by Tim Teeman
Jeff Vespa doesn’t ask his famous sitters—like Daniel Radcliffe and Keira Knightley—to do anything outrageous, but they still teasingly reveal themselves under his gaze.
As a child, Jeff Vespa wanted to be a fine artist, but “really needed instant gratification,” as he puts it. So, he put down the paintbrushes and picked up his mother’s camera.“I didn’t have to sit and draw for hours to get photo-realistic drawings,” he says. “Now, I could just take a picture and be done with it.”
Vespa, 45, is well-known today as the co-founder of WireImage, the largest entertainment photograph agency in the world, and as a celebrity photographer—The Daily Beast today carries a series of portraits he has taken of stars, including Sir Michael Caine and Jessica Chastain.
Many of the images are black and white. If there is color, it’s dark or muted. Often his subjects’ profiles emerge from shadows. Vespa takes many of the pictures at film festivals, where—as he is in Toronto—he is the event’s official photographer.
You can see many of Vespa’s images at his Instagram page, @portraits, where he posts outtakes, and behind the scenes images of Hollywood’s most famous faces.
He has toured with Miley Cyrus, Tom Cruise, and the cast of Avatar and says the only celebrity he has ever had to win over was the film’s star Sam Worthington: the charm offensive wasn’t over-the-top, says Vespa, but by the end of it, the Australian actor had thawed.
“I know if someone asked me to do something I would think it would be lame or stupid or corny.”
Shooting Will Smith remains on his wish list, as does photographing Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt as a couple.
Vespa is friendly with many celebrities, but says he doesn’t treat them differently than anyone else, nor does he over-direct them. He sees both the celebrities and himself as “fellow artists,” and so—in his own quiet and quick way—he takes their portraits, themselves little flashes of revelation and surprise.
The trick, Vespa says, is not to over-conceive or get the celebrity to do something outlandish. The most he asks his sitters to do is move left or right. “I know if someone asked me to do something I would think it would be lame or stupid or corny. I’d rather observe people, than direct them to do things.”