The Canadian photographer on capturing actresses’ reactions to heartbreak and lessons learned from being on set with her father David Cronenberg
For the past seven years Caitlin Cronenberg, along with her co-author Jessica Ennis, has been working on The Endings, an intricate exploration of heartbreak. Central to the project is a book featuring shots of a number of actresses, such as Keira Knightley and Julianne Moore, after being given backstories of breakups, affairs or some other kind of tale of irreparable passion. A short film was also launched, linking the scenes together via moving image.
Caitlin, who is the daughter of famed horror director David Cronenberg, also shot her first commercial this year. The ad formed part of Zulu Alpha Kilo’s #MentalHealthIsHealth campaign for The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, and was a project close to Caitlin’s heart.
LBB’s Addison Capper caught up with Caitlin to find out more about bringing The Endings to life, her experience of shooting a commercial, and how her father’s work has affected hers.
LBB> What was the initial inspiration for The Endings? Why did you want to explore emotion in such a way?
Caitlin> My co-author, Jessica Ennis, and I spent a lot of time talking about our own relationship experiences and pasts and realised that the topic bonds women together in a real way. We knew that the emotional stories would make for interesting visuals, so we took the project on together. I love capturing a single emotional moment and letting that single frame tell the story, and that’s what this project really allowed.
LBB> Can you talk us through how the book works - how did you capture each scene and where did the stories come from?
Caitlin> Jess and I would work together to come up with each story. Some are true stories based on our or other people’s experiences, some are purely fiction. We would create a detailed backstory and a mood board and share it with the actor for each story. Then we would create a world for the actor to inhabit and I’d shoot while they acted out the story. There was very little posing. They really just acted and I captured them living the story.
LBB> How did you go about getting the actors involved? Did you have quite a clear list of people in your mind that you wanted to take part?
Caitlin> Because the process of creating the book took seven years, the list evolved and changed a lot. I work in film as well, so some of the early subjects were women who I had worked with and was friends with. Eventually we reached out to publicists and agents and managed to get a lot of talent who we hadn’t met before. Sometimes we had a person in mind for a specific story, sometimes we just knew we wanted a specific person and would tailor the story to her.
LBB> You’ve also launched an accompanying short film - how is that and the book linked?
Caitlin> The film is essentially a moving version of the stories in the book, but with its own unique storyline. We really wanted to use the subject’s interaction with the camera, in this case the man’s POV, as a storytelling tool. In most cases it was easy to tell these stories in stills, but in the case of this story the motion element was integral.
LBB> Were there any particularly memorable moments in the development of The Endings?
Caitlin> Many! Some of the shoots were super memorable, like Juno Temple’s, which was 17 hours long! We also did a lot of traveling for the project, which was also memorable. We went to LA, NY and London to do shoots and those trips were always a real adventure.
LBB> You studied fashion design but pursued photography after studying - what prompted the shift? Was photography something that you’d always been interested in?
Caitlin> I had always done photography as a hobby. I loved fashion but I had more interest in building the clothes than I did in actually being a designer. I love that I have a fashion background because it helps me understand the way clothes are constructed, which has proven to be very useful in my career. It’s all related.
LBB> You also directed your first ad this year - how did you find that challenge? Is it something you want to explore more in the future?
Caitlin> The ad was the first time I had directed anything with dialogue. That was the thing I was most nervous about. I was worried I wouldn’t know when I had it in the bag, which is something I’m very confident about with visuals. But once we were shooting it felt so natural. It was a wonderful experience and I am definitely looking forward to doing more similar projects.
LBB> Picking your first commercial work is an important decision - what was it about the CAMH project that made it right for you?
Caitlin> I felt very connected to the CAMH spot because I am a person who suffers from an anxiety disorder, and I wanted to do it justice and help shine a light on the importance of treating mental health issues. The target audience of that spot are people in my demographic, and I wanted to make sure it was handled carefully and that the audience would feel connected and compassionate.
LBB> How has your father’s work as a director influenced your work, if at all?
Caitlin> I don’t know that his actual work has influenced my work, but his love of his work has been the best lesson I could ever learn. When I was a kid he would go to work and work so hard, but he loved it and was always positive. Seeing that gave me a feeling of permission to pursue my dreams and make art for a living.
LBB> Did you spend much time on set as a child? If so, did that impact your work / approach to work at all? What lessons did you learn from that?
Caitlin> I would spend quite a bit of time on set as a kid. I loved going to set and hanging out with all the snacks. What I always loved about going to set was seeing everyone work as a team. Everyone has a role and every role is important. I also got to see my dad treat the entire crew with respect, which means everything, and I try hard to make sure my sets are calm, happy and inclusive environments.
Even being on different sets years later, people would come up to me and tell me how much they loved working with my dad. It’s so nice to hear.
LBB> You’ve shot so many big personalities and projects over the years - is there one that sticks out that you are particularly proud of?
Caitlin> I’m really proud of the Drake shoot I did for his Views cover.
LBB> What have you got coming up for the rest of the year?
Caitlin> I haven’t had time to do anything besides the book! I’m looking forward to seeing what happens now that that is done.