You’re probably not too familiar with Annie on Camera. I hadn’t heard of it, and don’t remember where I found out about it, but I’m glad I did.
In 1982, Ray Stark produced the film adaptation of Annie. At a party during filming, he engaged Anne Hoy to hire some photographers to come and photograph the production. These photographers were outside of and in addition to the unit photographers that worked making stills, continuity shots, and the like, and they had to stay more or less out of the way of actual production. Hoy talked to people and hunted, and in the end found and hired 9 photographers to more or less wander around and photograph whatever they liked, and Annie on Camera was the result.
So who got the nod? Well, some stars of the time, and a few newbies: William Eggleston, Mitch Epstein, Joel Meyerowitz, Jane O’Neal, Stephen Shore, Neal Slavin, Eric Staller, Robert Walker, and Garry Winogrand, all collected together in one volume…
The book opens with a long essay that introduces the project, gives an outline of the film, and discusses the photographers and many of the photographs. Most interesting in this, to me, here entering the third decade of the 21st century, nearly 40 years removed, the text contains a seeming need to justify both color photography and the straight, snapshot-type photography that the different photographers produced.
These days (I’m writing in February 2020), color photography is no surprise and both straight photography and snapshot photography are all over everywhere, so it’s an interesting glimpse into the relatively recent past. Of course, I know that things were much different in the early 1980s when I was a small child. There were no (consumer) digital cameras or iPhones, video rental was in its infancy and VHS had yet to supplant BetaMax, Vinyl was still readily available and tapes were everywhere, with compact discs only just on the horizon. Despite my MA in Art History and Criticism, I’ve never thought much about photo theory or photoland (or art criticism in general) in the early 1980s. Some blame lies with my training, most of which stopped with Conceptual Art in the late 1960s and 1970s, but most of it is just me and not taking any initiative…
Anyway, on to the book.
Neal Slavin’s group portrait, shot on 4×5 at a set in Monmouth, NJ appears first. Well, first is a 3 page biography and discussion of the making of the photograph, and then there’s the photograph. The photo looks dark to me, but seems in keeping with Slavin’s work of the time. Slavin, then and now, seems to make photographs that look like they were made with available light, even when, as in the case of his group portrait of the Annie cast and crew, there are multiple movie lights and strobes lighting the scene. And it was probably a bit dark that night, in that fancy stairwell at Monmouth University, even with movie lights and strobes.
Jane O’Neil comes next. O’Neil shot 35mm through an Olympus camera at the Burbank studio, where most of the street scenes were shot, and many of her pictures contain some really conspicuous evidence of the artifice… There are a couple of pictures of the huge sky-blocking scrim thing (Hoy compares this to Christo (and Jeanne-Claude)), pictures with microphones and boom stands coming into the frame, and a really fun picture of some extras doing flips on beds in the orphanage, plus a good, tough picture of Annie.
Stephen Shore took the opposite approach, and photographed the backlot like he photographed street scenes for Uncommon Places, or his Stereographs. His shots, even the one or two that have people in them (a group portrait of some extras on a stoop, and some people milling about on a street) look pretty much like he stepped back in time to 1910s New York, or at least what an 80s kid (or 2020s adult… or 80s set designer) would think a 1910s NYC looked like.
Garry Winogrand pulled off some typically Winograndian shots, though many of his horizons are strangely level… His photograph of director John Huston dancing(?) or whatever is incredible. Of course, he shot 90 rolls in 8 days (according to the text) and 13 frames appear in the book, mostly all of which are exceedingly excellent, so the Hoy’s assertion that “Winogrand’s seemingly accidental and lucky ‘grab shots’ conceal their art…”* (Hoy, Anne. Annie on Camera. Abbeville Press, New York, 1982. p. 84) is absolutely correct. Prescient, even.
Not that I intend to besmirch Winogrand, here. He captures some truly incredible expressions, gestures, motions: Bernadette Peters, Tim Curry, and Carol Burnette singing or hamming or something in front of a policeman on set and in costume; Mickey Mouse (the 80s version) smileing knowingly at Annie (Aileen Quinn) as she holds a finger to her lips; Aileen (sans her Annie wig) and her mother singing a duet to the shock of a nearby onlooker beneath a row of paste-ups. Decisive Moment, indeed… once properly curated, edited, and sequenced, of course.
I could learn something from Winogrand, really. Mitch Epstein too, and probably the other roll film shooters in this group and elsewhere… Winogrand shot 90 rolls in 8 days; Epstein shot 100. Of course, where Winogrand shot a Leica and had 24 or 36 exposures per roll; Epstein shot a Palm Press 6×9, so 8 shots/roll… That’s 2160-3240 frames from Winogrand, who it seems submitted the lot to the Annie people to sift through, vs. Epstein and his 800 frames, of which he selected, printed, and submitted 14. Regardless, I would (and do) shoot far less at events and things, and could learn something from the pros, maybe.
