Saturday, April 20, 2013

Benedict Cumberbatch, the Cover Image

Finding just the right photograph of Benedict Cumberbatch for a book cover is trickier than I expected. I thought the job would be fun (it was) and relatively simple. After all, the subject is certainly interesting to look at, and thousands of images saturate the Internet. The problem in choosing a single cover image that, to me, summarizes the book’s content turned out to be the very reason why I chose to write this performance biography in the first place—Benedict Cumberbatch can embody a range of characters.

When the talented Mr. Cumberbatch is photographed while filming a role, he often looks like the character we’ll see him portray on television or film. Sometimes he has “Sherlock hair” or the very dark locks to match the apparently equally dark John Harrison shown in Star Trek trailers. Sometimes he changes his physique to match a character’s body type. Chameleon-like, his appearance varies with the role, although that shift is merely window dressing for the in-depth characters he brings to life. Although, for example, I may be one of the few who really liked Peter Guillam’s blond fringe, a head shot of the actor around the time of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy illustrates only one role among many in an already impressive back catalogue and doesn’t encompass the range of characters or media analyzed in the book.

So . . . I wanted a photograph that, to me, seemed to represent the actor, not a character. Photographer Gareth Cattermole’s image does that. It’s straightforward—an attractive, well-dressed man on the red carpet. It’s classy—what one of my friends dubbed “classic glamour.” The expression is thoughtful—and Mr. Cumberbatch’s insights into acting or specific roles are the basis of much of my commentary in the book.

A quotation attributed to photojournalist Henri Cartier-Bresson suggests yet another reason why I kept coming back to this image. “There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative. Oop! The Moment! Once you miss it, it is gone forever.” Many red-carpet photographs capture a pose guaranteed to emphasize an actor’s best features or stylish wardrobe. They highlight wide smiles and high-energy performances before fans. They often illustrate an actor playing a character audiences expect to see on the red carpet—someone flirty, funny, outrageous, or controversial. In the moment immortalized in the image that will become part of my book’s cover, Benedict Cumberbatch seems to be taking in this red-carpet experience without being overwhelmed by it. If I were writing a story about the photograph and knew nothing of this actor’s career, I’d get the impression that here is someone greatly in demand (note the crowd and long lens of a camera in the background) who graciously accepts the attention given him but does not court it. The shot doesn’t seem like a typical red-carpet photograph. It’s different, just like this actor, and, I think, just like my book about his performances.