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In character on location

by Alistair McGhie, 1 July 2011

A photograph of Claudia Karvan that blends actor, character, photographer and captures the creative collaboration of the television series Love my way

Claudia Karvan on the set of Love My Way by Jimmy Pozarik

Claudia Karvan and Jimmy Pozarik worked together on the television series Love my way from 2004 to 2007 – Karvan as creator, producer and actor; Pozarik as stills photographer. For Jimmy photographing Claudia and the other actors on the show was a blast because they knew they were making groundbreaking television and were proud to be part of it. For Claudia, Jimmy’s work is an art to be celebrated. 

Where editorial photographers might have hours to set up a shot, stills photographers ‘are dealing in blocks of seconds,’ Pozarik says.  ‘We’re given a ridiculously short time to make  our images. Being given few minutes to do a portrait is a rare luxury’. Stills photographers take the on set pictures for the marketing campaigns of film and television productions and, perhaps most significantly, the pictures which are essential for the resale of productions internationally. ‘In terms of time that the First Assistant Director is going to give them during the day – they’re on the bottom rung, It’s about expedience’, says Karvan, ‘The crew on the day are not really interested in how the show is going to be publicised their priority is to get the thing shot.’ With the slimmest of windows of opportunity and with maybe thirty or forty people sitting around, having stopped their work for the photographer and the production's shooting cameras in the best positions, Pozarik has to fit in somewhere and make the shot. Actor Ben Mendelsohn describes it as working between the cracks. But for Pozarik, ‘that’s the fun; that’s the challenge’. 

A New Yorker, Pozarik worked in the mid-1970s and 1980s as Time magazine’s pacific photojournalist. In 1985 he moved to Sydney as Time magazine’s staff photographer. Photojournalist agencies evolved and ultimately were superseded by stockphoto agencies such as Getty Images and Corbis, Pozarik moved to the arts. When he began as a stills photographer everything was old school so as well as having to work fast, selecting apertures and shutter speeds in low-lit television studios, he also had to contend with the production's accountants who were reluctant to spill the budget on film for the stills photographer. But on the set of Love my way, Pozarik took thousands of photos of Claudia over three seasons. The shot that is now in the Portrait Gallery’s collection is his favourite. It was taken at the front door of Claudia's character Frankie's house, which was old, rundown, colourful and eccentric and had many great backgrounds for making photos. 

Jimmy Pozarik has not had an exhibition but his photographs of Claudia Karvan, Nicholas Hope and Robyn Nevin are in the National Portrait Gallery’s collection. His work has featured on covers from Time magazine to TV Guide; billboards to bus stops and he has photographed politicians, film stars and sports stars for Newsweek, The New York Times, Sports Illustrated and Forbes Magazine. However, whether it appears in print or online, Pozarik’s work receives only the subtlest of credit, if at all. 

Claudia Karvan grew up in Sydney and made her first film appearances as a ten-year-old. Her major acting debut came in the Gillian Armstrong film High tide in 1987 alongside Judy Davis.  After a number of appearances on television and in films including The big steal, she starred opposite Alex Dimitriades in The heartbreak kid for which she won a Best Actress AFI award 1993.  Over the course of the 1990s she appeared in many Australian films including Flynn, Dating the enemy, Paperback hero and Passion. Between 2001 and 2003 she became a household name through her regular role in the hit television series The secret life of us, for which she won a Logie for the outstanding actress in a drama series. In 2005 she collected the Best Actress AFI for Love my way.  Last year she starred in Daybreakers with Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe and Sam Neil. 

For Karvan, seeing her portrait is a ‘slightly unhinging experience’ but she says that she’s getting use to it. Her portrait by artist-friend Martine Emdur was a finalist in the 2002 Archibald Prize – a partnership which she describes was about knowing a person’s spirit and being able to play with it or portray it within the artist’s style. Although she’s been asked she hasn’t posed again. ‘It’s very exposing to be up there on the wall with a person’s opinion of you quite clear on the canvas.’ Karvan says that she understands that it’s only a part of her in any picture and that there is a lot of the artist’s aesthetic involved but the process is still a kind of letting go of control. So, what part of Claudia is it  in Jimmy’s portrait? ‘I see Frankie – I definitely see Frankie’, she says.  ‘The weird thing about being in Love my way was the whole time I was thinking I’m playing myself, I’m playing myself. There’s not enough distance between me and the character. But you know, I can now look back and say that I definitely see Frankie. But I don’t know how I can describe that, obviously I’m in there somewhere’. What struck Karvan while looking at the image was how collaborative television is, ‘I look at the piece of jewellery I’m wearing that our costume designer found that has jewels missing like an op shop purchase, and I see the talent of the show’s costume designer and our production designer who painted the wall that colour and the make-up team who designed that hairstyle, I see everyone’s work in there, and Jimmy weaves it into a package that does it all justice – lifts it and enhances it’.