Flylords: Tell us a little about yourself.
George: I was born in Oak Ridge, TN and had a major passion for fishing since I was quite young. We didn’t live near any trout streams, but I caught lots of Blue Gills on popping bugs. I got my first fly rod at the age of 13 when my dad took us to trout streams in the Smokey Mountains. I took a big interest in fly fishing as an adult and made many trips to Roscoe NY, which, as you probably know, is the birthplace of American fly fishing. I took classes with the late Lee Wulff and Joan Wulff –– I still have the size 10 White Wulff fly that Lee tied in his hands without a vice! I was also fortunate to travel to fish in New Zealand, Belize, Costa Rica and many western rivers. Well, technically I traveled for photography jobs, but I always found my way to spend time on the water.
Today, I live with my family on a 25-acre farm in the heart of the Catskill Mountains of New York, with over a thousand feet of private trout water, plus a 2-acre trout pond, and am very close to the Esopus Creek, which is a great blue ribbon trout stream, and many other Catskill rivers. We’re surrounded by thousands of acres of forever-wild state land. I’m lucky I can roll out of bed and have great fishing. I’m an avid sportsman and also enjoy deer and turkey hunting. I was into fishing (and hunting and wearing my Filson) way before it was cool!
Flylords: What was it like working with Brad Pitt in a River Runs Through it?
George: Technically, I wasn’t on the set of the movie. I was actually out in Montana fishing and took an editorial assignment for People Magazine to photograph him. They were in the very early stages of the filming. I had fished the Gallatin River many times, so I knew some good locations and holes on the river to shoot at. We drove around and also shot at some beautiful vistas in the Paradise Valley overlooking the Yellowstone River. I remember it was challenging wading out in the Gallatin to photograph Brad, trying my best not to have my medium format camera or myself to go swimming in the river! Those were the analog days, so I had to be careful loading and unloading in the middle of the river too. On several occasions when I was shooting, I noticed some nice trout rising around us, but we didn’t catch anything on that day.
Flylords: Did he seem like he knew what he was doing with a fly rod?
George: I gave him some pointers for sure, you know “10 o’clock and 2 o’clock,” making it look good for the camera. He came out into the river, chewing tobacco, just in his Khakis and an inside-out t-shirt. I liked the way it looked, so I didn’t have the heart to tell him it was inside out. The water wasn’t that warm, but it didn’t seem to phase him.
I think it was early on in his fishing scenes, so he was still a little green. I know he was getting some excellent instruction from local masters Gary Borger, Jason Borger, and John Bailey on set as well. Even his friend Melissa Etheridge gave him a few lessons at her pool in LA before he auditioned for the part. So yea, I gave him some tips, but as you can see, it’s wasn’t mutually exclusive.
Flylords: What was it like working on the movie set for A River Runs Through It? Any specific memories that stand out?
George: I was out in Montana in 1992, living out of the back of my truck with a fly rod and a Coleman stove, when I got a call from my agent. He said there was an assignment from People magazine with a relatively young, unknown actor who had just had a small part in Thelma and Louise. His name was Brad Pitt, and would I be interested? Brad was playing the lead in a movie adaptation of one of my favorite books, Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It. It was the bible of fly fishing, and Robert Redford was the director.
It was very close to where I was camping, so I decided to take one day off from my fishing. My beautiful assistant, Cheryl Dunn, flew out from New York with my equipment, and the next day we met Brad at the river.
He was there with his parents and hound dog, Deacon—no entourage at all. Nobody recognized him. I spent a leisurely day with him down by the Gallatin River.
I gave Brad some pointers in casting and fly fishing. Although he’d done some bait fishing as a kid, he hadn’t had too much experience with fly fishing. He was so relaxed, so normal, with his nice family and his nice dog, it would have been easy to write him off as just another handsome young actor, but then there was the part he was about to play. I remember squinting a little, trying to see the intense character in Maclean’s novel, the man “haunted by waters.” He was there, squinting right back at me. Time would reveal that and so much more in this young kid from Missouri.
Flylords: Do you have a favorite photo you have taken?
