Straight Sundancing – Jeff Vespa : Official Photographer for the Festival

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Colin Farell
©2008 Jeff Vespa/WireImage

For the past 10 days you have been inundated with paparazzi shots of all of the celebrities at the biggest, most important, independent film festival ever. SUNDANCE. (click here for the winners)
They all go, but not everyone is in a film. And not everyone sees films. Some go just for the party. And the press coverage. World class at that.

But there is a portrait studio in Park City that gets an exclusive with the actors and filmmakers who actually appear in the films being screened.

Jeff Vespa of WireImage has been the official photographer of Sundance Film Festival since 2003, although he has been the main photographer since 1999.
Now this assignment has to be one of the most exhilarating and exhausting.

With approx 30-50 sittings a day, Jeff gets to spend about 5-20 minutes with each group or subject. Not a ton of time to build a rapport, but there is an unspoken smoother in the mix: if you’re here and the chosen photog, you MUST be all right, so the subjects have an immediate comfort level.

It’s Jeff’s talents though, that bring it all to life. With a limited range of backgrounds and lighting setups, he has created some incredible portraits with a depth you may not expect for the short time he has with his famous subjects. Witness the portrait above of Colin Farrell, one of our favorites. There is a moment of calm and a flow that is brilliant. Slightly pensive brow, he seems to be contemplating his next leap. Jeff captured the perfect moment.

True, even though through the years he has photographed many of the actors before, there is always the new crop. And sometimes he shoots them repeatedly if the actor has more than one film in the festival. New film, new cast photo.

This job has grown through the years. At this last festival there was a staff of about 90 taking care of the official photographic duties ,under the aegis of WireImage:
40 additional photographers covering events, parties, premieres.
25 editors – somebody has to download those media cards and deal with all of the images.
Plus a dedicated staff took care of all of the rest. Vespa alone has 2 editors at all times, plus his assistants.

To keep it all going, the photos are usually posted within an hour, with minor corrections.

I know, you want to know what the heck he is shooting and printing with?
A combo of a Canon Mark III and a Hasselblad H2, with a Phase One P49 digital back.
It was pretty obvious that the Hasselblad setup was a love fest for Jeff.
They were pulling 42×46 in. prints off of an HP printer, which were then displayed in the lunge/studio through the run of the fest.

Now, this tireless photographer has a thriving business in WireImage, and a full blown passion for his personal projects. Love that.

One in particular is his series on Burgers.

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Burger King Quad Stacker , Polaroid 20″ x 24″
© 2007 Jeff Vespa/ WireImage

For a few years he has been shooting fast food burgers with large format Polaroid.
There is a comedic beauty in these photographs as you view the true to life piles of meat, cheese, sauce and buns in all of its variations per restaurant. If you are a vegan I suppose they are either triumphant or hideous.
For those that may indulge now and again, you should get a huge laugh. There is great comedy in elevating the quad stacker to a studied piece of art.

There are a lot more of these personal projects in various stages of execution. I won’t reveal the specific subjects, but the excitement, passion and thinking behind them, will guarantee a strong place in the gallery world.

Yes, you should look at all of his work on his site. You’ll be amazed at the range.

Cheers!
Damon Webster

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