Posted by: emkamm93 | November 30, 2014

The Familiar Celebrity

An excerpt from The New Yorker’s introduction to their famed staff photographer Martin Schoeller reads “in traditional studio sittings, [his] signature was an unflinching attention to facial detail; outside of the studio, he had a flair for constructing scenarios that would allow his subjects’ idiosyncrasies to be revealed”(NY).


I thought his portrait of George Clooney was particularly interesting. It made me wonder about the meaning of blinding someone with their own eyes? What are the implications of blocking viewers from Clooney’s gaze with a constructed image of Clooney’s gaze? I think, working within the confines of his medium (as in I want to think that the viewer is supposed to imagine George is really in front of her, and that if the “superimposed” strip were removed, she would see his “real” eyes, and not another constructed image) that Schoeller is playing with the idea of celebrity itself.

Clooney’s lips are turned up slightly hinting at a smile indicating happiness, or at the very least compliance; and the wrinkles and steady gaze of his “eyes” produce a similar emotion. The thing about the superimposed eyes, though, is that they make the expression. If the mood of the eye’s was different, Clooney’s mouth could easily also be interpreted as terse, afraid, bored, etc.  When we look at photos of celebrities, especially studio portraits, we are seeing a very particular and constructed presentation of that person.

Schoeller acknowledges this — that even in his photos, even with gaze of the camera as intimate as it is (see this post about how the close up of a face is the “power shot”) we, as viewers, will never know the “real” George — only a constructed image of him.


The second picture of the batch is actually my favorite because of its use of colors. Lady Gaga is known for looking a little bit…weird. Her outfits are definitely outside the norm and yes, her performance persona pushes the boundaries of the public’s comfort zone, but that does not mean that Stefani Germanotta, the girl behind all the glitter, does not personally feel the impact of any backlash.

As the bruise on her arm carries the same magenta hue as her eye shadow and hair, the viewer is immediately aware of the connection between the two. We are shown a physical manifestation of the the public’s negativity about her appearance, and how it impacts her. But even so, even her bruises are fashionable.

I think it’s important to frame these photos within the conversation about image ownership that we had quite early in the semester. When your picture is so widely available, it makes sense that people who don’t even really know you could begin to feel like they do, and thus hold opinions on your life, appearance, and choices. Schoeller pushes back against this scary idea, whose inception I imagine came with the beginnings of Victorian-era photography.

You can see the rest of the photos here. Let me know what your thoughts on the rest of them are, particularly how they play with the idea of celebrity, and challenge our inclination to feel like we “know” these people. Especially the portrait of Steve Carell. I have no idea what’s going on with that one.


  1. The portraits are really cool and quite unique. I find it interesting that not all of the portraits are “weird.” Each seems to have its own theme and, I would expect, message. As to how they play with the idea of celebrity, I think the portraits are an important reminder to us, as non celebrities, that these people are people too, that their status as celebrity does not define who they are. Tony Hawk is pictured with his family, Cate Blanchett is pictured in a beautifully simple black and white portrait. As for Steve Carrel’s portrait, I am at the same loss as you.

    He has a very blank face, behind the tape, without really any distinct expression. The tape, though transparent, really takes over the image. It does pull his skin distorting his face beyond just the presence of the tape. I think it is worth noting that is tape that the photographer uses, tape that is used to hold things together. I don’t know if this implies that Steve Carrel needs to be held together, or that he is falling apart, but perhaps it is a commentary that the idea of celebrity is quite literally constructed. But still, I am at a loss.

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