George: There are too many to count, but some of my favorite portraits would be of Brad, Jack Nicholson, Angelina Jolie, Cameron Diaz, Beyoncé, Joaquin Phoenix, Dennis Hopper, Don Cheadle, Antonio Banderas, and Madonna. I also have a special place in my heart for people I’ve been able to photograph multiple times over the years –– like Andie McDowell and Mariah Carey.
Flylords: If you had to pick a defining moment in your career what would it be?
George: Again, there are so many. If I think in terms of personal and artistic satisfaction, I’d pick two: assisting for the late Helmut Newton, because he had such a massive influence on me, and the publication of my recent book Holz Hollywood: 30 Years of Portraits.
Flylords: Favorite celebrity you have shot?
George: I guess I think more in terms of the whole shoot, and I’ve been lucky to combine my love of fly-fishing and photography on many occasions. I always did the jobs that would take me to places like New Zealand, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Montana. I worked a lot for Men’s Journal – Sometimes these were fly fishing stories like the time I got to photograph Tom Brokaw (see story below) at his home in Montana. Another story was on the writer Charles Gaines photographed in Nova Scotia. It’s always hard photographing when you want to be fishing—or there are trout rising all around and your subject is missing them.
I gave Andie MacDowell some lessons during a photo shoot for InStyle. I’d worked with her many times, both as a model and actress. We shared the common ground that we were both born in the south. I was doing an at-home story with InStyle Magazine at Andie’s ranch in Montana. There was a beautiful trout stream meandering through her property. She hadn’t really gotten into fly fishing, she spent most of her time at the ranch raising her two young kids and riding horses. I always traveled with my fly fishing equipment and my camera gear, especially on assignments to Montana. At any rate, Andie found a pair of hip waders, put on my vest and used my rod and reel, and I proceeded to teach her to read the water and to cast. She was a total natural! We did manage to hook one fish, but we lost it.
Hanging out with the legendary Tom Brokaw on his ranch in Montana was a dream assignment. Men’s Journal didn’t have to twist my arm too much to persuade me to do this shoot. I was fortunate to spend a whole day with Tom and his lovely wife, Meredith.
I followed Tom around his private trout stream, photographing him fly fishing with his two Labrador retrievers in tow and riding his horse. Tom was incredibly personable, genuine, and full of great stories resonating from his signature baritone voice.
At one point on the shoot, we had driven up to a high plateau where we were trying to keep up with Tom as he rode ahead on horseback. I was getting ready to step out of the truck when I heard a loud rattling outside. I cracked the door open and saw a huge rattlesnake all coiled up, ready to strike. We drove a bit further before I decided to get out of the truck. I walked through the high grass, wielding my tripod like a machete against any more possible viper encounters.
I’ve always found it difficult to photograph someone else fishing as I would rather be fishing myself. Tom had his own personal blue-ribbon trout stream, miles of it. He is a very experienced fisherman and caught and released a few nice trout. At the end of the shoot, I asked him if he could recommend any nearby rivers where I might fish the rest of the afternoon, and he said I was welcome to fish his home waters. I felt quite honored because, in the fishing world, one would normally never give up their hallowed fishing spots, especially to a stranger. I ended up fishing there for the rest of the day. It was some of the best fishing I had ever experienced out west.
Flylords: Least favorite?
George: Anytime there is no fishing involved! Seriously though, I’ve definitely worked with people who are not having their best day, and that can be a great opportunity to get a deeper take on someone, to get past the camera-face. Actors are great in that they understand the value of drama, even their own. So as a photographer, I don’t have any least favorites. I have to find that authentic portrait in every moment. Of course, that takes a lot of trust, which is something I have to earn.
Flylords: Anything exciting coming up?
George: I am traveling to Sweden and Norway this April, for several lectures and workshops on the portrait. In June, I have an exhibition at the Helmut Newton Foundation in Berlin, which will showcase both my portraits and fine art nudes. I assisted the late Helmut Newton in the early1980’s and he had a really tremendous influence on my career, so showing at HNF means a lot to me. I also have several workshops on my farm in upstate NY in July and August. And of course, I have commercial shoots, but I often can’t talk about them until after –– NDA’s!
Flylords: Fishing and Fine Art?
George: I often use my favorite fishing locations to work on my personal portraits and fine art nudes. Fly-fishing is a great excuse for location hunting. I’ve included a few of my portraits and fine artwork photographed on my home waters.