We talk to photographer Matt Lankes about shooting the stills for Boyhood

23 February 2015

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last 25 years, and missed last night’s Oscars ceremony (congratulations Patricia!) Richard Linklater is an Austin-based filmmaker who until recently would have been best-known for coming of age classic Dazed and Confused, the Before trilogy or School of Rock. That is, until the release of Boyhood.

Filmed over the last 12years, Boyhood follows its protagonist Mason from primary school to his first day in college. Starring Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Linklater’s daughter Lorelei and Ellar Coltrane as Mason, over the course of the film the characters age, grow and shift in ways that are somehow low-key but engaging and familiar. The film captures not only big moments but the small parts of life, and conflates seamlessly with the reality of the fluctuating pace of growing up. Boyhood is at times uncomfortable, embarrassing, elating and for all its generosity, reticent.

With the understanding that although the actors were acting, the passage of their lives was very much real, and irretrievable; the stills photography for Boyhood was always going to hold a weight above and beyond that of documentation.


Matt Lankes: Patricia Arquette


Matt Lankes: Ellar Coltrane

Having lived in Austin since 1983, Linklater has long been associated with his “keep it weird” attitude, and a key player in the town’s creative production. When it came to recording the day-to-day interactions, stills and portraits, fellow Austin resident photographer Matt Lankes was a shoe-in. Having met when sharing an office space during the production of Dazed and Confused, Matt and Rick had been friends for many years, working together on several movies and an HBO pilot. Matt’s sister Cathleen Sutherland was producing Boyhood and he joined with her when she started in year two of filming. In case you were wondering, Matt assured me that “nepotism is alive and well in the film business.”

It wasn’t until a few years in that Matt felt the velocity of the project, and realised the amount of stills and in-between shots he was amassing. It was on the suggestion from Ethan Hawke that “he wanted to write the foreword to [his] photo book one year” that Matt realised a book could and should really happen.

"It was on the suggestion from Ethan Hawke that "he wanted to write the foreword to the book one year" that Matt realised... it could and should really happen"

Matt Lankes

Distributed by the University of Texas Press, Boyhood: Twelve Years on Film was designed by Pentagram’s DJ Stout and Stu Taylor, from the agency’s Austin office. The book, according to Richard Linklater, captures something very different from the film: “While [the film] embodies the passing of time, Matt Lankes’ stills and portraits capture single moments suspended in time.” Alongside behind-the-scenes photographs and portraits of the cast and crew are quotes from the film and essays by the director and cast, all contributing to the book’s ability to re-live the characters’ key moments, as well as those of the film.

The book reads not like the documentation of a movie, but rather an unconventional and far-reaching family album, blurring the parameters of fact and fiction. The nature of the film allowing Matt to catch his subjects off-guard, “[he] was able to form relationships with all the characters and crew. Especially bonding with Ellar Coltrane (Mason), who had a love of photography. Ellar’s mom would phone early on and [they’d] take time to walk around Austin streets shooting.”

These shots, and those in the film, create an obvious environmental familiarity. The streets of Austin are as much a character as _Boyhood_’s protagonists. There is a scene where Mason is being told by a school teacher to find some direction in life whilst he develops film in his high school darkroom. It was filmed in the high school where Matt Lankes learned to process film and make enlargements as a teenager. “Talk about coming full circle,” he says.


Matt Lankes: Lorelei Linklater, Ethan Hawke, Ellar Coltrane


Matt Lankes: Lorelei Linklater


Matt Lankes: Lorelei Linklater and Ellar Coltrane


Matt Lankes: Ethan Hawke


Matt Lankes: Ellar Coltrane

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About the Author

Billie Muraben

Billie studied illustration at Camberwell College of Art before completing an MA in Visual Communication at the Royal College of Art. She joined It’s Nice That as a Freelance Editorial Assistant back in January 2015 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis.

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