Enormous, elaborately bound and somewhat heavy, on first inspection this book could be mistaken for a family's treasured photo album.
"In fact that is exactly what it is. It represents a collection of images of Gus Van Sant's extended family - the actors and actresses whom he has worked together with over the years."
Just a little over four thousand copies of this book were printed, one hundred and twenty of which were individually numbered and signed by the author. Either version of this book has become something of a rare find for collectors and is worth a not inconsiderable amount of money.
The faces in this book were originally Polaroids used to cast the movies I have made. Beginning with my film "Mala Noche," I took the pictures of the lead actors, so that when planning details of the shoot I could stare at the pictures and imagine the characters coming to life, and how they might visually relate to one another. As my films grew larger and when I started to get more money to make them, I used the Polaroids of the faces to do the initial casting. I think that the bulk of these pictures are of people that I had a meeting with about playing a part in either "Drugstore Cowboy" or "My Own Private Idaho." These were taken in casting sessions.
Indeed, there are familiar faces aplenty in this book. All of the cast members of My Own Private Idaho are present for example, including A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon director Bill Richert, Flea, Keanu Reeves and Michael Parker, the only individual to feature in the collection twice. Other subjects to be found here who have worked with River include Ione Skye and Bradley Gregg.
Each face tells a story, each pair of eyes becomes a matching set of windows into a different and completely unique soul. Some of Van Sant's subjects smile, some stand proudly, some are humble whilst others leave one guessing, their thoughts and feelings at the time their picture was taken remain well hidden. Turning the pages of the book, moving from face to face, one can't but help stop and spend some considerable time at Portrait 58 though. Portrait 58 was taken in the spring of 1990 near Gainesville, Florida, at the home of a young movie star. Long hair, soon to be shaved for a Vietnam movie, succeeds in partially covering the face of the subject but is unable to cover the expression that this face wears. For this is an expression that is simply too strong, too powerful to remain hidden. It is a look of cynicism, a look of distrust, an expression of quietly restrained hatred that is aimed squarely at the camera lens and it hits its target, dead center.
Hardly surprisingly, River's friends would often ask if they could take a photograph of him whenever he paid them a visit. River, as always, would quietly put the feelings and needs of others before his own, and agree. To his closest friends though he would sometimes confess that he had much empathy for the idea that the camera was somehow taking away, or rather, stealing, part of his very soul.
River must have known, he must have been aware of just what a finite resource it was that he was sharing and giving away so often. Only with hindsight, only when it was too late, did the rest of the world realize this too.
"As I look closely at the pictures, I am reminded about the power a single person carries around with them. Everyone is different, and yet they all look somehow the same. They all embody huge potentials for success or failure, for nervousness or calm, for sainthood or devilty, and have individually had their proportionate share of both. They remind me of the moment the picture was taken, and how that moment is linked to their past, their present and their future. The day that I happened to catch them was just one little piece of time that is connected to all the other pieces of time that make up their lives. And sometimes I think I can see this in the picture itself. Somehow the camera is able to capture it. I don't know how, but it does. I swear to God. "