Physiognomy is "discovering temperment and character from outward appearance." Mark Seliger in the epilogue talks about how he sees his role as a photographer as to "deliver the essence." These portraits of celebrities magnificently fulfill that mission.
Before going further, let me note that this book contains much discrete male and female nudity, some violent images, and one impolite gesture. If this book were a movie, it would probably receive an "R" rating.
Mark Seliger is one of the very best of the current celebrity phtographers, a talent that has won him the role of chief photographer for both Rolling Stone and Us. You will enjoy both Mr. Seliger's epilogue, where he describes the development of his career, and Eric Bogosian's introductory commentary on the book's contents. Both explore the notion of finding the reality of the person's character.
Mr. Seliger has a particularly playful side that is wonderfully displayed in the book. For example, his portrait of Keith Richard makes him look like a jealous wife flirting with the image of a brooding Mick Jagger. In another case, the energy of Ringo Starr's drumming is captured by displaying him with four arms, hands, and drum sticks! One of the most humorous is an opening sequence of a bare Ben Stiller, first as an ape-man, then as a human.
The facing pages are brilliant. In most situations, they mirror each other by either portraying the same image, but with a different style, or having the two images interact as though they were one image.
One of Mr. Seliger's strengths is that he has a wide range of talent. His color photographs are powerfully effective in ways that most photographers can only accomplish in black-and-white. He can also do simple face shots, or complex compositions. I can think of no other currently popular photographer with nearly this range of effective style. One of my favorite examples of this range is that he has a beautiful shot of Jennifer Aniston in the buff, discretely displayed. At first you are inclined to think of it as a "beauty" shot, and then suddenly you realize that it's really a play on all of those photographs that parents take of their young children lying bare on a rug.
Mr. Seliger is equally adept at the dark side. Sean Penn's volatile personality is nicely captured in a brooding photograph of him pulling on a cigarette. Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg show up looking like they are relaxing during a rumble looking for trouble. "Don't mess with me" is written all over their faces and bodies.
Here are some of my other favorites:
Fiona Apple, Los Angeles, 1997
Bob Dylan, Los Angeles, 1998
Michael J. Fox, Burlington, Vermont, 1993
Merle Haggard, Lake Shasta, California, 1994
Billy Bob Thornton, Toronto, 1997
Bob Dylan, New York City, 1995
Pat Conroy, Charleston, South Carolina, 1995
Charlize Theron, New York City, 1997
Jerry Seinfeld, Los Angeles, 1998
Will Smith, Los Angeles, 1997
Winona Ryder, New York City, 1997
Jerry Seinfeld, Los Angeles, 1994
Drew Barrymore, Bell, California, 1994
There is another way to think about Physiognomy. People who have studied Neuro-Linguistic Programming argue the opposite way, that physiology becomes psychology. Repeated psychology becomes a habit, and the build-up of habits becomes a character. Spend some time thinking about how you hold your body. Test out how those positions and facial expressions affect you mentally, and how that influences your behavior.
Pose for best advantage . . . to others and to the development of your own character!