Martin Schoeller in conversation with William Ewing

Image: Portraits from Schoeller’s book Close, published by Steidl. © Martin Schoeller Courtesy Steidl

Martin Schoeller is one of the world’s preeminent contemporary portrait photographers. He is most known for his extreme-close up portraits, a series in which familiar faces are treated with the same scrutiny as the un-famous. He is in conversation with William Ewing.


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Martin Schoeller is one of the world’s preeminent contemporary portrait photographers. He is most known for his extreme-close up portraits, a series in which familiar faces are treated with the same scrutiny as the un-famous. The stylistic consistency of this work underpins a platform for comparison between his subjects, challenging a viewer’s existing notions of celebrity, value and honesty. Growing up in Germany, Schoeller was deeply influenced by August Sander’s countless portraits of the poor, the working class and the bourgeoisie, as well as by Bernd and Hilla Becher, who spawned a school of photographic typology known as the Becher-Schüler. Schoeller’s close-up portraits emphasize, in equal measure, facial features, both studied and unstudied, of his subjects—world leaders and indigenous groups, movie stars and the homeless, athletes and artists—levelling them in an inherently democratic fashion. Schoeller studied photography at the Lette Verein in Berlin and moved to New York in the mid-1990s where he began his career. Producing portraits of people he met on the street, his work soon gained recognition for its strong visual impact and since 1998 he has contributed to publications such as National Geographic, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, TIME, The New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone and GQ, among others. Schoeller’s portraits are exhibited and collected internationally, including in several solo exhibitions in Europe and the United States and are included in the permanent collection of the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.