Annette Bening, Brad Pitt, celebrities, Helen Mirren, Javier Bardem, Kate Winslet, photography, portraits, Robert DeNiro, Scarlett Johansson
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!
It’s amazing what professional makeup and light does to faces….striking to me how all of these actors noses look slightly larger than I had ever noticed before? (I assure you am not ‘noseist’,) Maybe that is why celebs mostly pose with their heads slightly turned, as Bruce Willis did?
Yes, you’re right about the noses. Especially on Robert De Niro! It’s amazing what makeup and lighting can do.
Warts and all! That’s the kind of photography I like. It’s about personality and not looks, because looks can be altered. I actually find these images very uplifting. There are *real* people behind the fancy clothes and the expert make-up. They are vulnerable. Kudos for taking part in that project. Thanks for posting, Linnet!
@ Cheergerm: Glad someone else noticed the big noses, too. I was wondering whether I was being too critical, but I think the photographer took his name too literally and zoomed in too closely… lens distortion.
Very interesting, guylty, about the lens distortion. Maybe it is a trademark of his? I noticed in the photos of the shoot itself on the VF website that he got his camera up very close to the subjects.
Couldn’t agree more that these images are uplifting. I like them very much!
Oh dear…. Brad looks like he’s just stepped out of a trailer after a boozy night out… he needs a good haircut.
He would definitely look better with one! Maybe he needs a role that will force him to cut it.
Been looking at pics of him from a few years ago (2007/8/9), and he had it short then – looked great 🙂
Well, he’s amazingly good looking. I think the photo was meant to de-glamorize him. I still remember “Thelma and Louise”…
Interview with a Vampire did it for me… oh, and Legends of the Fall 😉
mikeyb @ screenkicker said:
I’d still be thrilled if i woke up next to any of those women! They’re all really sexy
I agree! Thanks for the comment.
Expat Eye said:
Love this 🙂 I actually fancy Brad Pitt for the first time – he looks real and like he’s actually lived. Bruce is still the DUDE of course 😉 And Scarlett J looks so young and girlish! And still so pretty. It must be such pressure to have to look fabulous all the time. The women here do it too – they look at me like something they scraped off the bottom of their stiletto most of the time 😉
I love the look of all these women without makeup! But I have never worn much makeup myself. To me it’s like putting expensive dirt on one’s face that one then has to clean off at night with expensive goop. Not really worth it.
Expat Eye said:
Ha ha, so true! I prefer the natural look myself too – to me you should just look better, but you shouldn’t see the make-up! Not something they’ve learned over here 🙂
I highly recommend the Video/SlideShow you linked – for BTS shot and, Chuck Close’s own reflections on what he’s doing – as well as some additional shots, including some that were rejected. It’s hard to believe from these photos that Sean Penn and Brad Pitt are so close in age. ( Though I personally prefer Sean Penn’s look in this instance).Not sure if it’s hard living vs. healthy living, or something else. Thanks for posting.
Thanks, I agree that the additional information on the shoot is very interesting, especially for a look at the photos they decided NOT to use. Sean Penn is getting very craggy these days, and it’s hard to look away from him. I can’t decide whether it’s magnetism or train wreck…
I couldn’t agree more about Sean Penn. But his face is so interesting – there’s so much to look at.
I have girl-crushed on Helen Mirren forever. Susan Sarandon, too. Sexy bitches, both of them.
Indeed! Wish they’d included Sarandon in this shoot!
Reblogged this on Ancient Armitage and commented:
I love this…thanks Linnet!
24/7 in France said:
These photos are great and show their natural beauty – bravo!
Many thanks for the comment!
What a terrific post, Linnet. It’s raw and vulnerable and real.
It’s such a relief sometimes to see people we greatly admire for their impressive talent to mold themselves into just about anybody actually look like ANYBODY we’d run into at the corner grocery store.
Thanks! Who knew they looked just like us? It is quite a revelation…
This is fantastic. Dignified faces in their natural state. They’d be beautiful I think, even if we didn’t appreciate them as artists and connect with them emotionally through what they choose to share with us regularly. But gorgeous they are still. Helen Mirren just blows me away.
Thanks! I agree that Helen Mirren is amazing. I hope I have a fraction of her beauty when I reach her age.