Martin Schoeller is best known for his intense close-ups, set against stark white backgrounds, in which he catches the ‘truthful essence’ of presidents and pop stars alike. As well as celebrity portraits, Schoeller is renowned for his work portraying twins, as he demonstrates subtle differences between the genetically identical. Martin is also interested in exploring the dichotomy within female body-builders, for example, the tension between their strength and vulnerability. Martin’s work is painfully honest, dealing with elements of his subjects which are usually hidden from the cameras.


©Martin Schoeller

Martin is currently based in New York, and was originally born in Munich. He studied photography at Lette Verein in Berlin, influenced by August Sander, Bernd Becher, and Hilla Becher. From 1993 to 1996, Martin worked as an assistant to the legendary Annie Leibovitz. It was during this time that he developed his style of ‘hyper-detailed’ close ups. After giving up his assistantship, Martin’s big break came when he photographed Vanessa Redgrave for Time Out- it took him ten minutes to capture her ‘very genuine little smirk’. From this shoot, his jobs came ‘like an avalanche’, including gigs with Rolling Stone, GQ, Esquire, Entertainment Weekly, and joining Richard Avedon as a contributing portrait photographer to The New Yorker.


©Martin Schoeller

During his famous portrait shoots, Schoeller has his subjects face him squarely, and proceeds to take countless shots until he catches them when their guard is down. To achieve this, Martin distracts them, by talking to them, playing music, or chatting to an assistant whilst slyly taking a shot. Schoeller says: ‘The pictures that survive over the years are ones where you see something of somebody that they normally wouldn’t share so easily. Something intimate, honest.’ Schoeller worries that many people, especially high-profile subjects, will be put off by his ‘unforgivingly truthful’ approach, and doesn’t want to think how many jobs he’s missed out on due to publicists. Not that Martin struggles for famous subjects. His client list has included President Obama, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Angela Merkel, and what appears to be most of the young Harry Potter cast.


©Martin Schoeller

As well as taking close ups of famous faces, Schoeller has employed his ‘hyper detailed’ technique when working with identical twins. Martin was initially reluctant to get involved in the annual Ohio Twinsday festival, insisting that it was too cliché- ‘It’s the most obvious thing in photography. Right after sunsets come twins.’ However, Martin became more interested in the project when he concocted a way to put his own stamp on the subjects. Instead of photographing the twins together, he shot them as individuals in strictly controlled environments, with the same angle, lighting and background. Schoeller wanted total neutrality, as he feels straight-faced images reveal more subtle similarities and differences between the twins.


©Martin Schoeller

Schoeller’s fascination with female body builders stems from the dichotomy within these women. They strive to achieve the perfect body, which does not conform to society’s ideals of beauty. Their occupation and muscular bodies seem masculine, yet the women present themselves in typically feminine ways, for example, using make-up and styling their hair. They are physically strong and withstand psychologically strenuous challenges, yet are vulnerable to public scrutiny, especially when photographed. All of these ironies meant that female body builders captured Schoeller’s imagination from 2003 until 2008. In his own words, he was ‘struck by the multi-dimensional complexity of the portrait.’


©Martin Schoeller

Martin Schoeller’s work has graced some of the most widely read magazines in the world, capturing some of the most recognizable faces in the world. His exhibitions are also truly global, including: Hasted Hunt, New York; Gallery Wouter Van Leeuwen, Amsterdam; Brancolini Grimaldi Contemporary Art, Florence; Australia’s National Portrait Gallery. Schoeller’s refreshingly honest portraits lend themselves to such universal appeal, making his work iconic within photography and pop culture.