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Tuesday, 04 February 2014


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Discussing this on Stephanie Miller today they made the comment: "Actors live in NYC, celebrities live in LA."

They also mentioned that he had been clean for 20 years.

Hoffman was a brilliant actor - no doubt about it. And I share your hope for an end to war but it will only come through public pressure. Look how public sentiment forced Obama to stay his hand on Syria. Power to the people!

Curiously, dueling only became a matter of "honour" for the settling of disputes between individuals - mostly nobles (more or less) in the late middle ages. In earlier times, it was more usually the sentence of a court that could not or would not make up its mind. The rationale was that this "solution" would let God sort it out, thus guaranteeing a just outcome.

I know first hand money cannot buy happiness. I walked away from a life of excess and have not looked back once! I do mourn the loss of Hoffman. What talent he had, but it obviously could not help him cope with living with himself. So sad.

This is why I come bak to TOP six times a day. Mike, your logic and writing changes the way I view the world. I love it when you tie together current events with long running TOP themes. Thanks.

I have always enjoyed your website and its articles, reviews and musings on photography. However, this is one of the most insightful and moving pieces I have come across on any website and I thank you for it. It says as much about the guy who wrote it as it does about the incredibly gifted actor he writes about.

I can't say that I agree with everything you post but this one is wonderful.
Philip Seymour Hoffman, may he rest in peace.

Sometimes, despite all the wise admonitions as to what photography can't possibly do- it goes and does it anyway...

Or he was just acting. I say that because most of the actors who sat seem to express a similar melancholy. Its much harder to smile for the camera then to look mean or stoic, or just sad. Look at Michael C. Hall, he looks like he is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Is it live, or is it memorex? Who knows. An aery photograph nonetheless given the circumstances. Everyone imagines celebrities having a fantastic life, but I think a great many are simply lonely. The real victims here are this poor man's children though. And they never even got the chance to know him.

Thanks for providing the richest insight into this event of any news source I've yet read. Contrary to your opinion, I do come to T.O.P. for current news and camera reviews!

While it is sad and tragic about Hoffman, this wet plate is among the worst I have ever seen. So many flaws, it's hard to know where to start. Look at some *good* wet-plate images to get a feel for how amateur and poorly done this one is. Even some of the others in this gallery are far better by comparison (but those pale compared to real masters of the art). It's too bad it isn't a better wetplate photo. It would be great if one of his last photos was a really well done wetplate image. And, you are likely reading a bit too much into the portrait. Given the exposure times of wetplate, most people can't hold a smile even if they wanted to.

His portrait is somewhat eerie. You keep looking back into those eyes time and again at they invite you to peer through the windows of his very soul. A picture in monochrome often tells more about a person.

I can understand addiction to some extent, since most of my friends had problems with alcohol (alcoholism is endemic in the newspaper business.) And I was a serious smoker for sixteen years, and finally managed to quit. Cigarette smoke still smells good to me, but I'd never go back, because I know what would happen -- I'd get addicted again -- and then I'd probably develop lung problems and maybe cancer. If you've really been off for a while, and you *know* what will happen if you go back...why in God's name would you go back? It takes a little will-power to stay off, when you've been off for a while, but not much. So what is it? A self-destructive impulse? A need for medication that you can't get from a doctor? It's especially tragic with fine artists, and I've often wondered if the psychological complex that allows them to become fine artists eventually becomes intolerable, and they find they they need street medication to keep themselves sane. A guy as smart as Hoffman had to have been aware of all those entertainers who walked down exactly the same road, with tragic consequences...

The New York Post ran the now-famous tintype of Seymour Hoffman as it's full-page cover today (Tuesday). Inside, the article quotes magazine publisher John Arundel as saying he didn't immediately recognize the hollow-eyed actor at the recent Sundance Film Festival and asked him what he did for a living. "I'm a heroin addict," Hoffman was quoted as telling Arundel. -- Jim Hughes

I KNOW that look from personal experience which I won't go in to here. That portrait cuts to my bones, sad and in the light of his death, prophetic.

There have been comments on some other boards I'm on basically saying "meh, no sympathy, a junkie is a junkie, they don't care". I can't even respond to them,(it would not be pretty) I feel sorry for anyone who is that lacking in empathy. Without the empathy of others I would be dead now.

PSH was brilliant. When you see the big names acting you say "oh there's" George Clooney or Brad Pitt or Jennfer Garner of Scarlett Johanson playing a role. When PSH was on screen he became the character and you didn't see PHS. He was truly one of the greatest actors who ever lived.

"Or he was just acting"

Charlie, google pictures PSH, he wasn't acting.

Excellent observation, Mike. Given what we now know that photo is truly haunting.

I am truly saddened by this; he was perhaps my favorite actor. I am watching "Owning Mahowny" tonight in his honor. Such a talented man, and I love that he was known to be humble. I wish so many more people were humble.

