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Jessica Lange has spent the last 30 years in front of the camera, appearing in such memorable films as 1982’s Tootsie and the more recent Big Fish. But many might be surprised to learn that the two-time Oscar winner also has spent a great deal of time on the other side of the lens, taking black-and-white photos of her three children and exotic travels with a Leica camera. Now, the notoriously private actress—who declines to discuss details about her marriage to Mikhail Baryshnikov and current, long-term relationship with playwright Sam Shepard—is making some of these pictures public with the publication of her first monograph, 50 Photographs, out in early December from PowerHouse books.
As its title suggests, the tome is a smattering of Lange’s photography over the past 15 years. All are black and white and many of them were taken during family vacations in places such as Mexico, Romania and Finland. But that is the only connection in the series. “People are so theme oriented,” says Lange, 59. “I suppose there are common threads throughout, but nothing hard and fast,” she says.
The fact that an actress as established as Lange, who also has four Golden Globe awards, has produced a photo book is perhaps enough of a draw. “Hopefully, the photos will speak for themselves,” says Lange, who admits her celebrity has helped generate interest in the project. “I suppose there’s a certain curiosity every time someone moves out of their little category,” she says. But the actress insists the recent rash of actors-cum-photographers, such as Brad Pitt, Dennis Hopper and Matthew Modine, had no influence on her decision to publish a book in the first place. “I never thought of myself as a celebrity-photographer, in those terms,” she says.
Certainly, Lange’s foray into photography had nothing to do with Hollywood. She first became interested in the subject 20 years ago as a collector amassing prints of favorite shutterbugs like Josef Kudelka, Manuel Bravo and Walker Evans. “It got to a point where every square inch of the walls of my house was covered,” recalls Lange, whose only formal training in photography was an introductory class in college. “That was kind of the beginning of a fascination,” she explains.
From there, Lange began to take pictures of her three children. (Her eldest daughter, Alexandra, was fathered by Baryshnikov, while younger daughter Hannah and son Walker are by Shepard.) Her fascination with shooting them in black-and-white instead of color snapshots opened the door to the more artistic photos showcased in 50 Photographs. “I decided that, after all these years of photographing my children, I should put these pictures in an album just for the family. So a friend put me in touch with this designer who helped me lay it out,” recalls Lange. “I showed him my other photographs [of my travels] and he said, ‘Let’s do a book.’ And it kind of just came from there.”