Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull is the hottest film project of 2008 and gave Darlington-born stills photographer Robert Gallagher the chance to take publicity pictures of Harrison Ford and Steven Spielberg.

Viv Hardwick talks to him about capturing legends on camera

INDIANA Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull may be the biggest photo-shoot of his career so far, but US-based Darlington photographer Robert Gallagher admits that he coped with meeting Harrison Ford better than legendary film-maker Steven Spielberg.

The Harrison Ford photo publicity session in February was tricky because Gallagher didnt have access to the film location until the day of the shoot. He had just an hour to set up at the actors private aircraft hangar at Santa Monica Airport.

It was not nerve-wracking because of who he is, but it is when you only have an hour window and you need three set-ups to be organised. It was very low-key, there was no publicists or handlers with him and he literally rolled up in his car and walked over saying hi Im Harrison. Im thinking No kidding. To be honest, its funny for me because although Harrison Ford is Indiana Jones, to me hes Han Solo.

Thats what I really relate him to. It didnt register who he was until he walked up to me and started shaking my hand. Then I saw that scar on his chin and I thought Han Solo is right in front of me and I was the eight-yearold boy watching Star Wars again. That was kinda cool.

In spite of Fords reputation for being taciturn and gruff, Gallagher found the actor just like any regular guy who doesnt put on anything and displays an air of this is the way I am. Theres no facade. Hes just a regular guy who happens to have hit it big time. the mood was lets get this done and then I can play with my airplanes. But he doesnt like the image to be Harrison Ford and his expensive toys, says Gallagher, who opted out of taking a wide hangar shot to avoid showing off the actors impressive collection.

Ford is said to own six aircraft, including a helicopter and a Gulfstream Jet, and even bought the aircraft he piloted in his 1998 comedy, Six Days, Seven Nights.

I tell you what. Id rather have Harrison Fords collection than the huge 707 or whatever that John Travolta flies. It is about as low-key as you can get for a Hollywood legend with a bunch of aircraft in his own personal hangar. Hes not doing it for show, he just loves flying. He was pretty cool. What more can you say to Han Solo?

But was he expecting the hat and the whip to arrive on set?

You know what, that had already been thrashed out. The ideal thing would have been something on each set relating to the movie but it was pretty clear that props were not available and I didnt want someone saying thats not the whip used in the movie.

He recalls having his own picture taken with Spielberg as more scary than any of his own work.

At Universal I was told that shooting Spielberg was very difficult but he was so smooth and just breezed in and he was very easy to work with saying yeah, where do you want me?. I had this idea for a shoot with him walking down the road and then he jumped on this train and asked for a copy of the print and was very excited about it. The group shot resulted from me asking Spielberg if I could take some personal shots for my portfolio and he said yeah sure and we finished by everyone jumping in for a picture taken by my first assistant. It was a nice memento for everyone.

Asked about his pictures being seen in UK national newspapers and magazines, he explains that, essentially, someone at Empire Magazine picked up the phone and asked him to take pictures of the main stars on either side of the camera.

Gallagher says: Behind all that is whenever I go back to London I take my portfolios with me and do a round of phone calls to keep myself fresh in the mind of editors. Theres a lot of marketing, promotion and networking which involves meeting editors, phone calls and emails which has gone on ever since I got out of Newcastle College. You just have to be a bit manic and persistent about it.

In terms of big projects I also did a personal portrait photo essay of rescue workers after September 11 in New York. I just happened to be in the city and took pictures of firefighters and police as they came directly out of Ground Zero. That was a big project in terms of me personally, but commercially its Indiana Jones where I did ten portraits and there was a lot of work involved. We shot all of the Amblin Entertainment (Spielbergs production company) people within two hours including Steven Spielberg.

We had to have everything nailed down and squared away and absolutely certain with lighting set-ups for each location and I had five assistants. We location-scouted it twice and there was a lot of work involved. When you shoot people like that it has to go smoothly.

Spielberg expects us to be as professional as him.

The biggest thing Id say to gain from shooting high profile people is that I want to show them that I respect their time and Im going to show you Im on the ball and show you exactly what I want and they really respond to that. That gets them on the same page as you and theyll work with you.

Hes been in the US for 11 years, but still includes memories of his Darlington days on his website, including the time he was punched in the head while pulling a pint.

I thought youd ask me about that.

Its true. I was working at the Old Dun Cow in Darlington one summer in the 1980s after coming back from college and I told one guy I wouldnt serve him because he was demanding to be first. I went to the other end of the bar to pull a pint and I lost eye contact with him and as I was pulling the pint he smacked me in the face. Its never put me off Darlington, says Gallagher, whos mother still lives in the town.

One of his first assignments in the US was to shoot Boston Red Sox baseball pitcher Roger Rocket Clemens C currently involved in drug allegation stories C who he describes as the countrys David Beckham.

Other stars in his portfolio include Mark Wahlberg, Scarlett Johansson, Christina Ricci and Dennis Hopper.

He says that if he thinks too much about the career pressure that he and the film actors are under then he might lose sight of the goal.

You have to keep your eye on the prize, which is taking a great picture and you cant get all uptight and nervous because its all about relaxed, loose energy. If you get too involved in who they are and how important they are, you are not going to create a good picture, says Gallagher, who was delighted when stills and videos of him taking pictures of Spielberg appeared in print and on the web.

He has work ahead for Empire, Time and Sports Illustrated magazines.

Goals-wise Id like to shoot for Vanity Fair which is a major magazine in the States and to keep working on bigger projects, says the Santa Monica-based photographer who adds: Hollywood is about 20 minutes away.

ö Robert Gallaghers work can be seen in the current edition of Empire Magazine and Indian Jones And The Kingdon Of The Crystal Skull is on release from Thursday