Epstein shot on-set in New Jersey, and since he was shooting with flash, he only took pictures between takes, before shooting began for the day or after it ended, and most of his pictures feature people waiting around for something: a Caucasian actor in Arab garb standing on a small hill next to a palm tree; Rockettes stand around backstage, waiting to do their routine; riggers set up lights; a gangster sits on a plinth next to the Venus de Milo; Annie lays her head on Sandy’s shoulder while a middle aged guy (extra? camera guy?) lounges at her feet. Epstein has some timing and framing prowess too: a gentleman buries his hands in a makeup artist’s hair while the MUA fixes Annie’s wig, and there must be some amount of just paying attention and knowing your tools involved, even when spraying and praying.
William Eggleston’s set is a little bit strange, maybe. According to the text, he chose to photograph the New Jersey set as Annie, as if the character (not the actress, not the comic strip character, but an actual orphaned girl) were seeing Daddy Warbucks’ palacial home for the first time. It’s all architectural details and ceilings and empty rooms and bits of things, all shot from a perspective about 4′ off the floor. Some are more successful than others, but they’re all very much Eggleston. (Apparently, he didn’t much enjoy the gig too much and couldn’t wait to get back to Memphis, see Taylor Bright’s twitter thread, linked below.)
Joel Meyerowitz mixed Deardorf 4×5 with 35mm during shootings at the Brooklyn Bridge and Radio City Music Hall. The former look much like Shore’s work: color landscapes and architectural details from the Depression era, save for some incongruencies like a blown out television tube in front of a pile of rubble, a set light behind some very convincing Depression era bums standing around a period automobile, and the like. Once he got to Radio City, the pictures turned strange, surreal: Rockettes dancers posing with Ann Reinking, all wearing masks of Reinking’s face; Rockettes, all in identical blue dresses and hats, lounging around, resting their feet; Reinking, in an identical dress, sitting on a bench next to a boxfull of her face… To be honest, some of the pictures are a bit disturbing, yet still quite fun.
Robert Walker’s photographs, from Radio City and the East Coast sound stages, are almost lurid in their color. He has some good, witty, street-style shots (a pirate’s arm gets swallowed up by a big horn with ‘DIRECTOR’ on the side, while two guys shovel water onto a shark head with paint buckets is a standout) and an excellent, tender shot of Aileen Quinn, dancing with an umbrella on some railroad tracks in between takes of the chase scene. He must have been there the same time as Meyerowitz, as he also has the Rockettes in the blue dresses and the Caucasian actor in Arab dress, this time holding his headdress, and it’s interesting to see how different photographers worked with similar opportunities.
Bringing up the end, Eric Staller played around with time exposures, multiple exposures, sandwiched negatives, star filters, and chance. In one long exposure, Robert Walker happened to pop a flash, freezing one of the dancers as a neon camera chops her head off. To be honest, the star filtered lights actually look right to me, and not at all tired and hackneyed. I’m tempted to see if I can find one on the ‘bay, though any use I would have for a star filter would be hackeneyed as can be… or would it? Hummm…
Annie on Camera is an interesting photobook. I don’t have much in the way of commercial work beyond fashion, and this book is particularly well-disguised. It’s not an annual report or catalog, and it’s also not a movie-log type thing, it’s not stills or headshots. It might in fact be something almost unique, though I don’t really know. Maybe producers regularly hire groups of famous art photographers to wander around their sets and photograph whatever. I doubt it, but maybe?
You can find softcover copies of Annie on Camera from $25, and hardbacks for $35 and up, through our dear friend the BookFinder. Given the quality of the photography and the interesting-ness of the book itself, it’s probably worth it, and I’ll probably keep it around for awhile. After all, my only Winogrand book is the New Documents reprint and, oh, right, the interesting Dyer book, and while I have tons of Shore, I only have the one Eggleston book and a copy of Meyerowitz’s Cape Light that I found many years ago in a local Half Price Books. Really, though, even if I had all of their monographs and catalogs, this Annie book would still fill out a part of their practice that I wouldn’t have access to otherwise. Except for some posthumous Winogrand monographs that contain a few of the Annie works, I think Annie on Camera is the only place to find these photos, so… Anyway. Pick up a copy and enjoy.
Edit: Interestingly, two days ago, Taylor Bright over on twitter posted a brief thread about Annie on Camera. What a strange, wonderful world it is, that Mr. Bright would come across this book just days after I wrote the review and just days before it appeared…
* Hoy, Anne. Annie on Camera. Abbeville Press, New York, 1982. p. 84