This book, which we'll be featuring in our next New Books section (Vol. 6-18), contains 120 portraits of influential figures from the arts and entertainment industry, politics, business and sports. From Taylor Swift on the cover to Julia Roberts, Adele, Julian Assange and Roger Federer on the inside. The show opening provided the possibility of having the book signed by the photographer (who he told his audience, does not like to be referred to as an "artist.") Natalia, however, was not interested in him signing his own book. Sneakily, she presented him with the latest issue of Lürzer's Archive (Vol. 5-18) with Schoeller's portrait of Colin Kaepernick (for Nike) on the cover. Martin took no offense and gladly signed it, smiling modestly. We were very curious as to why his name had not been included in the credits of in Nike’s campaign. (Neither were, in fact, the names of art director or copywriter.) When I first saw the Nike ad (Wieden + Kennedy, Portland) I had simply guessed that the photographer must have been Schoeller, whose typical portrait style I've followed through the years in The New Yorker. Natalia and Christine queried Schoeller on this point, speculating that there may have been a politically motivated conflict at the base of the decision not to name any of the creatives involved. Schoeller responded by claiming that it was not all that unusual for big clients and agencies not to reveal the names of the photographers. (I remain unconvinced, especially with a photographer as famous and universally acclaimed as him.) At any rate, Schoeller was not even mad, he was just pleased that we recognized it was his work, despite him not having been credited for it officially.
After talking to Schoeller, Christine and Natalia could get impressions of the pictures at the exhibition – not just of celebrities but also of twins, transgender people in transition, and female bodybuilders. Schoeller gave a short speech on how he got where he is now and that made us – I supposed Natalia in particular as she is quite a successful model apart from gracing us with her presence at Archive – want to stand in front of his camera even more. In the mid 90s, he said, nobody else was doing close up portraiture. He found it fascinating because it was then all about the person standing in front of him. Not their background, not their beliefs or clothes, just the person. Logically, he is not a very big fan of tons of makeup and massive retouching.
He also talked about hard times, before his breakthrough in 1998 when an order fluttered in. He was to shoot the portrait of Vanessa Redgrave. "In 1998, I had five assignments, three of which were for weddings. In 1999 I got 127 commissions.“ Since then, he has not only been photographing famous people, but also the homeless, body builders, billionaires or the Kayapós tribe in the Brazilian jungle. The richest and the poorest have a lot in common, he says as "they all feel vulnerable and insecure in front of the camera."
At this latest exhibition there is also a stand-out portrait of Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel (who this week announced that she's not going to seek reelection for yet another term). Martin was kind enough to tell us how the photoshoot with Merkel went. First of all he was told to wrap it up in under 5 minutes. As she approached him he tried to fool her by saying that he'd give his best in those 15 minutes allotted to him. Merkel immediately replied that 5 minutes were all he'd get. She did, however, come across as quite pleasant, he recalls, and she gamely followed his instructions. At the beginning of the session a Rolling Stones song was playing. Merkel, who's known to be an opera lover, seemed a bit disconcerted, so Schoeller had it stopped immediately. (I dread to think it was their 1973 hit dirge Angie! was playing featuring the lyrics: Angie, Angie/When will those dark clouds all disappear /Angie, Angie/Where will it lead us from here?) That must have been a fun 5 minutes! The picture, at any rate, turned out to be amazing.
Schoeller also had the somewhat dubious pleasure of photographing Donald Trump before he became POTUS. Even though Schoeller always tries to loosen up his subjects by creating a safe space for them, he did not succeed in getting anything out of the Donald other than his customary steely Big Cat persona.
These portraits were all magazine commissions and have appeared in 200 Best Photographers 08/09.