CharlieH- I agree with everything you said in the latter part of your comment, but am really at a loss to understand, "It's much harder to smile for the camera than to look mean or stoic, or just sad." People worldwide automatically tend to smile as soon as camera is readied in many a non candid portrait situation, which is why competent portrait photographers strive to get beyond the initial smile phase into something a bit more complex or revelatory. Agreed, it may just be an act, a response to what the sitter thinks the photographer wants, but it usually takes a certain amount of effort to get there for photographer and sitter alike.

I must say that I have no idea who the poor chap was, nor looking at the gallery of the other "celebrities". I lead a fairly reclusive life. But I came away thinking that the wet plate collodion process certainly added a different dimension to these photos. The relatively long exposures, the fact that emulsion is only sensitive to blue light and the obvious imperfections in coating the plates disrupts how we look at the photos. We have become so used to seeing very slick celebrity photos that when we see these they appear raw and visceral. It somehow strips the artifice of the modern cult of celebrity away so we feel we see the real person underneath. Whether we are or not is of course open to conjecture as it could be argued that actors are always playing a role.

I read some blurbs of encounters with him at Sundance..most said he didn't look good at all so that portrait might reflect the truth about where his head was.

One can only think of his Family and his Children and how tough this is for them. Im a huge a fan of his work but ultimately it comes down to him as a fragile human being and his kids having to sort through this for the rest of their lives.

I have to, hope to think that this wasn't a suicide..just a guy spiraling, whose body just couldn't withstand the abuse it was receiving.

I'd disagree that he never saw it coming, or that the death was a unintended. That's the hell of it. There's no way not to know that every time your stick a needle in your arm that it's going to kill you, that look you see reflected is the certain knowledge that it will, and yet, there's no way to stop. I've been trying to loose weight - just weight, everyone knows how to do that - for a decade, and yet, it's midnight, and I eat a bloody snack. I can't begin to image having that kind of a demon eating at me. As a father, i really want to hate him for making this choice. As a father, I pity him and grieve because at some point it was the only choice he could make.

Mike, thank you for this beautiful piece of feeling, thinking and writing. I am glad you are back, and I hope you are well now and will stay so for a long time to come.

Philip Seymour who was my first reaction........never heard of the bloke I must say. Nevertheless, maybe it helps to keep someone on the straight and narrow but even that I doubt, in fact maybe someone fatalistic enough (and who in their right mind isn't these days) may take this as the wrong example.

Greets, Ed.

Heroin did not kill Hoffman. It is possible to be a heroin addict all one's life and be a productive member of society while doing it.

What killed Hoffman is the the war on drugs, which produces the criminal underlife who distribute the adulterated and non standardized drugs that addicts use.

It is our tragic drug policy which fills hundreds of thousands of U.S. jail cells with marijuana users, destroys people, families, and entire cultures in Latin ans South America, and adds Philip Seymour Hoffman to the casualty list of wonderful artists who have perished because they could not know what was in their needle.

Anyone who appreciates cinema loved Hoffman as an actor. He spoke to us. He was one of us. To paraphrase Martin Niemoeller, they just came for one of us. If we can look upon the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman and not act to change our national drug policy we never deserved him.

Just as a side note, I have to say that whenever collodion work makes it into the popular perception, the work always seems terribly sloppy.

Sure, there's a failure rate. The process is quite finicky, and it seems to be virtually impossible to produce a picture that has no defects. Still, people who are actually good at it seem to produce consistently better results.

One cannot help but suspect that there's a degree of deliberate sloppiness, to add an aura of authenticity to the work, which is a shame. The process is completely glorious without all this separation and white blotches and so on.

Thanks for this post. The more said about this man now, the less said about all the boring, undertalented celebrities who gobble up the media. As you said, his life is a study in how wealth and fame cannot heal certain wounds and might even make them worse: you wonder what would have happened for PSH if he had been a mid-level businessman struggling to feed his family. Perhaps wealth and fame -- and the spare time and stress sometimes attached to them -- made it easier, not harder, for him to follow the path of addiction to its end.

Yes, the photographer of that tintype is Victoria Will and the darkroom processing is by Josh Wool. See http://joshwool.tumblr.com/post/75670551256/phillip-seymour-hoffman-park-city-utah-4x5

Looking at the celebrity-tintypes-at-sundance link did anybody else think of Avedon's "In The American West?" I certainly did.

Because of the strangeness and melancholy in so many of the portraits. Even though at Sundance these subjects are all celebrities of one sort or another while Avedon's subject most certainly are not.

Here's a good background on this photo, the wet plate process, and why it's not a good example of the type:


[I wouldn't call that "good background" and I disagree strongly with his conclusions and also with his premises and his reasoning. --Mike]

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