The Weekend Australian - Review
Bruce Weber, Heath Ledger, Prague, 2000 (printed 2009). Collection National Portrait Gallery, Canberra. Purchased with the assistance of Alan Dodge AM, 2009. The work can be viewed online at https://www.portrait.gov.au
At the age of 16, Heath Ledger decided he wanted to leave school and pursue an acting career. He and his best mate, Trevor DiCarlo, who’d known each other since they were three, jumped in a car and drove from their hometown of Perth to Sydney. They did the trip in three days and arrived virtually penniless. Ledger had 69 cents in his bank account.
By the time he was 19, Ledger was in Los Angeles. He’d done some film and TV work in Australia, but once in Hollywood his acting career is well-known: films such as 10 Things I Hate About You, The Patriot, and Brokeback Mountain. In the last film he completed, The Dark Knight, in 2008, he won a posthumous Oscar and Golden Globe award for his portrayal of the Joker. He died from an accidental overdose of prescription drugs, aged 28, in New York.
In August 2000, when Ledger was 21, he appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine alongside headlines: “HEY, THIS GUY IS GOOD! … Like his Patriot co-star Mel Gibson and Russell Crowe before him, he’s the hot new Aussie in Hollywood” and “WE’RE HAVING A HEATH WAVE”.
The cover story was written by journalist and editor Kevin Sessums, who’d visited Ledger on the set of A Knight’s Tale in
Prague. The cover photograph and the photo spread inside the magazine were taken by Bruce Weber, a fashion photographer for companies like Calvin
Klein, Ralph Lauren, and
Abercrombie & Fitch, and magazines such as Vogue,
Vanity Fair, and GQ.
Weber’s Vanity Fair cover photograph of Ledger in Prague is in the collection of Canberra’s National
Portrait Gallery and can be viewed online at https:// www.portrait.gov.au.
At the gallery, curator of exhibitions, Penny Grist, says this work is significant because Ledger is one of Australia’s best-known and bestloved actors and it is the most tragic of stories.
“Heath Ledger had no formal acting training, but exceptional performances secured his international reputation,” she says. “Bruce Weber, born in 1946, has long been one of the world’s leading fashion, editorial, portrait, and advertising photographers. His photographic portrait captures Ledger aged 21 in the midst of his early and fast rise to international stardom.”
Grist says she included this portrait in a 2015 exhibition called Bare: Degrees of Undress, which explored body language and bareness in conveying a sense of identity in portraiture.
“Both the undefinable cool of Ledger and the sleek style of this top American photographer combine to make this portrait feel strangely, though comfortably Australian,” she says. “There is also a warm defiance, charm and beauty in this portrait that makes it feel like a poignant and precious relic of that moment in Ledger’s life and career.”