American photorealist and photographer Chuck Close suffers from Prosopagnosia, a disorder that impairs one's ability to recognize faces. Ironically, Close became famous for his huge portraits, which he painted with the help of gridded photographs. In 1988, a seizure resulting from spinal artery collapse rendered him paralyzed from the neck down, but did not stop him from creating masterpieces that patrons enjoy.
Now 73 years old and only partially paralyzed, Close enjoys more mobility despite having to use a wheelchair, but can no longer paint as meticulously as he did in his youth. Nonetheless, he remains widely respected as an artist in spite of his condition.
He was invited by by Vanity Fair to photograph 20 of Hollywood’s brightest personalities, a star-studded roster that included Julia Roberts, Robert de Niro, Brad Pitt, Scarlett Johansson and Martin Scorsese to name a few, for the magazine’s 20th Hollywood issue. For this project, Close used a Polaroid 20×24 instant camera. Believe it or not, this particular camera model, which was manufactured by Polaroid in 1970, delivers instant prints 20 × 24 inches in size. Without using a paintbrush, Close lived up to his reputation of creating stunning large-scale portraits with this project.
Below are several of the Polaroid portraits Close shot for Vanity Fair. Remember, they were printed as 20×24-inch polaroids. Wow.
You will notice that the Hollywood personalities shown above aren’t their usual made-up, glamorous selves. This is because Close gave very strict guidelines for the series of shoots, which the stars are most likely not accustomed to:
“No hair, no make-up, no wardrobe. Pick something, wear it, come on in. Comb your own hair, and let’s get going.”
That’s a lot of vanity the stars had to give up, for a Vanity Fair shoot.
In the video below, Chuck Close talks about the entire experience. He shares why he chose to use the humongous Polaroid camera, discusses the process that he went through to capture the images, and delivered personal insight on the essence of a portrait. Watch the video from start to end, hang on to every word he says, and be inspired. And don’t miss the part where the huge instant film is peeled to reveal an image – it will make you quiver with envy.
Now that was definitely inspiring – reason enough for one to think more intently about portraiture, and to aspire for bigger things.