Everyone’s a Photographer: Rating Celebs Behind the Camera

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You’ve heard it all before: we’re in a recession, the art market is tumbling, and galleries are freaking out as collectors tighten purse strings. Instead of paying premium values for piles of what looks suspiciously like a spray-painted rock (we’re looking at you, Mr. Young), auction houses are finding greater success with Old Masters and proven classics, while contemporary art fairs get more conservative with content and price tags. So what’s a burgeoning artiste to do? Pick up a camera! Hell, you can find a Diana at the nearest Urban Outfitters.

Even celebrities are getting in on the action. Which begs the question: is someone whose life revolves around cameras — still or moving, in front or behind the scenes — better equipped to document the world? Or is a boldfaced name all the entrée necessary to succeed in the fine arts? After the jump, let’s examine, in an Official Salon de Flavorwire.

Mike Figgis Stats: Oscar-nominated director of Leaving Las Vegas, iconoclast in the digital filmmaking scene. Age: 60 Vibe: Two series of “SoHo Composites,” impromptu snapshots of subjects on the streets of London and New York. Each portrait was arranged in about 15 minutes, and many feature famous friends like Melissa Bent (pictured above), Rachel Weisz, and Leelee Sobieski. The next series is slated for Beijing in 2009. Verdict: Higgis has street cred, and lots of it, but give most any artistically-inclined person a nice camera and a Prada store backdrop and see what happens. Nice portraits, but nothing revolutionary.

Jessica Lange Stats: Veteran stage and screen actress, two-time Oscar winner, longtime partner of playwright Sam Shepard. Age: 59 Vibe: Shepard brought home a Leica from a movie set a few years ago, and Lange reawakened her past love of photography (summer of ’69 spent day-tripping through Europe with a boyfriend and a camera) with snapshots of her kids. A friend encouraged her to think bigger, and a book of large-scale black and white photography was born. Includes images from her travels, movie sets, and volunteer work, as well as her own cabin in Minnesota. Verdict: Quite haunting and well-composed. High-grain black and white film plus a Leica lens doesn’t hurt, but Lange has a good eye for what makes a compelling scene.

Helena Christensen Stats: Model, also known as one of the “supers” in her 1990s heyday, star of the music video for Chris Isaak’s only memorable song, and current fixture on the downtown social scene. Age: 40 Vibe: Moody and ethereal, mostly abstracted landscape shots in muted colors. Often punctuated by a singular point of interest: a boy, a boat, a playground. For her latest show at the Dactyl Foundation, ICP donated one camera to a kid’s charity for each photograph sold. Verdict: One cannot deny the power of these images. We’re less sold on the out-of-focus forest shot (come on, how hard is that!) but the show is cohesive and quite effective at evoking feelings of wonder and isolation.

WINNER: This round goes to Ms. Christensen. We award one mix tape with “Wicked Game” on repeat and one makeout session with a Hollywood hunk du jour.