Martin Schoeller did what looks impossible to achieve. He created “Big Heads” that look astonishing, beautiful, unique. The faces, in a way distorted from the perspective of the close-up and shallow depth of field, look at you with penetrating eyes reveling a subject that could look familiar but at the same time different. Subjects that look with deep eyes to connect with the viewer but simultaneously appear to be lost in their own world and thoughts.
I purchased his book Close-up a while ago, a compilation of 75 of his images that went from magazine covers to create a “Big Book of Big Heads”, a book that is certainly one of its kind and I highly recommend. The reason I refer to his work now, is because there is a new exhibition at the Hasted Hunt gallery in New York City, that just started few days ago and will run until February 23th. If you are in the area, it should be interesting to see “Big Prints of Big Heads”.
Of course, Martin is a great photographer that not only creates Big Heads, but has also very interesting editorial photography … and from what Rob Haggart tells over at his blog “A Photo Editor” part of Martin’s successful career is perhaps helped by being a “very nice guy”.
Given that his portraits are different and unique, one may wonder how can he achieve this unique perspective, this unique lighting and expression? … here there is some information … unfortunately I could not find info about the film type he uses neither the lens to get the close-up perspective with his medium format camera. I find the palette of the colors of the film he uses very attractive. If you know these technical details and like to share, please do so. [Edit: Alexandre in the comments share some additional information: “I believe he uses a RZ67 loaded with Fuji pro 800Z print film”]
In “a Close Up” setting, he waits for that off guarded moment, which he elicits by constant conversing with the person he’s shooting. In the case of a celebrity, he gets familiar with their movies, music, sports or political background, so that conversation flows easily. He often prefers shooting those with which he has an affinity.
Here’s how he works. He uses a Kino Flo light source for his portrait sessions, and strobe lighting for everything else. He sometimes uses his loft for his shoots, and also employs quite a roster of experts to assist him. These include a studio manager, full time assistant, and retoucher. Many shoots take 3-4 days, factoring in setting up the lighting, location, stylist, make-up, and hair. Things can get complicated as sometimes up to 40 people can show up if a celebrity invites friends to the shoot.
Martin is a loyal believer in film based cameras, and thinks that he’ll go digital, only when the film disappears entirely. He believes that the look and longevity of film is better, and the images, when enlarged, fare far better with film. – from Mary McGrath’s review of Close-Up.