Joachim Ladefoged, Valery Gergiev, Mariinksy Theatre, St Petersberg (2009)
 


'Not to flatter, but to point out something'

Celebrity portraiture as captured by the photographers of the ground breaking VII photo agency

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Charles Baudelaire wrote "A portrait! What could be more simple and more complex, more obvious and more profound?"

For our First Look Friday gallery this weekend we're looking at some of the portraits in Questions Without Answers The World In Pictures By The Photographers Of VII, and what results when photographers who have captured world changing, often cataclysmic events and the awful carnage they have resulted in turn their cameras on the kinds of celebrities whose work often flirts with shall we say, 'the bigger issues'. 

Czech-born American photojournalist Antonin Kratochvil is perhaps best known for cataloguing the destruction in war torn Eastern Europe. His celebrity portraiture however, (of David Bowie, Willem Dafoe and Bernardo Bertlolucci in our gallery above) underscores the physical and psychological intensity of the creatives who have sat for him. The images are designed not to flatter but to seek out something, possibly hidden, below the surface. 

Similarly, Christopher Morris's portrait (also in our gallery above) of Iggy Pop photographed relaxing in his garden in Miami like some elderly retiree is pregnant with hidden meaning. Iggy told the journalist present that day that it was "the first home I've ever owned" - paid for not by years and years of sleepless nights on the road, or a brace of record deals (all of which were relatively financially disastrous) but by his music being used just once in some dumb advert. Morris's photo manages to capture some of the pain and perhaps the quiet resignation behind that uncomfortable fact.

Meanwhile, our cover image of Valery Gergiev (by Joachim Ladefoged) portrays the unwavering, occasionally ferocious determination of one of the world's most famous, and powerful, conductors - a man who is politically outspoken, friends with Vladimir Putin and who often conducts using a toothpick rather than a baton. 

It’s precisely this quest for a hidden something and the intensity of thought, will and execution with which that something is brought to life that makes the photographs in Questions Without Answers destined to go down in history as some of the best ever captured. We hope you enjoy the gallery above. We can't stop leafing through the book here at phaidon.com and now you can be among the first to buy the book on pre-order in the Phaidon store. And please ask us any questions you may have about the book in the comments box below. 

 


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