Self-taught portrait photographer Frederic Aranda is used to shooting well-known figures for top magazines including Vogue, Vanity Fair and Harper’s Bazaar.
But it was his role as a teammate of Sir Ian McKellen in a weekly London pub quiz that led Aranda to photograph the star of X-Men, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.
Aranda shot McKellen at home for the portrait which won a place in the 162nd International Photography Exhibition. The image shows McKellen swathed in a heavy curtain more reminiscent of his Shakespearean and theatrical roles than his X-Men character Magneto.
The portrait was selected following a call for submissions from international photographers of all levels to the world’s longest-running photography exhibition. Now it's your chance to follow in Aranda's footsteps and be part of an impressive line-up for IPE 163. The RPS is welcoming entries from 12 January to 27 April 2021.
“The Aranda portrait displays the makeshift gown to great advantage,” says McKellen of the portrait, which returns to RPS House, Bristol, later this year. “But my actor’s vanity draws me to the face.
“Often photographs of me seem to present a character I might play, rather than the person I feel. This time it’s different – I recognise my bewilderment before the camera’s gaze and some sadness not to be able to look more cheerful.
“Also there’s an hauteur that is perhaps appropriate from an actor with no other part to play but himself, but wrapped in such a kingly garment.”
A childhood vision of California inspired Frederic Aranda's latest book
Since his shoot with Ian McKellen, Swiss-born Aranda has left the celebrity world behind to showcase the people and landscapes of California in his latest book, California Elegance: Portraits from the Final Frontier, with texts by Christine Suppes.
He says: “Growing up in Switzerland in the 1980s I was intrigued by the little red box of raisins that stood out of my school lunchbox every day. The box’s bright red and yellow colours, and the smiling girl pictured on either side, filled me with glee at the promise of the Golden State it embodied so well.
“The minute I turned 16, I spent two months camping in the national parks in the summer. This was the start of a lifelong relationship with a multifaceted place I now call a second home. The sheer diversity of people and places – the vitality, passion and ideas it represents so well – all these things I have observed for decades have culminated in this visual tome, which aims to counter stereotypes about California once and for all.”
'Visalia', by Frederic Aranda
His most memorable encounter was with Betty Reid Soskin who, in her late nineties, is the oldest living park ranger in America’s National Parks system.
“She still goes to work every day and gives bi-weekly lectures at the Rosie the Riveter National Historical Park in Richmond, CA,” says Aranda. “Hearing [her] talk so eloquently about working at the Kaiser Shipyards during World War Two – where everyone came from all over the country in search of a job, making the East Bay a cauldron of desegregation and social change – gives real perspective on the current world and the importance of a place like California in moving things forward.”
'Betty Reid Soskin, Richmond', by Frederic Aranda
Please note that our Bristol gallery remains temporarily closed. Explore the IPE online by visiting our exhibition resources including a virtual gallery walkthrough, interviews and more. We look forward to bringing you further online events and activities soon. Read more.
California Elegance: Portraits from the Final Frontier, by Frederic Aranda and Christine Suppes, is published by Rizzoli on 23 Feb 2021 at £64.
'Michelle Hill, Sacramento', by Frederic Aranda
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