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Guardian of Glamour : Photographer Matthew Rolston Focuses on Images of the Past to Capture Today's Stars


Rolston is known for doing a lot of his sleeping on the red-eyes between New York or Paris and L.A., then going right to work the second he steps off the plane. Indeed, about two years ago, when he decided to study film so he could produce moving images as well as stills, he frequently found himself flying home to go to class, then getting back on the plane. He's now shot several television commercials for such companies as Revlon and Estee Lauder and he's created music videos for such artists as Jody Watley and Ingrid Chavez, one of Prince's latest proteges.

Even so, much of his time is consumed by still photography--most of it shot in the studio, with sets built for the occasion. And often, stars who he was was once assigned to shoot will now request that Rolston do the honors.

Actress and former model Cybill Shepherd, for instance, has been shot by most of the famous fashion photographers in the world, yet her favorite in Rolston.

"I think he's surely done more beautiful pictures of me than any other photographer," says Shepherd, who appears in "Big Pictures" in a lush, 1940s-style bathing suit shot reminiscent of Hurrell. "I think he brings out more of the inner beauty with me. I can feel freer with him. I feel that each time he sees me he's finding something a little different."

Many people who have observed Rolston at work comment as much on his attitude as his artistry. He is known as the consummate gentleman, a man whose shoots run extraordinarily smoothly because of the comfort and ease he imparts to everyone present, from the subject to his assorted assistants.

"Matthew nourishes the soul," says Faye Dunaway. "Photographers can be real voyeurs. I've had people like that, master manipulators. You feel like their click is taking your soul. They use you and can get you into something that may not be you. Matthew gives you confidence. He makes you feel warm and secure and it's genuine. You can feel it."

But don't expect Rolston to rest on such laurels and concentrate on what he does best. Already, he's plotting a new direction, which he expects to be the subject of his next gallery show and book. He's aware that glamour was in vogue during the '80s, but the '90s may be a different story.

"It doesn't worry me," he says, puffing on a Marlboro. "I'll either use glamour in a more ironic way or I'll do something very different, trying to create a different attitude about a social problem, either energy or children." Rolston has been researching prominent scientists who are attempting to harness renewable energy.

"The big problems of the world are connected to the oil-based economy of the world," he reasons. "The world runs on oil power and most of the oil is underneath countries that are not our country. So we have to get into all kinds of political maneuvering to control that."

But, of course, as Rolston sets out to take on the vanguard scientists of the '90s, you can expect to see an homage to portraiture of the past. He's already studied the more interesting photographs of Albert Einstein and is conjuring up ways to make environmental pioneers look as intriguing as Hollywood starlets.

"When you look at the modernist photography of the '30s and '40s, science was something that was very much mixed into the art world. I'd like to do that," Rolston says. Even electric cars and solar energy plants, he notes, can be photographed with "visual glamour and excitement."

"I'm fascinated by the subject matter, but on a purely visual level, the pictures have to work," he adds. "One of the things I hope to do with my pictures is draw people into the romance of something, creating an aura around it by the way I photograph it."

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