International photographer Martin Schoeller uses 40 of his larger-than-life portraits -- of the famous and the unknown -- to emphasize the human connection between us all.
Schoeller’s exhibit, now featured at Tarble Arts Center, displays 5-feet-high by 4-feet-wide portraits consisting of hyper-detailed closeups of each individual portrayed.
The faces include Brad Pitt, Barack Obama, Angelina Jolie, Paris Hilton, Sarah Palin, Andre Agassi and Cindy Sherman alongside photos of everyday people from Africa and Latin America.
To Schoeller, his “Close Up” exhibit represents how humans are a lot more similar than what society wants to recognize.
“We are a lot more alike than we think,” Schoeller said. “In the end, we are the same.”
The portraits place everyone -- celebrities and the unknown -- on the same level, he said.
Jay Grabiec, photographer and journalism instructor at Eastern, said the “Close Up” project creates an interesting juxtaposition.
By pairing Paris Hilton, indigenous people and Barack Obama next to each other with the same-sized portraits and white background, Schoeller truly emphasizes the human connection through his photographs.
“Schoeller displays each subject the same," Grabiec said. "In our minds, we may think of them differently, but Schoeller’s exhibit places each individual on the same, even playing field."
The exhibit also brings the viewer into the subject’s personal space, especially since the portraits are so large, Grabiec said.
“The intimate nature really causes the viewer to look at the details of the person’s face and to study the individual,” Grabiec said. “The viewer is forced to look at the raw nature of the subject and see a glimpse of that individual.”
Schoeller, a native of Germany, said he first got the idea for the close-up project after working as Annie Leibovitz's assistant in the mid-'90s.
“Portraits are not fashion, with beauty and illusion,” Schoeller said, lamenting that over the years, photography has become face-painting, where everyone is using Photoshop to skew reality.
Grabiec, a fan of Schoeller’s work, said one of Schoeller’s main talents as a photographer is his ability to take out one aspect of a person’s personality and capture it within his photos.
Schoeller’s subjects are often famous people, and they have a preconceived notion of the image they want to project, while Schoeller might have a different idea of the image he wants to express as an artist, Grabiec said.
Schoeller said it was not easy to force celebrities out of their pre-conceived notions about themselves, because actors and actresses are aware of every contour of their face and how to position themselves.
Schoeller excluded some photos from the exhibit because he did not feel they were true representations of the celebrities.
But some actors and actresses want to portray their true selves, such as actress Meryl Streep, who arrived with no makeup for her photo shoot with him.
Schoeller’s work has been featured in The New Yorker, Gentleman’s Quarterly (GQ), Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone.
He also has received awards from the American Society of Magazine Editors and the Communication Arts and Society of Publication Designers.
“He (Schoeller) is a recognized and in-demand international photographer, and for him to come to Charleston, I think it is a pretty big deal,” Grabiec said.
As a journalism instructor, Grabiec decided to take students from his Introduction to Visual Communications class to the exhibit to teach them how to capture a portrait.
"The main lesson I wanted to drive home to my students is to get close to create that sense of intimacy with their subjects," Grabiec said. “I don’t think I could have found more of a literal example of getting closer to your subjects."