Vanity Fair’s recent “Hollywood Issue” included a selection of photographs by the celebrated artist Chuck Close, who is noted for his “realist” style and has created portraits of such diverse subjects as Hillary Clinton, Jasper Johns, and Kate Moss.
Most of the photographs are simple, frontal head shots. The subjects wear little or no makeup, and they pose in their everyday clothing–in some cases, t-shirts and sweatshirts. Most interesting of all is that no airbrushing was applied–no erasure of wrinkles, moles, and other surface imperfections. To put it bluntly, they look the way they would if you woke up in bed next to them.
The reaction to the portfolio interested me greatly. Quite a few people thought it was wrong to show these iconic celebrities without the protective coloration of pixie dust that confers their magic. We want our stars to look beautiful, and we are highly critical of any physical flaws they may reveal.
But I found the photographs moving. A portrait is supposed to tell something about the subject, not about our expectations of him or her. I also think that it took a good deal of courage for some of these people, particularly the women, to entrust themselves to Mr. Close and his all-revealing camera. Here is a selection of my favorites. All photos are from the Vanity Fair website.
This photograph provoked a comment that Vanity Fair was “doing these stars a disservice” by showing them at their worst. But to me, it looks like the real Brad. He seems comfortable in his skin, and not particularly interested in being the golden boy. No doubt he’s had enough of that to last him a lifetime. It might even be a relief to age out of his extraordinary Beauty.
My first thought was that Kate is a very beautiful woman, but my next thought was, “what the heck are those moles doing on her face? Why doesn’t she get them shaved?” Then I noticed her dark roots. Our reactions to pictures like this reveal our assumptions about beauty, and about stardom.
This one amused me because it’s not that different from what they might shoot to promote one of his films. And yet it’s a revealing portrait, in how little he’s willing to reveal. He’s playing with the camera, doing his tough-guy impression. But what would he look like in a simple, frontal “mug shot”?
Annette Bening has grown her hair out from her previous choppy platinum pixie, and dyed it, but to a natural-looking brown color. I found this photograph touching. She looks sweet and kind, even a little bit vulnerable.
The black and white emphasizes Sean Penn’s craggy features and wrinkles. We are definitely in mug shot territory here! I found it slightly shocking, even though he has never been a pretty boy type. I like the way one strand of his hair falls over his forehead. Now, that may be the work of the hair and makeup person!
This may be my favorite of all the pictures, because I happen to be fond of Scarlett Johansson. The portrait could not be more different from the usual fare in her photo shoots. Typically she is styled and made up to the nines, and always has the same blank expression, with her lips slightly parted to look “sexy.” Here she gives what feels like a genuine smile. Look at the ordinary, thinnish hair, and the lovely skin. The sweatshirt made me laugh.
De Niro is not aging particularly well to judge by this photo. But it is deliberately ugly. If you look at pictures of him on Google images, you’ll see that in virtually all of them, he looks more attractive than this. I think it’s partly the hat, and the dark clothing.
Helen Mirren will always be beautiful. And interesting. I suspect that Chuck Close asked her to put her hand into the frame, because it reveals her age. One amazing thing about Mirren is that she’s never been afraid to show it all.
I couldn’t end the series without another Beautiful Man, now could I? Javier Bardem is not a conventionally handsome man, but he’s very sexy. The eyes say it all. This could have been a glamor shot; I love the touch of grey in his beard!