Harry Potter is an emblem. A symbol for an entire generation. The man behind this fictional magician is British actor Daniel Radcliffe. There’s a line between the actor and the character the actor impersonates. A fragile human being as any other who has a life as unpredictable as any other. This aspect is something that photographer Dennys Ilic likes to document. He is widely known for taking pictures of Radcliffe as well as a handful of LA-based actors and musicians including Chandler Riggs and Flo-rida, and his unique, portraiture style has led him to the A-list of portrait photography. He shares some of his experiences shooting with Leica, his current exhibition “Retrospective” at the Leica Gallery in LA, as well as the darkness he finds in the subjects he shoots.
What camera and equipment do you use and how did you first become interested in Leica?
I use a Leica T, Vario 18-56 mm lens and a Leica S2 with a 30 mm f/2.8, 45 mm f/2.8, 70 mm f/2.5 and 120 mm Macro. For the sake of experimentation I borrowed a Leica M4 for a photo shoot with actor Daniel Radcliffe. Even though this camera had been through over hundreds of thousands of actuations it was still crisp and beautiful to hold and shoot with. The film images it produced were beautiful and haunting, and I was hooked.
What approach do you take with your photography or what does photography mean to you?
My approach to photography is very dialed back and casual. I don’t like to over-prepare the shoot other then have a selection in clothing choices for my subject. I don’t want their thoughts to be polluted and distracted with highly specific ideas as I am more interested in delving into the true nature of the person and being influenced by our surroundings on the day. To this end I also much prefer locations and natural light to the sterility of a studio.
You are exhibiting at the Leica Gallery until Feb 23, can you please tell us more about “Retrospective”? What is it about the darkness and almost haunting look you like to give to these images?
Extracting these thoughts and emotions through the fraction of time of a still photograph is a constant challenge that I work and strive to perfect every day. It’s all about that moment of connecting with your subject. It’s why I choose to shoot with as little static and noise (e.g. staff and assistants) as possible. When it’s just you, your camera and the subject there is a very different dynamic to the days shoot.
The Leica T is a relatively new appendage for me so I’m still enjoying the sense of discovery that comes from attacking a canvas with a new type of brush. I certainly enjoy the small footprint of the Leica T and its unobtrusive nature. Subjects are fascinated by it. I think they find it lovable (with my orange snap), and unimposing so their demeanor towards the shoot is effected by that. The massive display indicates how stunning the shots are “out of the box” and I find myself showing images to the client during day when I use the T. Something I normally never do. I’m currently using the Elmar-T 18-56 which is great fun and gives me a bit of scope to be versatile without switching lenses. When you pull the S2 out of the camera case people know it’s a serious day. It feels like there is an excitement about working in front of this camera and not wanting to waste the opportunity. I love negative space. If you look at a lot of the images I have hanging at the Leica Gallery in LA they are mostly horizontal and the subject is justified well to one side. This is one reason I love the S2. You can shoot everything pretty much horizontal and if the need arises to crop into a vertical format there is plenty of resolution there to do that. I love the Summarit-S 70mm for this type of portraiture as I can get lots of space around my subject without too much distance from them. My other go-to lens is the Elmarit-S 45mm which is just beautiful for dynamic full body shots. When I find myself with a really interesting face I love using the Summarit-S 120mm macro and getting in pretty tight and intense!
Having many years in the entertainment and film making industry, how has your experience using Leica equipment played a role for your career?
Industry people know and respect the Leica brand. I love explaining that canned saying that it’s “like the Ferrari of this” or “the Bugatti of that”. While there are many great cameras out there, Leica truly stands alone and above them all. And in such a global and competitive industry this is a really unique place to be. There are not many manufactured items that hold that sort of esteem. So in the professional image-gathering world there is a strong sense of purpose when you are seen to be equipped with Leica. For me the use of Leica has made me become a more deliberate and thoughtful photographer. I take less images (compared to the DSLR “scattergun” shooting style), and more of the images are useful. I feel like I’m shooting with film (as you should with the 70mb files of the S2!). and it’s partly psychological because of the beautiful build and feel of Leica gear. You have a tool for your art that is art in itself. It’s been designed and built by artists.
