Snapping Exposures With...Rob Morrow

updated 10/10/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/10/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

The cameras are ready to roll on the set of Northern Exposure, but Rob Morrow's focus is elsewhere. Scanning the dusty sidewalk in little Roslyn, Wash, where the series is filmed, he is looking for something—anything—to photograph. "Excuse me!" he shouts at an elderly stranger. "Can I take your picture?" Charmed by Morrow's sheepish grin, the woman agrees. Morrow starts scurrying around her, crablike, firing off frame after frame, pausing only to check over his shoulder to see if he's wanted on the set. He is. "All right, thanks! Thanks a lot!" he shouts, dashing back.

Such is the typical between-takes existence of Morrow, 32, TV's whiny yet lovable Dr. Joel Fleischman. A tireless explorer of life on the other side of the lens, Morrow has spent the past four years prowling the streets of Roslyn with his trustworthy Nikon 8008S or sleek Contax camera, snapping hundreds of black-and-white portraits of his costars, the crew and local townsfolk, many of whom can be seen in his new photo collection, Northern Exposures (Hyperion). "It's a hobby, a serious hobby," says Morrow. "What interests me is people in their landscapes, be they real or metaphorical."

These days, Morrow's own metaphorical horizons are rapidly shifting. Praised for his role as investigator Richard Goodwin in Robert Redford's Quiz Show, the actor may not be shlepping his doctor's bag much longer; he is scheduled to check out of Northern Exposure mid-season to pursue a full-time film career. The show's producers aren't commenting about the change, while Morrow—already at work on two unnamed movies—is also keeping mum.

Through it all, photography has helped him keep things in perspective. "An actor's world is so introverted, but taking pictures allows me to step back and look at that world," he says. And thanks to the laid-back atmosphere on the set, Morrow was able to capture what he calls moments of truth—like costar Janine Turner examining her teeth for food or actor Barry Corbin practicing his lassoing. John Corbett, who plays Chris, the show's Zen disc jockey, even got down on his knees and let Morrow snap away as he rubbed his face in the mud before a scene. "A lot of people get sick of having their picture taken," says Morrow. "But Corbett would get very playful and just let me go off."

Suddenly glimpsing the makings of another shot, Morrow jumps up from his perch on an old snowplow, grabs his camera and focuses on two grips working on a microphone boom. "I'm not bothering you, right?" he asks, the Nikon's motor drive whirring away. Later, making a quick meal out of steamed veggies and rice in his trailer, he tells how he learned photography in the basement darkroom of his father, Murray, a weekend shutter-bug, during visits to his home in Florida. After buying his first camera at 23, Morrow, then a struggling actor, set up his own darkroom, a place that still holds a special fascination for him. "You walk in there and it's 10 hours just like that," he says. "Time just disappears."

Today, Morrow boasts a collection of 30 vintage cameras that line a wall of his condo just outside Seattle, where he lives alone year-round. Not that he plans to confine himself to still photography. Trying his hand at writing and directing, this year he released a 28-minute short called The Silent Alarm, the story of a single mother's relationship with a stranger. "I think I knew one day I'd try directing," he says, "and photography was just an inexpensive way to start framing the world."

For now, though, the make-believe residents of Cicely, Alaska, are waiting. Someone knocks on Morrow's door to retrieve him for the last scene of the day. On a wind-whipped ridge thick with Douglas firs, Morrow gets a quick rundown on the shoot. Then he makes his way to the edge of the ridge to gaze at the burning sun as it disappears behind a mountain shag-carpeted with evergreens. He looks through his viewfinder. "When the sun dips down and peers out over the top," he exclaims breathlessly, "it's going to be great!"

From Our Partners