Now Matt Reed films them too. Reed is an accomplished reportage photographer. It has been his career for twenty years. There is a story in each of his photos wanting to be noticed. It’s what he looks for. But Reed has a flair for something else too. It’s the characteristic that sets his work apart. He captures the unscripted moments – the un-moments as he calls them. The authentic moments, if you have to rely on a cliché. It is not something he learned. It’s an instinct.
“I began my career, as a photographer’s assistant for some of the best,” he explained. They worked with amazing lights, beautiful models, the best sets. But I liked the bits in between – when people were doing nothing in particular, like when the model was just standing there waiting. The natural stuff is so much better, these moments that just happen. I guess I’m always trying to make space for those.”
There are a lot of un-moments in his first branded (if you will. This is Reed’s portfolio project) documentary, Brett’s Books. The 4 minute film is about Brett Hilder. Hilder is a unconventional character whom I knew a little in my early career – which coincided with the Australian high point of Brett’s.
“…In 1969 he set up his own studio and became one of the foremost, most innovative fashion photographers of the time: from the mid-70s Hilder spent much time working in Paris. On his return to Australia he began working with the Sydney Theatre Company taking portraits of actors and well-known identities. Recently his photography has shifted more towards a romantic theme and away from portraits: His photographs suggest the viewer has happened upon a scene in a film, indicating there is more to come.” [Ten Australian Photographers, Josef Lebovic Gallery]
Hilder has always documented his life in a collection of books – words and pictures – bound in moleskin. He has never seen without his Billingham bag, which he wears like a backback strapped across one shoulder. And a little while ago, he retired all his equipment. These day, he photographs only on his Nokia phone.
I asked Reed why he chose Brett Hilder. The decision was a lot more spontaneous than I expected.
“I saw Brett walking around town with his moleskin books and his Billingham bag and I thought, “He looks like an ad already, all I have to do is film him. He’s an interesting character visually. And an interesting subject with his lifelong love of the exotic. He is also the perfect candidate, being an artist and the most authentic person you could know.
“I decided that if I told his story through a beautiful visual narrative, it would be more interesting than any ad. Then, as I went into his story, I found out that he is more than just an icon – he’s actually a fascinating person.”
…and Kate Fitzpatrick, who tells the story of the Brett Hilder she knows in the film.
“Kate is a long-time friend of Brett’s. I was interviewing Brett and I couldn’t get the answers I wanted. They were very long and it wasn’t going to lend itself very well to the video format. I realised that it’s pretty hard to talk about yourself. Then, while I was looking in published books about Brett, I noticed that Kate had done an introduction to one of them. At first, I thought it would be good to interweave that into the film and I recorded her reading it. But it didn’t work. The editor suggested we have some vision of the two together, so I went to do that. Kate and I sat down over a glass of champagne and she just told me all about him through her eyes. That’s when the idea for the voiceover was born. And it became quite spontaneous and natural. It was what I wanted – authentic, like reportage.”
Reed pursued his idea of documenting this walking advertisement for three idiosyncratic accessories by being there:
“I wanted to treat the film exactly like a documentary, so I spent the day with Brett…did what he did with him, filmed him in his environment and with his habits. He goes swimming every day, sits in the same café. I didn’t have to make anything up. He lives in the Eastern Suburbs so it all looks very beautiful anyway.”
One obvious strength of Brett’s Books to the viewer is its visual appeal. It’s beautiful to watch. To Reed, though, the film’s strength is “the characters. Kate’s voice is lovely and she’s very eloquent. And because they’ve been friends for such a long time, their connection comes through. It’s quite poetic too and that suits Brett because he’s quite a romantic figure. He’s the kind of guy who thinks about things, so the narrative style suits. And he looks great, lives an interesting life and was so easy to work with – really accommodating. And then the editor did an amazing job of interpreting it. I went through a lot of interviews to find him, but he seemed like a good storyteller, I tried him out and I got lucky.”
My next question for Matt was what he thought was his own strength. I was sure he was going to say the stories he tells in pictures. He didn’t. He said simply, “I just keep turning up until I get it done.” He watches. He waits. He sees the un-moments. He shoots them.
by Candide McDonald