Martin Scorsese photographed at The Dorchester Hotel, London,March 1998

Harry Borden recalls the shoot with the acclaimed director: “In March 1998, Martin Scorsese was in London to appear at an event held by The Guardian. Scorsese was 55 at the time of the shoot and was firmly established as one of the major directors of his era for films such as Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Casino and The King of Comedy. He’s a genius and undoubtedly one of my cinematic heroes. 

The Guardian’s sister paper, The Observer, had a one-hour slot with him, during which he was to be interviewed by the journalist William Leith. Afterwards I would have about ten minutes to shoot a portrait. The shoot was going to take place in a suite at the Dorchester Hotel in London. Publicists repeatedly booked The Dorchester for interviews, so I could easily have ended up with lots of people against the same kind of background. Therefore I always took along either a roll of material or my black, white or grey backdrops. They provided a simple and plain alternative to a rather chintzy hotel environment. 

Prior to this shoot, I went to Brick Lane in East London, where,at that time, there were a lot of fabric shops. I used to buy three metres of fabric and use it as a backdrop, which was much cheaper than buying a roll of Colorama paper. On this particular day, I found some sparkly blue material which had colours and textures that I thought might work well with a ringflash. While the interview was going on, I set up my equipment at the other end of the suite. I had loaded my Hasselblad CM (fitted with a 120mm lens) with a roll of Tri-X black & white film, and as Scorsese was saying goodbye to William Leith I took some informal shots of the director. I showed him a small portfolio of my work so he could see the kind of images I produced. He was quite macho; very smart, straight-talking and quick-witted; but friendly and jovial. 

In that situation, it was an advantage that I had grown up with a Jewish-American father; he reminded me of my dad and so I didn’t feel intimidated. I just asked him what I wanted him to do. Scorsese was apologetic that we had so little time, and I think he would have given me a lot more time if he had been able to spare some. When he saw the roll of dark blue, sparkly material, he thought it was funny and knowingly said, ‘I see you’re going for the Vegas look.’ His movie Casino, released only a few years earlier, had been based in Vegas so it seemed appropriate. Sometimes, when I have very little time for a shoot I’m panicked into being more upfront about what I want from a sitter.

I was desperately trying to find an impactful picture, and I thought the most striking thing about his appearance was his amazing set of eyebrows. So, on the spur of the moment, I decided to ask him to wink as it made his eyebrows even more prominent. It’s not something I do often, but I have occasionally asked people to wink because it does make a good picture. I shot some with his left eye winking and some with his right, but the picture shown here worked best.

I only had time to shoot three rolls of film before Scorsese had to go: one roll of black & white at the end of the interview, then two rolls of colour; one of him at three-quarter length then a roll of head shots. The ‘wink’ picture has subsequently been syndicated all over the world, while the others were hardly published at all. It was recently used on a t-shirt for an event in Amsterdam. I think it’s one of the best ‘wink’ pictures out there, because he’s so cool.”

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