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  • Writer's pictureJo Sutherst

Sustainable Prospects – Paris Photo 2018 – Martin Schoeller and Pernod Ricard

Martin Schoeller is a German photographer who is best known for extreme close-up portraits that are hyper-detailed.

“Familiar faces are treated with the same levels of scrutiny as the un-famous. The unknown and the too-well-known meet on a level platform that enables comparison, where a viewer’s existing notions of celebrity, value, and honesty are challenged . . . Schoeller’s close-up portraits emphasize, in equal measure, the facial features, both studied and unstudied, of his subjects— world leaders and indigenous groups, movie stars and the homeless, athletes and artists— leveling them in an inherently democratic fashion.”

– (, 2017)

Schoeller’s portraits are of the famous and non-famous. Each one is photographed in exactly the same way. The catchlights in the eyes show that his lighting and shoot angle are the same for each subject.  It is evident from the images that none of the images are retouched, everyone is presented exactly as they really are.

In addition, the consistent composition ensures that the image is not affected by the location the shot is taken. Reducing the portraits to just head shots removes any potential for distraction from the background. The subject’s clothes also do not impact on the shot. Without having to allow for changes of clothes, the amount of time needed for each shoot is reduced.

The treatment of each image in exactly the same way is Schoeller’s signature. By ensuring consistency, he is trying to find truth in the images. With the proliferation of selfies and other portraits on social media, many with filters applied, we do not always see a truthful image.

“I do think all photographs lie. I don’t think there is one picture that is really honest. You can’t describe a person in a split second, but maybe in the grand scheme of photography, I think there are some pictures that are more honest than others, you know? So I’m trying to steer to the little bit more honest side of the spectrum”

– Schoeller (CNN Style, 2017)

His recent campaign for Pernod Ricard featured 18 images of their employees. I was given a ticket to Paris Photo by Pernod Ricard so that I could view the work in the exhibition in person.

The exhibition catalogue (below) goes into some detail about the campaign and features full page portraits. The publication, like the exhibition, is glorious. The portaits are stunning in their clarity and imapct. The things that stands out the most to me in all of them is the eyes. I was mesmerised by them in the exhibition and continued to be so in the catalogue.

Figure 1: Images taken from exhibit catalogue

The portraits raise questions about the intimate nature of getting this close to someone else’s face. The photographs are about the face and nothing else. The range of portraits taken celebrate the diversity of the Pernod Ricard worldwide workforce. Seeing them printed and displayed on a large scale is simply remarkable and was my highlight of Paris Photo.

Presented in large white frames on a dark blue background enhances the portraits even more (not that they need it). The viewer is drawn to the work like a moth to a lamp. Standing in front of the images, I was drawn in. The scale makes the subjects feel more powerful than I did. I felt small in comparison and was questioning my place alongside these images. I could have spent all day looking at them, interogating them in an attempt to know the person further. The intimacy of the experience made me feel like I knew them personally.


Figure 2: Images from the ‘Inspiring Action’ Exhibition

Also on display were 3 images from Schoeller’s stunning ‘Transgender’ project. The work features trans people during transition. The stunning portraits bring a voice and visibility to the transgender community.

Figure 3: Images from ‘Transgender’ Exhibition


CNN Style. (2017). ‘Honest’ photos of world’s most famous faces. [online] Available at: [Accessed 11 Nov. 2017]. (2017). Cite a Website – Cite This For Me. [online] Available at: [Accessed 11 Nov. 2017].

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