Photographing Richard Harrison: The Softer Side of Pawn Stars
For reasons unknown, I receive many calls to photograph pseudo reality TV shows more than almost anything other than athletic campaigns. Like sports, I try not to watch the shows I photograph. It is not out of disrespect for what the celebs and athletes are doing, but rather I want to remain distant from the connotations put upon them from commentators or editors. As much as we’d all like to believe that everything about a reality TV show is real, it is often far from it. The shows must be interesting and engaging, and standing around a pawn shop in real life is often contradicting to both of these.
However, when I got the call to fly out to Vegas and photograph the Richard Harrison from Pawn Stars, I was going into a situation that was somewhat unfamiliar as I watched the show pretty commonly. It was one of those shows that I could get work done around the house while i had it on in the background and never really miss much. I have always been a history and museum type of person, and on the show it was like walking through the exhibits that never were. This also meant that going into the photoshoot I knew the characters, and in effect knew I was going to photograph a crotchety old man….. or so it would seem.
Upon arriving at the shop I found myself to be a bit taken back by how common it was. Other than the back of the shop where Pawn Stars merchandise is sold, it is a pawn shop, nothing more. Being a watch collector, I was hoping that the fame that national exposure brought them would bring along with it some nice timepieces, of which I thought I might pick one up for memento’s sake. However, it was a sea of ordinary horology, almost telling the stories of lives gambled away in the casinos down the street. There were family heirloom Rolexes that had seen many anniversaries and grandchildren, yet were pawned for a mere pittance in a final effort to earn back assets lost. The quick walk of the shop left me feeling nostalgically sad for what culminations led to the merchandise.
After a few minutes the producer came and told me that the old man would like to see me, and that we could start getting ready for the shoot. In all honesty, I was apprehensive of what the next couple hours of my life would bring. Opting to not go right into shooting, I chose to sit down with the Old Man, and talk to him, get to know the non-celebritised person with hopes to develop a report that would show in my images. As is many times the case with talking to a celebrity, I learned more about who I was in the efforts I took to learn who he is. Beneath all the gripes on the show and the almost iron fist that he rules the shop with, he is a very soft, kind person. I had just lost my grandfather a couple months before the shoot, yet sitting in a small room talking about cars, family, life, it was as though I were being allowed to have a conversation with him again. It was also very familiar to me from the days that I shot The Deadliest Catch, because the compassion for family mirrored that of Captain Phil’s love for his sons.
I then started to realize that people like the Old Man and Captain Phil existed on a level of character that prevailed regardless of cameras of fame. While so many have given their lives over to the proverbial “15 minutes”, these men were of a generation of bona fides, where legacy meant more than worth. Irony thrives in the idea that the shows we watch now seem to have diluted a real creed by exploiting a false reality.
From a technical standpoint for those of you curious, the lighting for this shoot was pretty simple with just an umbrella camera right, a reflector opposite on camera left, and back lit with the sun. I was shooting with a Nikon D3x and the Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8.