Monday, March 13, 2017

Jewel Kilcher

Jewel Kilcher, Parkdale, March 1995

BY THE MID-'90S I WAS OBSESSED WITH STUDIO PHOTOGRAPHY. It might have been a combination of aesthetic preference and raging misanthropy, but I much preferred my subjects came to me instead of dealing with the compromises of a location shoot. My studio was in Parkdale, relatively close to the downtown, and my editor at NOW was far more enthusiastic about seeing studio work than she'd been when I'd started there six years previous, so I ended up doing a lot of my shooting at home. I miss it.

One day I got a call from Tim Perlich, one of the editors of the music section at the paper, telling me he was sending a singer over to my studio for a possible cover shoot. She was a young woman from Alaska, he said, who'd lived in her car while doing the coffee house circuit on the west coast. She was pretty, and the record company was pretty solidly behind her, having quietly done artist development for her for a couple of years. She'd just released her first record, he said, which she'd recorded at Neil Young's ranch with the Stray Gators, his backup band.

Jewel Kilcher, Parkdale, March 1995

Oh, and another thing. "She's really flaky," he warned me, and hinted that this apparently spacey demeanor might be a bit of an act. "Just so you know, " Tim said.

Jewel Kilcher showed up at my studio with a record company PR handler, but I don't remember if they had a makeup person in tow. Shooting on short notice, I'd decided on a very simple set-up - my biggest soft box positioned on a boom stand just above her, like a big skylight. I put her in front of a rented backdrop - a big roll of painted canvas - that I happened to have in the studio that day.

Jewel Kilcher, Parkdale, March 1995

She was pretty much as Tim had described her - sweet and at pains to seem like she was a bit amazed at all the fuss being made over her, but hardly out of control of the situation and obviously very aware of how she was presenting herself. I did two rolls of cross-processed slide film for the cover, and then moved the soft box over slightly to the side.

I looked around the studio and saw my guitar - an old, no-name archtop that I'd bought from a pawn shop as a teenager and had recently had repaired. It wasn't the best sounding instrument in the world, but it looked fantastic in photos, so I picked it up, strummed it once to make sure it was roughly in tune, and handed it to Jewel.

I won't pretend that I was ever a Jewel fan, but she's had a career of remarkable longevity, moving from the pop to the country charts not long after her first album, and appearing as a judge on TV singing competitions. She's also been in a few movies, playing June Carter Cash in a Lifetime biopic and starring alongside Tobey Maguire in one of my favorite Ang Lee films.

Jewel Kilcher has certainly upgraded her look since my shoot with her over twenty years ago, cultivating a far more glamourous image. These shots are a good example of what I'd do in the studio with a little preparation and not a lot of planning - a bit of Penn, a bit more colour experimentation, and no big concept or goal except a simple portrait. Not stellar work; more like shooting on cruise control.


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