PPD Showcase: Dermot Cleary's Homage to Elmore Leonard

By David Schonauer   Thursday July 7, 2016

Elmore Leonard liked bad guys.

In his acclaimed crimes novels, such as Get Shorty, Rum Punch, and Cuba Libre, crooks and killers could be engaging, cool, and sexy. There was, for instance, the likable and loquacious bank robber Jack Foley in Leonard’s Out of Sight, which was turned into a 1998 Steven Soderburgh movie starring George Clooney. Even his really scary bad guys, like Ordell Robbie in Rum Punch, had a kind of cracked charisma. When Quentin Tarantino turned the novel into the 1997 movie Jackie Brown, Ordell was memorably played by Samuel L. Jackson.

“I never see my bad guys as simply bad. They want pretty much the same thing that you and I want: They want to be happy,” Leonard once said. “The bad guys,” he noted on another occasion, “are the fun guys.”

Those are the kinds of people featured in Toronto-based photographer and PPD reader Dermot Cleary’s personal project “Night Moves” — which makes sense, since the series was created as an homage to Leonard.

A number of years ago, Cleary was assigned by the London Telegraph Magazine to photograph Leonard. He traveled to Detroit, Leonard’s hometown, and spent an entire day with the writer. “[A]t that time I was just starting out as a photographer, and it was a huge deal for me,” Cleary said in an interview. The two hit it off.

“Afterwards, he used my name as a character in his novel Mr. Paradise  and he instructed his publisher to use my portrait on all his books going forward,” Cleary said. “When he did a reading in Toronto we got together again, and kept in touch until he passed in the summer of 2013.  His writing style and the type of characters he created have stayed with me ever since I met him, and I’ve always wanted to bring Leonard-esque ‘bad guys’ to life through my photography.”

“The end goal here was to create a standout self-promotional program for marketing myself as an advertising photographer to a broader audience,” Cleary said. “I felt the concept needed to have several qualities – it had to be commercially relevant, yet make an aspirational, creative statement at the same time.”

The images in the series also take visual cues from film noir and crime movies by directors like Soderbergh and Tarantino. “[A]ll share a common slickness and mood, a sexy quality, which are in large part why we enjoy that genre,” said Cleary.

“I work best with preparation and organization, Mise en place,” Cleary said. “For my process this is very freeing, because once that structure is in place we can make the most of creative opportunities as they arise. In a shoot I am working to establish energy that is loose and positive, where my subjects and team feel there is room for some spontaneity in the process. Sometimes this is when we get to the best stuff.”

You can see him working on the “Night Moves” series in this video.


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