German-born American photographer Martin Schoeller's first exhibition in Australia presents compelling large-scale portraits. The exhibition explores human identity through photographs of individuals accustomed and unaccustomed to the spotlight.
Under the unflinching scrutiny of his lens, the faces of actors, politicians, musicians and unknowns, are transformed by unfamiliar detail to expose the complexity of the human face.
Martin Schoeller: Close Up is the artist's first Australian exhibition. The New York-based photographer is best known for this series of celebrity portraits, framed to exclude context and show only the face in extreme close up. Under the unflinching scrutiny of his lens, the faces of actors, politicians, musicians and unknowns, are transformed by the wealth of unfamiliar detail to expose the complexity of the human face. Face becomes topography, an undulating landscape of hills, valleys, crevasses and plains marked by pores, hair and skin textures. Schoeller uses his close up technique as a way of levelling the differences between individuals. His portrait of Barack Obama, the President of the United States, is framed no differently than that of a tribal man from the Amazon region of Brazil. Without a background to provide clues about social status, the uniform presentation of each head places each one in a position of equality, a democracy of effect that encourages comparison.
Born in Munich in 1968, Schoeller moved to New York in 1993, first working as an assistant to Annie Leibovitz before striking out on his own. Schoeller worked for a variety of prestigious journals and has exhibited his photographs in the US and abroad. Commissioned to record the faces of the famous, Schoeller has become famous himself for his powerful portraits but his singular photographic technique simultaneously celebrates and subtly undermines celebrity. Schoeller's even handed treatment of his subjects derives in part from his early admiration for German Conceptual artists Bernd and Hilla Becher, who photographed the monuments of the industrial era - cooling towers and mine tipples – in an uninflected documentary style way.
'They inspired me to take a series of pictures, to build a platform that allows you to compare. The pictures in my Close Up series have all been taken from similar angles and with the same equipment, but here I have tried to bring out personality and capture individuality in a search for a flash of vulnerability and integrity.'
- Martin Schoeller