A long time ago in at a Comic Con not so far away … I had the grand opportunity to meet and photograph Peter Mayhew, the actor who played Chewbacca in all the Star Wars movies. Mr. Mayhew taught me a very valuable lesson that every photographer should know: always ask before you take someone’s photograph.
I first met Mayhew at the Sci-Fi Expo at the Plano Convention Center in Plano, Texas in October 2005. I had gotten into film photography about a year earlier. My primary camera was a medium format Rolleicord V. This was before I fell head-over-heels in love with Holga cameras. I was lucky to get any good shots at the time. My Rollie required lots of measuring, setting, focusing and a steady hand, so I relied a lot on a tripod for shots.
Before I actually talked to Mayhew at the signing table, I had set up my Rolleicord on its tripod and set the aperture and shutter speed. All that was left was a little focusing and a press of a button.
Now, if you have never met Peter Mayhew, or you are not familiar with Chewbacca from Star Wars, let me say he has a grandiose presence. Mayhew stands 7 ft. 3 in. (2.21 m.) tall. He has a dark, bushy mane of hair, a strong jaw line, long arms and large hands. In one word: intimidating.
As I was about to trigger the shutter, Mayhew leans forward and says, “What … are … you … doing?” He clinched his hands, raised his arms and put a stern look on his face.
In hind sight, I would ask the very same question. Here was a stranger (me) setting up some type of camera (which had not been used in nearly 40 years) on a tripod. In short, what the heck was I doing.
Yep, I took the photograph anyway. And not only can you see Mayhew’s angry look in the photograph, you can also see the unfriendly expression on the face of Mrs. Mayhew in the background.
After the photograph, I did apologize. I explained what type of camera I was using. I said I was a big fan. I used to be a lot smaller fan (in 1977). I was able to take another photograph, but it was not nearly as dramatic.
In 2006, Peter Mayhew was back again for the Sci-Fi Expo at the same convention center. I though this would be a good time to apologize again for my behavior the previous year. I took the angry photograph with me to explain. We all looked at the photograph and had a nice laugh.
Mayhew has kind enough to take another photograph for me. So, I set up my Rolleicord for another shot. I measured the lighting, set the aperture and shutter speed. Mayhew leans in with the biggest smile I have ever seen and says, “How is this?”
The shot was perfect. It remains one of my top Rolleicord photographs. I could not have asked for a better model that day.
Later, I remembered that Mayhew had kept the angry photograph. I had not given it to him, but apparently he had tucked it away during our discussion. I have mused about that angry photograph for years.
Fast forward to last year. Mayhew was visiting a patient at the hospital where my wife works. She texts me asking if I know Peter Mayhew. Why, yes I do. I have photographed him twice. I sent her the photographs. I said he is very nice and she should talk to him. My darling wife (bless her heart) is not a Star Wars fan, and she is always very busy at work, but she did eventually talk to Mayhew and show him my photographs. She said he liked them and would like a copy. I later said that was very kind of him to say. I was sure he says that to all Star Wars fans.
Cut to yesterday at the Sci-Fi Expo at the Irving Convention Center in Irving, Texas. I like getting autographs of my favorite Star Wars actors, but I especially like getting their signature on my photographs of them, which usually means meeting them twice. I printed off two 8 x 10 in. photographs of my favorite Mayhew, put them in a protective sleeve and headed out to the convention.
Peter Mayhew was just as nice, if not a little older (aren’t we all), than when I first met him. There wasn’t much time to chat, which I would have liked, but I did manage to get his autograph on my favorite photograph and I gave Mayhew the extra copy, which he quickly tucked away.
Another lesson to learn: stamp your information (name, website, etc.) on the back of your photographic prints. I gave Mayhew the photograph, but I never gave him my name or even a business card.
Earlier in the day, I had tweeted about the Sci-Fi Expo and included Mayhew’s Twitter handle (@TheWookieeRoars). To my surprise he started following me (@MrHolga). I even got a DM from his account saying his wife wanted to talk to me about my photographs. It’s never good when someone’s wife wants to talk to you about your photographs. I hope she is alright with them. I’ll let you know. Cheers.
— Dallas Art News (@DallasArtNews) February 8, 2014
That’s my photograph under Mayhew’s hands.
— Mr. Holga (@MrHolga) February 9, 2014