We know Jeff Bridges as the tenpin-bowling dude from The Big Lebowski and the eyepatch-wearing gunman from True Grit, but did you know that the Oscar-winning actor is also a cartoonist, musician, and photographer? Find out more about Jeff Bridges and his Widelux panoramic shots in this edition of American Masters.
Son of Hollywood actors Lloyd Bridges and Dorothy Dean, showbiz was written in the stars for Jeff Bridges, now 62. While he took a few acting classes in New York after high school, most of his training came from his early experience in making appearances on his parents’ programs. “The hardest thing about acting is getting a foot in the door and that was all handled by my dad. The fact is, I’m a product of nepotism.”
He got his big break in the coming-of-age movie, The Last Picture Show (1971), being nominated for his first Academy Award. Stepping out of his father’s shadow in memorable performances for critically-acclaimed films, he went on to star in blockbusters like Tron (1982), The Big Lebowski (1998), and Iron Man (2008). He has since won numerous accolades, including an Oscar for Best Actor in the film Crazy Heart (2009).
“When you start to engage with your creative processes, it shakes up all your impulses, and they all kind of inform one another,” said Jeff Bridges of his other artistic pursuits. Between filming, he likes to draw doodles, make music, buy wine, support causes, and—our favorite—take panoramic pictures! His weapon of choice is the vintage Widelux F8, a 35mm camera with a swing lens that pans nearly 180 degrees (similar to the Horizon Perfekt) which he discovered as a student.
“I’ve been taking pictures and making movies for most of my life… I started taking pictures in high school. I set up a darkroom and would lose track of time, developing and printing for hours and hours, listening to FM radio in the red ‘safe light’. I must say, I never really enjoyed developing negatives. It’s probably the most important part of the whole process, but what I loved was the printing – watching those images come out of the ‘soup’. Seeing that proof sheet of those pictures I’d taken weeks before and forgotten all about – that’s what I loved. To this day, looking at a proof sheet for the first time is like opening a Christmas present I’ve given to myself. What a great surprise – to see what the camera saw; what worked and what didn’t; to feel the moment of the picture all over again.”
The Widelux his wife had given to him barely leaves his side, as you will notice in these rare black-and-white photographs from behind the scenes of some of his movies. Co-star cameos, interesting anecdotes, and filmmaking secrets are revealed in his galleries which have also been published into a photo book, Jeff Bridges: Pictures.
“The Wide-Lux is a fickle mistress; its viewfinder isn’t accurate, and there’s no manual focus, so it has an arbitrariness to it, a capricious quality. I like that. It’s something I aspire to in all my work
-a lack of preciousness that makes things more human and honest, a willingness to receive what’s there in the moment, and to let go of the result. Getting out of the way seems to be one of the main tasks for me as an artist.”