Perfect Pairing: Patrick Dempsey + Silhouette
Photo courtesy of Silhouette
Photo courtesy of Silhouette
A silver Porsche plastered with racing stickers sits just around the bend on the shoulder of a twisting Malibu road one afternoon in early September. The vehicle’s driver, actor Patrick Dempsey, standing feet from the racecar in the dusty turnout, is chatting with photographer Peter Lindbergh beside trailers and lighting equipment. Though drivers pass the scene with typical L.A. nonchalance, highway patrol officers gawk at the parked car.
Lindbergh and Dempsey are at work on images for Silhouette eyewear’s new campaign, a second collaboration between the two creatives. Lindbergh, the German photographer known for his Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar covers of supermodels, admits that glasses can be really difficult to shoot. “Sometimes you shoot 500 frames to find one pair of eyewear that looks good,” he says. “But today we’re just shooting one.” The lens shapes can be customized to the face of the wearer, so the look is very minimalist. Dempsey, who has been the face of the Austrian rimless eyewear line since last spring, quickly explains the Porsche’s role in the proceedings. Silhouette company executives, including brothers Arnold and Klaus Schmied, are what he calls, “big car guys.”
Dempsey says he met up with the Silhouette team in Milan after he and his team, Dempsey Racing, competed in this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, the famed French endurance race that took place in June. “I had a great time with them in Milan, it’s nice to see a company that’s very passionate, still family-owned and not swallowed up by Luxottica,” the Greys Anatomy star says. The meeting inspired the Silhouette executives to bring Dempsey’s racecar to California for the new shoot. “The car came from Atlanta, and we have to turn around tonight and send it back for a race in Austin next week,” Dempsey says, noting that his racing team is used to seeing him in the pit, not on set. And, he explained that the shoot would be the opposite of a marathon. “It’ll be done in ten minutes because Peter is an incredibly fast photographer,” says Dempsey. And true to form, once everyone was in place, Lindbergh quickly captured his images. Here, Dempsey and Lindbergh chat about cars, digital photography, and spontaneous decisions.
By Elizabeth Varnell
How did you get started racing cars?
PD: In ’92 my wife gave me Skip Barber [Racing School] classes and about 8 years ago I got back into it full time and eventually got into Rolex races and now the American Le Mans series.
What drew you to Le Mans?
PD: It’s the greatest endurance race in the world, it’s the first one it’s where it all started, it’s the one everyone wants to win, if you’re in endurance car racing, and the multiple classes and the history, all of that.
How do you decide who drives what leg?
PD: We wanted to go out with our fastest driver who is Patrick Long, first American factory driver for Porsche. Patrick qualified and started the race, I took the second leg and then Joe Foster took the third leg and then we would rotate through. You can’t do over three hours, so mostly it’s a two-hour stint.
Does anyone sleep during the entire 24-hour race?
PD: Not really, you try and go back and relax, you’re hyped up, your adrenaline is quite high.
What determines whether you win or lose a race?
PD: There’s natural gift and then there’s also the ability to work really hard to improve your skills. Sometimes it’s about the equipment or the spec classes. Do you all have the same car and the same horsepower? Then it’s a question of how quickly you can get around the circuit. So you look at the data and you overlay that with someone who is faster than you. It shows how you can improve, where your breaking points are, where your acceleration is, how much break pressure you have. It’s fascinating.
What sort of eyewear do you wear when you drive?
PD: Your helmet has a shaded visor, and you change it for night racing. Lenses are certainly important at sunset and to block the glare when you’re racing at the back of the pack. When I’m driving in general, sunglasses make a difference, especially here in California where it’s so bright and the light is very harsh.
You live in Malibu, do you train here as well?
PD: I ride my bike up this street, Encinal Canyon. Even though you are belted into the car, you need to work the lower body and legs quite a bit. I get in the gym a few times a week, to work on my core, my neck muscles. The acceleration is so great, and on some corners you are going over 150 mph, so with the helmet on, gravity is pulling you.
When does the racing season start up again?
PD: The [Rolex 24 at] Daytona is at the end of January so we’ll start testing almost immediately in November and December. It’s full time, at this level.
How much prep work do you do for a shoot like this?
PL: You do the picture in the moment when you shoot the person, not like three months before in an agent’s office. They ask, ‘What do you want to do with the hair…’ I don’t know! We’ll see! That’s the true way to do it.
How did you set up the lighting for the shoot?
PL: I had the choice to shoot Patrick with the sun. At the beginning of the shoot it was still a little high, for glasses or to shoot the face. I did the first ones with shadows, then the sun was lower so the eye was hidden by the sun. I also did a few with the sun.
It doesn’t take you long to shoot.
PL: You have to have balls to be quick! Other clients think we don’t care if we’re quick, but if you take another two hours, you get what?
You’ve said that eyewear can be really challenging to shoot.
PL: It’s a miracle that every glass you put on from these guys works because there’s no frame. I’ve worked with all the designers of all sorts of brands, and you find yourself saying, “Guys you can’t be serious,” when you see what they want to shoot. Nobody asks me about that, but it’s really true.
You’re shooting in black-and-white today?
PL: Yes. If I would choose, everyone would be in black and white. They don’t let me choose.
With digital cameras, you no longer have to choose to shoot black-and-white images beforehand.
PL: You just shoot it and then you look at it. And I have to say, sometimes the color looks really great, but before, with film, you didn’t have that choice. That’s the one thing I really like about digital.
What don’t you like about digital images?
PL: They’re too sharp, that’s horrible about the basic digital and you have to correct this. Even beautiful women can be ugly with digital. The hair is so sharp and you can see every pore.
Are the sets different now too?
PL: With film, the photographer was working with the model and they were intimate and everybody else was sitting in the back waiting. But now most of the photographers work with a cable, with a real-time screen, and everybody including the waiter stands and watches, saying ‘Oh that’s great.’ So when I work, I don’t use a cable. Nobody sees what I’m doing.
Pictured: Patrick Dempsey
Photo courtesy of Silhouette