Decades before Instagram, photographer Randall Slavin snapped a young Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Aniston, Cameron Diaz, Charlize Theron and other celebrities on film.
There was no such thing as too much denim, boy bands ruled, Thursday nights were for “Seinfeld,” and as the world prepared for Y2K, future Oscar winners ran rampant in Los Angeles without a care of who might be watching or snapping. There was no Instagram to capture every outing, or iPhones to film scandals on the fly or Twitter to document every dalliance. “There was always one paparazzi guy out front of all the clubs, E. L. Woody, who passed away a few years ago,” says photographer and L.A. native Randall Slavin. “But if you didn’t want to take your picture, he wouldn’t. He had photos of River Phoenix dying on the sidewalk that he never released because he was just respectful and it was a different time.”
That left Slavin, who had stumbled into photography to pay the bills until acting could, with somewhat of a one-off, all-access photo pass into Hollywood nightlife. Slipping his Olympus Stylus into his pocket before hitting the town every night, he captured now-iconic shots of his pals before reality stars, smartphones and TMZ saw high-profile celebrities chased away from the club scene.
Those nights out form the backbone of Slavin’s new book, “We All Want Something Beautiful,” published by Mascot Books, which compiles candid images and studio portraits from the Angeleno’s 25-year photography career. Out in November 2019, the book opens with forewords written by Jeremy Renner and Ben Stiller and takes readers on a journey back to the ‘90s and 2000s. The book title is, of course, a lyric from the Counting Crows hit “Mr. Jones,” while the cover image is a shot Slavin took of R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe. The tome also features images and recollections from events like Charlize Theron’s 22nd birthday at the now-closed Bar Marmont alongside his more recent work, like studio portraits of celebrities including Mark Wahlberg and Jessica Alba.
James Van Der Beek, then in the prime of his career as the star of “Dawson’s Creek,” is also one of the subjects in the book. One 1999 photo sees him and musician Fergie hanging out backstage at an NSYNC concert at The Forum. “These were the last years before everybody had a camera in their pocket, so these snapshots are a crazy window into a world my kids will never know – one in which experiences were simply lived with nary a thought about how to document or share them,” Van Der Beek says.
Actor Nathan Fillion is also in the pages of “We All Want Something Beautiful.” “You were so very lucky if your social circle had a chronicler back then,” hesays as he reminisces over a photo Slavin snapped of him with actress pal Bonnie Somerville during a night out in 1997. “Photography requires skill, tenacity and practice, and in the ‘90s that kind of dedication was a financial burden.”
Born in the heart of Hollywood, on Franklin Boulevard, Slavin always expected he would be the one in front of the camera. In between landing roles on “Saved By the Bell” and “Legends of the Fall,”he paid the bills by working at a gas station, and then by discovering photography and taking headshots for aspiring stars like Hilary Swank.
By night, Slavin would hit the town, forming lifelong friendships with the likes of Swank, Renner, Kate Bosworth and Counting Crows frontman, Adam Duritz, who arrived in L.A. on Jan. 16, 1995.
“I remember the date because it was Kate Moss’ 21st birthday, and I came down from Berkeley because Johnny Depp and Sal Jenco invited me to the party at the Viper Room,” Duritz says. “Randall was there too. We hung out that night and we probably hung out somewhere the next night too and pretty much every other night. We had a great group of friends, musicians and writers and actors and artists of all kinds.”
The stars would frequently convene at the Viper Room, the Roosevelt Hotel and the recently-reopened Formosa Café. “We would go to Joseph’s on Mondays, then Spin Club on Tuesdays,” says Slavin’s publicist, Chantelle Siegel. “I remember seeing Toby Maguire and Ben Affleck. As young publicists, we could just say, ‘I work at PMK’ and get into the clubs!”
Slavin also spent many nights at his pal Samantha Mathis’ place in the Hollywood Hills circa 1995, where he snapped Duritz hanging with his then-girlfriend Jennifer Aniston. While he never envisioned how iconic such images would become, he did start to feel the pull of photography as more than just a paycheck.
“It kind of snowballed and I still wasn’t giving it any credence as far as what my life would be,” he says. “It was just something I was doing for money, but it was getting bigger and bigger and I eventually realized that everything that I was wanting from acting, I was getting from photography. One was swimming upstream and the other was swimming downstream. And it was nice to be good at something and get people to respect it, so I started exploring photography more.”
Slavin has since photographed the likes of Eva Longoria, Channing Tatum, Rihanna and Katie Holmes. His work has appeared in Vanity Fair and GQ, he has shot album artwork — including Rob Thomas’ “Chip Tooth Smile”cover — and in 2011, he hosted a photography exhibit at the Annenberg Space for Photography. His extensive relationships with some of the biggest film, television and music stars are evident in his body of work.
And while the connections and friendships formed during his early L.A. years have proved invaluable, the ever-changing craft of photography remains a challenge, particularly at a time when anyone can call themselves a photographer.
“Every time you think this is the new normal, things change,” Slavin says. “When the internet came along and magazines disappeared, that was a huge shakeup, then that settled down and you thought, ‘OK, this is where we’re at.’ Then, Instagram came along. The challenges are not being too cemented in who you are, what you do and how you make a business out of it. You can’t be a photographer today and go, ‘I’m not going to do Instagram. It’s stupid.’ The business is changing and you have to change with it. You can’t get stuck in your ways that have gotten you to where you are. Always adapting and remaining passionate is the hardest thing.”
Slavin says it’s his love of connecting with people that has ultimately kept that passion for photography alive through frequent technological advances, industry changes and the constant need for adaptation.
But his candid snapshots from the turn of the millennium, which will remain a key part of Slavin’s photographic legacy, will continue to evoke giddy nostalgia for a time in L.A. when come sundown, the stars would hit Hollywood and catch up with friends. “I have collections [of photos] on hard drives that I called ‘Randall in Hollywoodland,’ as if he were the Alice Liddell for our times,” Duritz says. “Although, in retrospect, he was more the Mad Hatter and I the out-of-towner Alice, newly arrived through the looking glass. I expect in a few years, scientists will be picking through these photographs for scraps of DNA and then cloning mid-90s dinosaurs for a horrible amusement park. We’ll breed unexpectedly, run wild and kill everyone except the tall chicks.”