You have been commonly known for photographing the actor Daniel Radcliffe. From your perspective (and lens), you have seen him grow professionally and through various roles, clearly from Harry Potter to even Broadway. Can you share some details about this artistic relationship?
Daniel Radcliffe is a tough one for me to write about without it taking pages. His family has been part of my life for many years now and it’s difficult to explain the profound respect I have for him as an artist. He is utterly focused and dedicated to his craft and you see this in the interesting roles he has taken in film and TV not to mention his incredible success in theatre. When I saw him in “How to Succeed…” and “The Cripple of Inishmaan” (which I attended 3 times), I shed tears on all occasions for different reasons. I met Dan when he was 13 and soon realized I was holding a conversation that had him challenging my intellect. I knew then that I really wanted to shoot with him one day. That came 2 years later on the eve of his 16th birthday. I was charged with shooting magazine spreads and covers to serve a large portion of the world media requirements for Harry Potter. I had to create over a dozen variations in style with minimum of location shifts (if any), in one day that all looked and felt like completely different shoots. How we got that together is a longer technical story but needless to say I made sure that day was fun for Daniel. The one most important component to him had to be in play, lots of cool music. Dan loves music, so discussions about our favorite indie bands, exchanging CD’s and loud music through the studio has always been the common ingredient. From there I continued to shoot with Dan over a 5-year period and it’s been an absolute joy to chronicle his growth from young teenager to adulthood and highly respected and loved actor.
There is a beautiful image in your exhibition of two female bodies in symmetric, almost charismatic position, sitting on a cement wall. What are you trying to express through this image?
The entwined image at the Leica Gallery is one of my favorites because it is a combination of what is technically harsh geometry made up of 2 supple, interlaced human forms. There are lots of triangles in that image when you dissect it into components! But these two girls are best friends. They are like sisters. They are like mother and daughter. They are so different and beautiful in their personalities and body-types and I wanted to melt them into one image of unadulterated trust and love. That’s about the most I can say about this image without getting too esoteric. Regardless of how demure, beautiful and connected the moment is I do have to admit they were giggling like children through the entire session!
Lastly, is there anything additional you’d like to share with the readers?
With my photographic business partner (and film/tv director), TJ Scott I have a number of projects on the horizon that I’m quite excited about most of which focus on publishing. Both TJ and I are working on our individual books as well as a number of combined publications involving the entertainment industry and some of our favorite actors and shows. We’re particularly excited about using the full gamut of Leica cameras, especially the SL and even the Typ 109. For me I am in the process of releasing my second book called the Men of Science Fiction. It’s squarely aimed at the genre passionate and contains a wide variety of beautiful portraits of male actors from the world of film and television. Later this will be followed up with…. you guessed it, the Women of Science Fiction! I also have a personal project that I’m developing which will be related to supporting war veterans which I’m really excited about. I am also very passionate about helping people interested in forging a carrier in photography and hope to run classes and training sessions with Leica LA later in the year.
Dennys Ilic is a professional photographer originally from Australia and now based permanently in Los Angeles. Having served a large array of clients from the motion picture and television industry as well and musicians Dennys has become best known for edgy and soulful images that capture the true essence of his subjects. His photography has been commissioned by a number of major film studios and musicians, including Warner Bros. Pictures, Roadshow, United Pictures International (UPI), Newline Cinema, Strange Music / Tech N9ne and Flo-Rida. Dennys is also known for having photographed actor Daniel Radcliffe over many years from the age of 15 for the covers and editorial stories in hundreds of international publications associated with the release of the Harry Potter films.
Now based in Los Angeles Dennys continues to follow his passion for photography and his love of Leica cameras combining the two with portraiture of actors, actresses and musicians and a number of related books to be released in 2016.