Most times when someone forgets their camera at home when heading toward an event or outing, they end up kicking themselves, getting screamed at, or even worse, regretting it forever. Not Joel Grey. When he left his Nikon at home recently, he naturally danced around the situation and improvised.
While on vacation in Florida roughly a year-and-a-half ago, the Academy and Tony Award winner was disgruntled that he forgot his camera in his hotel room, so he snapped away on his not-so-technologically-savvy cell phone camera -- equipped with, um, 1.3 mega-pixels.
"Technologically, I'm a moron," the legendary stage actor said before cracking up. "There it was -- this disdainful thing in my pocket and I was like 'hmmm, how do I do this?" Not only did he figure out how to do it, he enjoyed it, and eventually realized it had the makings of his third published photography book.
"1.3 Images From My Phone" was recently released by powerHouse Books. The slipcase hardcover features random shots from that St. Lucie museum as well as other images that Grey felt compelled to take. I spoke with the actor about the book, his photography career, and if this is all a hobby or another role he's taken on. Bank on the latter. "It's definitely part of who I am," said the man who's been every one from "Cabaret" Emcee to George M. Cohan to The Wizard of Oz to "Remo Williams'" sidekick Chiun to Fake Arvin Sloane (any "Alias" fans out there?)
Do you think you're ushering in a new art form in the camera phone photo?
I think it's definitely a possibility because if you remember correctly the Polaroid camera had no respect -- and now it's considered art.
When did you know you had something going with these cell pics?
You kind of have to look at it at arms length in a way, and I kind of got to like it. There was the excitement that the cellphone camera does different things to what you're looking at it. It doesn't necessarily capture the exact color - sometimes it does but more often it doesn't. The difference is in the light... the clarity and crispness changes enormously. Some of these images are so crisp that they will blow up to 20x20. They could not be more crystal clear.
Did you intend for this to be your third photography book?
No. I am so attuned to seeing something that really interests me and taking the picture right then and there. There was no way I could even go up to my hotel room and come back down and do that. I looked at it and said 'oh, this is very similar to how I look through [a regular camera].' With my first books, which were regular film, my printer said I was one of the only photographers that she worked with that took only one frame of a subject. I saw what I wanted to see and I moved on. There was very little cropping ever and there was no cropping in the cell phone pictures. Nothing was touched in this book. No Photoshop.
In the book, you don't say what the photos are of or where they were taken. Was this a conscious decision?
We didn't do that in either of the first two books either. That's kind of been my thing where I see something that I don't quite understand or don't know quite what it is or what I'm looking at. That's very often the reason for me to take a photograph. It's very often something that people discover in these images - they look and they look and all of a sudden it reveals itself. Friends of mine have told me they start looking at things now differently. And you know my camera is the least sophisticated. It's really ridiculous. It's 1.3. you should not be able to do anything and most of my friends who have iPhones complain that their pictures aren't as good and they have 3 megapixels.
Are you considering upgrading your phone any time soon?
I'm fine. I'm not really great with all this technical stuff. I keep it simple because my brain is too busy.
Is photography just a side project for you or a career?
It's definitely a part of who I am. I've always taken photographs and I've always been a very visual person. I've collected photographs for many, many years. I'm devoted to the art. Oddly enough all the photographs that I collect are black and white, and all of my photographs are color.
Interesting. Is there anything else you'd like to accomplish? I mean you've pretty much done it all.
I think I became a photographer oddly enough because I wanted to paint. Somewhere in my early childhood I think I knew how to do it, and somewhere I got lost or it got squelched and then I wasn't able to paint at all. Maybe I'll have to go back to a class and see if I'm really supposed to paint or could enjoy it.
What about heading back to the stage?
Probably. I did six very big major musicals - some for two and three years over the years. Eight performances a week is something you say 'I give up my life for this time.' It's that demanding. You never can say never, but I don't think there could be anything that could make me go into that artistic straight jacket at this moment in time. I'm liking the ease of my life. If I found a wonderful play that had a short four-month run or something, I'd probably do it. But, I've paid my dues. I don't think I need to do that again.