Dream as if you’ll live forever. Live as if you’ll die today.
Channeling James Dean recently in a photoshoot was an interesting experience. For those of you who don’t know who James Dean is, he is a legendary actor who was known for being a cultural icon of his time, symbolising the typical American teenager which was made evident in the classic film “Rebel without a Cause” (1955) where he played the troubled teenager Jim Stark. In the same year Rebel without a Cause was released, James Dean was killed in a car accident due to speeding. Sadly at the age of 24, Dean’s life was cut short. James Dean was the first actor to receive the Posthumous Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.
Working with photographer Ashley Dugandzic, we worked together to depict the emotion of James Dean portrayed in Rebel without a Cause and how we could depict this through still shots. I spent a couple of weeks studying his film and studying James Deans personality and emotion throughout the film as he played a troubling teenager. I felt i could relate to some of my teenage experiences in the film such as integrating into a new group at highschool, peer pressure, arguing with parents over what is the truth with a troubling experience, falling in love for the first time, drinking for the first time and helping a troubled mate. I think every teenager at some point in their life bottles up their emotions and it’s about learning how to express and control your emotions which is what James Dean experiences in this film. In saying this, James Dean in this film has his own style of expressing his emotion. He is almost child like the way he breaks down in scenes, such as the scene where he breaks down in front of his parents after the scene of “Chicken” where one of his enemies dies in a car accident. The way he expresses to his parents how he is feeling about the situation is very timid and sensitive like a young kid, but then moments of frustration depicts his transition into adult hood. These elements of the film is what i wanted to capture in the shoot.
When working with Ashley i took some risks such as using a cigarette in the photos. I am not a smoker but in most scenes, Dean is smoking when he is stressed. In taking this risk we produced some amazing photos. Since James Dean was a risk taker in this film, i felt by doing the same- it would get me into character. James dean smoking is iconic of his time and culturally symbolic of the American teenager.
Capturing James Dean’s pure emotion was also something which i wanted to study when doing this shoot. He was a master of conveying this- whether he was falling in love, frustrated or being persuasive. When being photographed by Ashley i just had to put myself in James Deans shoes and really try and feel what he felt. I think when modelling, especially a legend like James Dean- to get into character you have to relate your own experiences to the experiences in the film so you can let the emotion pour out of your facial expressions and body language.
As an influence for my Lane 5ive “Speedometer” singlet, Rebel without a cause was an influence for the film due to the fact the notions of speed were challenged in this film through drag racing, when Jim was peer pressured into it. jim survived the game “Chicken” and was the first to jump out of his car, whilst his opponent fell off a cliff and crashed to his death. The speedometer was a key symbol in this scene. I definitely don’t condone speeding either but back in the 1950’s this was a cultural element of a teenager to prove that the fastest person in their car is the one who can take the most risks, therefor is the “coolest” and the leader. Today this is definitely not the case and its more about reponsiblity and being a role model through making a positive change.
The contrast of the red jacket amongst the black Lane 5ive singlets and shorts i though would create a definitive contrast between that of a rebel and that of an athlete. I channeled the contrast between the risk of Jim in Rebel without a cause, and the risk an athlete takes in a race when strategically running.
The location of the shoot was at the University of Sydney’s College of Fine Arts and this was a great location because of it’s historical buildings which was similar to the iconic “Griffith Observatory” used in Rebel without a Cause. The feel of the place was somewhat dark as it use to be an old mental hospital and apparently it is haunted. The location in a way made me more so get into character as James Dean who did die at such a young age made me think of his spirit.
I am so pleased with how these photos turned out and i am so happy to have reflected James Dean in his famous movie “Rebel Without a Cause”- a young actor who died too young.. hence the quote “Live Fast, Die Young”. The main thing i’ll remember of James Dean is the Red Jacket, the white shirt, the blue jeans and the black shoes.