FAULT Magazine Catches up with top photographer Randall Slavin
Sunset Boulevard attracts all sorts. The homeless hoping for spare change, tourists hoping for a glimpse of a celebrity, and even the odd celebrity. Randall Slavin fits into the last category. As he walks into The Bowery he looks more like a rock star than a photographer with messy blonde hair hidden under a fedora, checked shirt, jeans and arms covered in enough tattoos to make any old-school rocker proud.
Years ago, like most people who live in Los Angeles, Slavin was on a quest for stardom. Born and bred in LA, he pursued an acting career but failed to make the big time. To earn a living Slavin was working at a gas station in Hollywood, before he discovered a photography studio across the road. He was hired on the spot, learnt his craft and is now one of the most demanded photographers in the world. “When I was working at the gas station, I used to sit there with the other guys I worked with and we used to see all these beautiful girls walking in and out of the studio; it seemed like the greatest thing in the world”, Slavin reminisced. “I wandered across the street, talked to the owner and he took my headshots before asking if I was interested in taking photos. Not knowing anything about photography, he asked if I could take a good picture. I took some shots for him and he hired me on the spot. I worked for him for a few months before work started to dry up so he had to let me go, and then I decided to go out on my own.”
Slavin has photographed celebrities such as Sharon Stone, Jessica Biel, Dennis Hopper and Oscar winning actress Charlize Theron, whom he regards as one of his close friends. “I knew Randall for about 15 years before I became an actress”, Theron said. “At the time I was modelling and Randall was acting. We had mutual friends, moved in the same circles, and ended up becoming good friends. I have worked with a lot of photographers in my life, but working with Randall, with him being a friend, makes shoots a lot easier. It feels more comfortable and he knows how to shoot me and how to make it work.”
Slavin lifts the lid on his success as a celebrity photographer, which comes down to his personable and approachable nature. “When you shoot actors, you learn how to fake a rapport with them, which is helpful. A lot of celebrity shooters have half the battle of dealing with publicists and dealing with an actor’s egos sometimes. All you want is people to have a bit of fun with you for a day. I mean, many people can do what we do, but you have to have people skills to make the job work. It doesn‘t matter how good your photos are, if they don‘t want to spend six hours with you, you won‘t get anywhere.”
Given his credentials Slavin has attracted the attention of television executives, hoping he would collaborate on a reality show, but Slavin is adamant that he will not do one. “I have a lot of friends who have been on reality shows, not as contestants but involved in other ways. No matter what I have achieved in my life, I would always be that guy who was on a reality show. You look at these tops chefs that have gone that way – Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay for example. They are no longer known as chefs, it’s more about those guys from their shows now. I don’t want to lose my identity as a photographer so that’s why I’m not interested in going down that path.”
Slavin’s photography doesn’t just focus on the film world, and he has worked with a number of musicians and models. In the past he has shot Chris Cornell, Leona Lewis, Alicia Keys and Australia’s Natalie Bassingthwaite. “I shot Nat for GQ magazine. We got along well and I know that she spent a bit of time in LA”. Slavin’s photographic experience is so broad, but if he had to recall his favourite photo shoot there is one that stands out from the rest. After a 5 am wake-up call Slavin, Theron and a crew embarked on a four hour drive into the Californian desert. “The thing with Charlize is that we hadn’t shot anything interesting in a while. I then pitched an idea I had to her. It was about a glamorous woman who was travelling across the country and is stranded at a little café. This woman decides never to leave, adopts her own family here, and makes her own life out in the desert. But she was always waiting for someone to come and pick her up, which you can see from her face in some of the photos”, Slavin recounts. “The café we used was the one which appeared in the movie Baghdad Café, which came out about 20 years ago. It was really run down and dilapidated but perfect for the shoot. Charlize was amazing with this and rolled with it all. It was her idea to cry in the diner with the two mannequins, which puts more emotion into the photo. That picture will stand the test of time. I mean, you can look at some pictures and say you love them, but a couple of years later they don’t hold up. To my dying day, this picture will still be remembered, and stand out in my portfolio till then.”
With most photographers usually calling the shots, Theron was happy to be able to play a role with this shoot, especially out in the desert. “I love the desert. My family are from Namibia so the desert and its wide open spaces mean a lot to me”, she said. “I was extremely happy with the way that the pictures turned out. We had the whole crew there and everyone was in a good mood. Randall was clear on what he wanted to shoot and the results speak for themselves.”
With the close bond that he has formed with Theron the two have discussed raising money for Theron’s charity, the ‘Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project’. They are looking at holding an exhibition of Slavin’s photographs and auctioning them off, with the funds going to the charity. There are talks that the exhibition may feature in New York, Los Angeles and possibly Sydney. The charity was set up in collaboration with Oprah Winfrey’s charity program ‘Oprah’s Angel Network’. The charity has set up three mobile health clinics in operation throughout South Africa, including in the Umkhanyakude District which has one of the highest HIV infection rates in the world. The mobile units provide medical care and health information such as condoms and sex education. The charity is also looking at building soccer fields in rural communities in the lead up to the 2010 World Cup. Hopefully Randall and Theron’s collaboration will be as successful in raising money as it has been in producing memorable photography.
Interview by Cassandra Murnieks