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Actor Matthew Modine, veteran of over 30 films as well as television and stage, recently published his first book, Full Metal Jacket Diary, sharing his photographic prowess with the public for the first time.  The book combines the dramatic images Modine captured while on the set of Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece about the nature of war and the Vietnam era with Modine’s own thoughts and stories which he kept in a journal during filming.

Modine w Headphones
© 2005 Matthew Modine / Courtesy of Rugged Land

TakeGreatPictures.com (TGP): We have found a pattern with our readers that they are inspired to pursue their interest in photography when they learn of celebrities who follow the same hobby.  How do you feel about being a "Celebrity Who Shoots"?

Matthew Modine (MM):  The first thing that I would want to say is that the idea of “Celebrities who shoot” I find to be difficult because the distinction of celebrity implies that people do one thing well.  We should all aspire in life to do a multitude of things well – to be a great father, to be a good husband, to be a good lover, you know, to try to do things the best you can is very important to me.  The fact that I happen to be a celebrity who takes pictures is inconsequential to me.

Machine Gunner w Light Mete
© 2005 Matthew Modine / Courtesy of Rugged Land

TGP: When did you first become interested in photography?

MM:  My interest in photography really began with the tremendous generosity of my friend Joe Kelly giving me the Rolleiflex to take with me on my trip to London to work with Stanley Kubrick.  Joe said that Stanley would be really impressed (he felt) if I had a knowledge and understanding of photography.  He gifted me this 2 ¼ x 2 ¼ Rolleiflex twin lens reflex camera.  My father taught me to paint when I was young with watercolors and so I learned at a very young age the essential elements of the value of light and composition.  So the thing that’s beautiful about the Rolleiflex is that I open the camera up from the top and put my face in and that the camera’s all about composition and all about light.  The experience of using a Rolleiflex camera is very different than using a SLR.

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© 2005 Matthew Modine / Courtesy of Rugged Land

TGP:  Do you still shoot with that same Rolleiflex?

MM:  Actually, about four years ago I was working in London and someone broke into the house that I was living in and stole my prized Rolleiflex.  I was able to find an incredible new one that was still in the box – it was probably that moment that somebody gave someone a camera and maybe they didn’t like it because it was too big or too bulky or someone had given them a new instamatic camera.  So the Rolleiflex just stayed in the box on a shelf and when granddad died, some relative thought “let’s get rid of this piece of junk.”  I was in a camera store in East London and went in to ask if they had a Rolleiflex and they pulled this box from the ‘60s out that looked brand new.  A little gummy because it hadn’t been used but it was a fantastic, wonderful camera.  The lens was different -- my original had a planar lens and this one has a xenotar lens.

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© 2005 Matthew Modine / Courtesy of Rugged Land

TGP: Sounds like quite a find!  Do you bring your camera with you on other sets since your Full Metal Jacket experience?

MM:  I have.  The thing that was incredibly different with FMJ as opposed to other films that I’ve worked on (besides working with Kubrick and a multitude of other things) was just time.  There was an element of time when Stanley was filming something it would take hours and days to accomplish something, so if he was focusing his attention on Adam Baldwin, or Vincent D’Onofrio, or Lee Ermey, that meant he wasn’t focusing that attention on me.  So I could observe Stanley and watch his direction, watch how he photographed, how he composed a shot.  I could have my camera and the opportunity to document it for myself.  It was great.  First of all, just Stanley giving me permission to take photographs on his set was an incredible honor.  As I was working on the film, everyone that I photographed, I gave prints to, so it was a nice thing to share with others as we were going through the process together – not just giving them a snapshot from an instamatic, but rather a beautiful print from my Rolleiflex.

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© 2005 Matthew Modine / Courtesy of Rugged Land

TGP: It sounds like it was quite an experience to work with Kubrick – it sounds like you really studied his outlook on things.  Did you have any conversations with him where he would give you express feedback on your photography?  Any pointers or insight?

MM:  The first thing he said when he saw my Rolleiflex was “What are you doing with that piece of junk?”  He loved technology and he loved the advancement, the things that were taking place with photography.  I think he would have been fascinated with the whole digital thing that’s happening now.  The ability to make computer generated graphics where film is going today, Stanley wouldn’t have just been somebody who was participating with it; he would have been a leader in that technology.  He would’ve taken computer graphics to a place that has never been imagined.  If you take 2001: A Space Odyssey as an example of somebody who creates a new language in film by what he was able to accomplish with art direction, photography, lighting, etc., it is still a gold standard for science fiction.  If you look at Star Wars or look at Apollo 13 or any films about space, 2001 still looks like the future.  Like something we’ve never imagined.  Just genius filmmaking. 

