Artist Statement: Martin Schoeller
A photographic close-up is perhaps the purest form of portraiture, creating a confrontation between the viewer and the subject that daily interaction makes impossible, or at least impolite. In a close-up, the impact stems solely from the static subject’s expression or apparent lack thereof, so the viewer is challenged to read a face without the benefit of the environmental cues we naturally use to form our interpersonal reactions.
After seeing Bernd and Hilla Becher’s water tower series in 1991, I was inspired by the idea of photographing a large group of subjects in the exact same style. 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. The greatest challenge in taking these images lies in the attempt to arrest the subtle moment that flickers between expressions, movements of which the subject is unaware. Like most portrait photographers, I aim to record the instant the subject is not thinking about being photographed, striving to get beyond the practiced facial performance, reaching for something unplanned. While trying to be as objective as possible, I acknowledge that every gesture is still an act of artifice. Familiar faces are treated with the same levels of scrutiny as the un-famous. The unknown and the too- well- known meet on a level platform that enables comparison, where a viewer's existing notions of celebrity, value, and honesty are challenged.
In my latest series, Female Bodybuilders, I documented a group of women who share the same profession. In 2003, after taking my first Polaroid at a bodybuilding competition, I was struck by the multi-dimensional complexity of the portrait. The contradictions, were so seemingly apparent, so numerous and exciting, that I felt compelled to build a catalog outside the range of judgment: not to celebrate, condemn, or expose, but merely to show. We all operate within narrowly constructed ideals of the good, the right, and the beautiful, all subject to the countless influences that swirl around us. The athletes presented here are no different; they are as vulnerable as any other person standing in front of a camera.