Sebastian Copeland is a photographer and environmental activist. Copeland grew up in France and Britain, and graduated from UCLA in 1987 with a major in film. Throughout the 1990’s, Copeland directed commercials – everything from soft drinks to sportswear – as well as music videos. He is also known for his celebrity portraiture; he’s taken pictures of Sandra Bullock, Kate Bosworth, and Orlando Bloom (who is also his cousin), among others. In recent years, Copeland has focused on environmental activism. He serves on the Board of Directors of Global Green USA and recently published Antarctica: The Global Warning
Question: How do you explain Americans’ fascination with celebrity?
Copeland: That’s a great question. Obviously it’s an aspect which defines our times. We are in desperate need of role models, and I think that we appropriate celebrities as role models sometimes in spite of themselves. There is a hunger for escapism and . . . Well listen. First of all the technology has driven us into an environment where film . . . the film medium generally has become the dominant mode of artistic expression for our times. And with that comes an affluence of talent, and they have a medium on which to display their skills and express themselves as actors. But I think there is a more fundamental desire from our collective consciousness to escape through those stories. There’s a positive aspect and a negative aspect to this of course. The positive aspect is that it’s a cultural phenomenon, and culture is always important. The negative aspect of it is I think people tend to read a lot less, and to be a lot more likely to want to simply say it in front of a screen where the story and the universe is being digested for them visually. Actors are the vehicles to that form of escapism. And with that comes a desire from people to associate themselves with that world of fantasy and associate themselves with those heroes they see on the screen. And so, you know, as it were, whether they like it or not, celebrities become in some form a portal and a role model to the community. That level of fascination goes back to the beginning of entertainment, as it were; and starting with theater of course and creating theater stars I mean all the way back to, you know, 200, 300 years. But especially in the medium of film and in the 20th century, there’s been a tradition of adulation with . . . with celebrity status. That said, our current mode of consuming news which has become more and more ___________ in some ways is . . . has to do with the number of outlets and the disposable income. And there’s just the desire from society to just ingest more and more information that becomes more and more private. Because, you know, the modes of expression – whether they be televised, or photographed, or through magazines – is just ever expanding. So I think it’s absolutely correct that celebrities in the film mediums have been around since the advent of the film medium. But I think that today . . . I don’t know when the saturation point will eventually get us to a realization that this is going nowhere. I mean we are truly living in a society of paparazzi and gossip information that is so disposable. And . . . But somehow ____________ it affords a form of escapism. And I think that, you know, may be an argument that some people like it because it takes the real issues out of the forefront. And in some ways it tranquilizing the collective consciousness into looking at __________ type of information instead of focusing on the real issues.
Question: What role does gossip play in all of this?
Copeland: Well you know I don’t dwell personally, neither professionally, nor in my own interest in that world. So I can only gauge it from the onslaught of paparazzi and some of the detrimental costs that we have witnessed in the past as a result of that. But I . . . It’s a sad state of affair for, I think, everyone. I think the celebrity suffers as a result of it because they’re individuals with lives and privacy issues. And a wealth of information which I’m sure they would be much, much more enthusiastic about sharing rather than what kind of coffee they’re drinking and what fight they’re having with their loved ones. But . . . But again I think we live in an environment where people want to escape from their own daily activities. And I think when they’re ____________ to somebody’s unfortunate or fortunate existences, they project onto their own and like to feel like stars are just like the rest of them I guess. To be honest with you it always keeps my very puzzled. I just don’t get it. I mean I just don’t get it.