right to look pleased with himself – he has taken the next step on his path to
ovary-busting world-domination. But this is the last time that he graces his future employers, casting agents and programme-perusing public with a semi-smile. Enjoy it while it lasts.
Because only a few months later we get a new headshot of A___, from September 2000. RAnet informs us that this is a Star Wars autograph picture. Whoa! Autograph pictures, specifically printed for the third Naboo fighter from the left? Somebody sure made an impression! But jokes aside, here we have a shot from the same period as before, but at better quality. RA has definitely left boyhood behind and is a man. That is not only evident from the filled-out face, but from the more confident, assertive pose that is apparent in the image. Has he copped on to the devastating stubble effect, yet? His face is rounder, the sharp angles of his forehead have become more visible. For the first time, an A___ headshot shows the deliberate professionalism of a studio-based headshot photographer. A___ is lit from the front with what appear to be two soft boxes, one illuminating him from above, one from below. There is no shadow on his face, except for the forehead angles. A look in his eyes tells us that the perspective of the camera is from slightly above him: the whites under his pupils are visible because he is looking up from under his brow. Is this the beginning of the smoulder? However, we have one of those corny poses again, probably with his right arm perched on his leg and his left arm crocked into his hip. This pose draws his left shoulder up and results in a fakey, relaxed pose. The effect is that of an air of assertiveness and aggressive leaning in. A strange mixture of a slightly curled up mouth but unsmiling eyes adds to my confusion.
In 2002, Armitage appears completely different again. Where he previously looked older than his years, he now has a younger appearance. This is probably down to yet another a change in his facial shape: His chin appears more sculpted, less round and more defined. The beard has gone, and the hair is slightly longer. Is he lusting after his long locks of yesteryear? There is a slight tendency towards the mullet here… (Gisborne is calling…) The style of the photograph is yet another departure of previously seen headshots. I am tempted to christen this “The Space Invader”, as it is a very close close-up, shot with a large apertureSarah Dunn by . A___’s eyes, chin and cheeks are in sharp focus whereas other parts his head fall off. The result is a stunning emphasis on his very bright and large eyes. The lack of catchlights in them, however, is startling. It implies a lack of life, and the stare can easily be interpreted as piercing and demonic. While the pose is not necessarily new, the perspective of the camera is certainly different – the subject is shot from above, so A___ has to crane his neck to the side and up *ouch*.
No wonder he is pouting. Such delicious lips But for my taste, the pose and point of view are slightly too intense if not too close for comfort.
With camera angle and settings more or less identical to the previous shot, I am hazarding the guess that the next image is taken by the same photographer, on the same occasion – again we have the view from above with a large aperture. There are no dates and credits available for this image, but POV and aperture could be pointing to the signature style of a particular photographer (at a certain phase), and my hunch is that this is also an image by Sarah Dunn. In fact, as headshot session are often sold in a package, this could have been a shoot that included one constume change. Hence the white shirt and a slightly different tousled hairstyle than in the previous image. And lo and behold! Ladies and gentlemen, we have a smile. A cheeky, mischievous one, but a smile no less – another hint that this could be the second of a two-shoot-package in which actors are paying for two different headshots with two different facial expressions.
Finally we come to the current actor’s headshot of l’A___. This was shot by Claire Newman Williams, but no date is given. The haircut on A___’s pretty head points to May 2010 when he sported a short haircut with a pronounced fringe. (cf. Interview with Lorraine Kelly). In this shot, his hair is nicely trimmed and carefully styled with strands of hair falling onto his forehead. There is a nice twinkle in R___’s eye, cause by a softbox from above right, a good angle to lighten up his angular forehead, too, as the angle on his left is drowned out by the light and the one on the right hidden underneath the fringe. Finally, R___ has also made the stubble his signature look, and proudly wears the vestiges of his masculine facial hair on his chin and cheeks. As mentioned in a previous, pre-me+richard *ooof*, there is evidence of Photoshop in this image. This is a big no-no as the signs of ageing should really be left in Richard’s photos. Or that is what his fans think. But that is not what the vain subject wants, or agents and casting directors, for that matter, and thus the laughter lines around Armitage’s eyes have been ‘shopped, possibly also some shadow lines on that forehead, after all. The image, however, places a nice emphasis on the bright eyes of the subject, and the pale skin against the dark background and shirt. The head is only very slightly tilted downwards. As much as the actor’s headshot works as a possible foil for the casting directors’ imagination, I don’t find the image entirely neutral. The demeanor and gaze of the subject give the impression of an assertive, open, confident, not quite smouldering man. It is easy to imagine the brooding master from this image – a reference that can only work in A___’s favour with Thornton being one of his most loved roles. There is a hint of “dangerous” in the shot, possibly because of a slightly more closed right eye which gives him an appraising gaze. It is, however, easy to imagine a laugh on this youthful face, as well as a snarl. All in all a headshot that ticks all the boxes.
It is probably not much wonder that my subjective preference lies with the current headshot of Mr A. Even if he currently does not really look like this – his hair style is different, the stubble has often been replaced by a beard, and the lines have become a bit more present and pronounced
to my delight, Richard, not my dismay, so calm down – this is pretty much a portrait of the artist as a (nearly) middle-aged man, as he is now. As has been said so often – the passing of time has been gentle with Armitage. He has aged very attractively, and certainly appeals to me more in his current look than as his younger self. Although that is also a reflection on my own advancing in years, but that is an issue for the therapy couch and not an Armitage appreciation blog. However, from the chronological comparison of the headshots we can glean certain insights. As A___ has passed from youth to middle-age, so has also developed his look and the manifestation of his (actor’s) personality in his outward appearance. As the years have worn on, A___ has become better at posing – from a representation of self at the beginning, through some confused mixtures of man and actor, he has arrived at an actor who can pose effectively and devastatingly for the purpose of a headshot. His personal style has changed over the years – a reflection of the fashions of the times from long hair on a young man, through the slightly anachronistic mullet to the crisply styled hair of the successful celebrity actor. The comparison of the images has also made evident that with growing success, celebrity and bankability he has been able to employ better and better photographers. With their expertise they have created interesting set-ups or POVs that stand out from the rest of the photography – i.e. Newman Williams black-on-black approach (a personal favourite of mine) or the mock-intimacy of the angle from above by Dunn. Particularly Claire Newman Williams has delivered a great job (although I must admit that it certainly helps having a high-res version of her image to peruse.) Notwithstanding the fact that there are no credits available for the early headshots, I find it interesting if not telling that the two most recent headshots were taken by women photographers.
Does a look back in time make you sentimental? There is a certain loss of youth in evidence, that’s for sure. But apart from the signs of ageing or the change in body shape, photography documents other aspects of time, too – the growth in self-awareness, the developing self-confidence or the progressive and accumulative experience evident in the images. Photography is forever, too, Mr A___, and yes, you are not the young colt you once were. But there is more to enjoy in your looks and your performance than ever – the edges and lines add to the mystery, they challenge to decode, to associate, and to interpret. Age is merely a number. And sometimes, big is good. Happy birthday.