Kubrick s Chair
© 2005 Matthew Modine / Courtesy of Rugged Land

And he created lenses, used lenses made by NASA and used the advanced technology available to him to take pictures in a dark room only lit by candlelight.  So his understanding of photography was immense, so it would be funny that the first thing he said was “what are you doing with that piece of junk?  You should go get this new Minolta that has all these bells and whistles.”  He told me what lens package to buy – “get a 15mm, a 28mm, a 50mm, a 75mm and a 50-250mm zoom.”  And so I did it.  I bought all the stuff, but nothing was as satisfying to me as using the Rolleiflex because it was one shot.  It was kind of like Henri Cartier-Bresson’s outlook – there’s only one shot.  There’s a discipline.  When you take someone’s portrait, you don’t have to take 50 photographs, just find that one so that when you release the shutter, that’s the image that you took.  As you can see from my book, I have a pretty good shooting ratio (if I say so myself…).  The pictures that are in the book are just about all the pictures that I took while making the film.

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© 2005 Matthew Modine / Courtesy of Rugged Land

TGP:  From what you say, it seems like you’re a pretty dyed-in-the-wool film shooter.  Do you use digital at all?

MM:  I’m still kinda stuck in film.  Photography is about light and what it does and how it is captured on a piece of negative.  I certainly think there are applications for digital photography and digital film.  For example, Michael Mann’s film Collateral – there is certain kinds of stories that lend themselves to digital photography.  Some things are very raw stories that digital photography kind of lends itself to.  I don’t think that digital photography is romantic yet.  It’s not sympathetic the way that film is.  I don’t think that they should necessarily try to make digital look like film.  It should be like learning to speak a new language.  Digital should have its own language.  Obviously try to use as much information as you can, as with a piece of negative.  But it’s a different language and rather than try to make it into film, let it be digital, let it be what it is.

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© 2005 Matthew Modine / Courtesy of Rugged Land
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© 2005 Matthew Modine / Courtesy of Rugged Land
Ermey Profile
© 2005 Matthew Modine / Courtesy of Rugged Land
Gomer
© 2005 Matthew Modine / Courtesy of Rugged Land
Journal p1a
© 2005 Matthew Modine / Courtesy of Rugged Land
Modine Color
© 2005 Matthew Modine / Courtesy of Rugged Land


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Michael Dorosh

12-05-2007

"Matthew Modine (MM): The first thing that I would want to say is that the idea of Celebrities who shoot I find to be difficult because the distinction of celebrity implies that people do one thing well. We should all aspire in life to do a multitude of things well to be a great father, to be a good husband, to be a good lover, you know, to try to do things the best you can is very important to me. The fact that I happen to be a celebrity who takes pictures is inconsequential to me." - Well said, Mr. Modine, and I agree. Not to diminish your body of work as an actor, I think everyone is endowed with particular gifts and it is the lucky ones who find an outlet. You, obviously have many outlets for yours, and your generousity - as displayed in this article - has allowed many others to benefit.

Emil Rock

26-05-2007

Finally, a fellow shooter who understands, and, more importantly, is able to articulate the difference between film and digital photography. Each have a role (no pun intended). Each is important. Each needs to continue to be developed (again, no pun intended). Each are mediums that need to stop competing for "Alpha Male" status like a couple of school yard bullies and learn how to contribute side-by-side to this wonderful art form. Both mediums can, and should, be used and appreciated.

Harlon Mitchell, Associate Editor, Werner Publishing

02-01-2008

Excellent work. Very engaging.

tracycass

19-01-2008

Great info! Loved the photos.

Dave Lowe

20-05-2008

Matthew Modine is the only "movie star" I have ever known. He's been married to the same woman for about 20 years, is a good parent and loves his extended family, too. Once, I said to him; "Better him than me" and he responded by rattling back at me the entire scene from FMG in which that line appeared! He does think he's important but not necessarily as an actor. He's been that way since childhood. If Chad ever met Matthew, hed probably have a great dialogue and end up being best of friends.

Kelly J. Cannon

05-07-2008

I watched Matthew Modine's movies as a teenager, and for six years, now, since remembering him. I've also read about him, and he seems, or did seem insecure, like me. Actually, that's the cutest thing about him, what I've always liked, in my opinion I like him, and I don't believe he's racist at all. He was honestly trying to make a valid point, yet, inserted foot to mouth. Besides, some of us, just take ourselves too seriously, sometimes. Don't get mad at us, for it, though, Chad. It's just our personality. It doesn't mean we're not nice, kind, gentle, god-loving people like, I've read that he's also very giving to those less fortunate. I believe he means well, and he, and his family, still really deals with everyday shit just like the rest of us, do. I hope you understand that, too.

Kelly J. Cannon

05-07-2008

What I, obviously. mean by inserting foot to mouth is using the "n" word on television. Although, not on tv, I've done the same thing, sometimes. I've also gathered, from reading, is that he genuinely loves animals, and hugs from people.

Kelly J. Cannon

05-07-2008

I'd love to meet him one day.

dolores mcphillips

05-11-2008

I love photography, it is an art that not everyone recognizes.
I have follow Matthew's carer since the begining.and he should be very proud of what he has done and I know there is more to came.
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