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
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
Martin Shoeller (German, b. 1968) is an award-winning portrait photographer renowned for extreme- close up portraits. 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. Growing up in Germany, he was deeply influenced by August Sander’s countless portraits of the poor, the working class, and the bourgeoisie, as well as by
Bernd and Hilla Becher, who spawned a school known as the Becher-Schüler. Schoeller’s close-up portraits emphasize, in equal measure, the facial features, both studied and unstudied, of
his subjects— world leaders and indigenous groups, movie stars and the homeless, athletes and artists— leveling them in an inherently democratic fashion.
Schoeller worked as an assistant to Annie Leibovitz from 1993 to 1996. He advanced as a freelance photographer, producing portraits of people he met on the street. His work gained
recognition for its strong visual impact and since 1998, his work has appeared in Rolling Stone, National Geographic, TIME, GQ, Esquire, Entertainment Weekly, and The New York Times
Magazine, among other publications. Schoeller joined Richard Avedon as a contributing portrait photographer at the New Yorker in 1999, where he continues to produce award-winning images.
His portraits are exhibited and collected internationally, including in several solo exhibitions in Europe and the United States and are included in the permanent collection of the
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. He studied at Lette Verein in Berlin and lives and works in New York City.
Photo Credit: © Kathy Ryan