The New York Times


Jun 23, 2006

By Ken Johnson

Celebrities are, by definition, bigger than life, and that is how the commercial photographer Martin Schoeller portrays them in his king-size, extraordinarily lucid photographs. You would not call Mr. Schoeller's pictures flattering, at least not conventionally so. He borrows from the photorealist painter Chuck Close the close-up, mug-shot-like approach, which drains faces of expressive animation and turns them into awesome landscapes of bulges, folds, cracks, pits, craters and stubble. Unlike Mr. Close, whose subjects are usually people he knows personally, Mr. Schoeller portrays famous people like Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Jack Nicholson. (His pictures frequently appear in The New Yorker.) There are some portraits of the nonfamous, including members of an African tribe and a United States soldier who sustained facial injuries in Iraq, but they are not irresistibly captivating the way the celebrity pictures are. There is something magically gripping about how these beings who exist in our collective imagination like pagan gods are so vividly, physically embodied, stripped of the protective veneer of publicity yet untainted by the salaciousness of the paparazzi shot. You can't help thinking, "So that is what Mickey Rourke (or Donald H. Rumsfeld or Cindy Sherman) really looks like." Yet despite the remorselessly clinical scrutiny, they retain their superhuman auras, which may say as much about us as it does about them. If you have ever suspected the fabulous actor Christopher Walken (above) of being from another planet, Mr. Schoeller's eerie portrait clinches it. (Hasted Hunt, 529 West 20th Street, Chelsea,  212-627-0006; through Sept. 1.)