Chris Buck has built a career creating images that fall outside the box. But his series of celebrities, titled Presence, currently on view at Foley Gallery in New York City until Feb. 24, could be considered to be “outside the frame” as well.
In essence, Buck plays a game of hide-and-seek with his famous subjects, inviting them to hide for 30 seconds while he takes the portrait. Buck shot about 75 percent of the images in Presence piggybacking on assignments and asking the celebrity if they would be interested in being part of the project. The other images, including those of Cindy Sherman and Chuck Close, were set up entirely for the project. Buck has signed witness statements for each image that testify to the fact that the celebrity was in fact present for the shoot.
“I was having a rough patch with work and trying to build some interest,” said Buck about his inspiration for Presence. “People want to work with creative people, so I thought about doing something really outside the box … and it landed really, really outside the box.”
“The response was pretty cold,” Buck said about initial reaction to the work. “My agent at the time, Julian Richards, really believed in it … he’s like me and doesn’t care if people will like it or not. My wife thought it was OK but wasn’t really excited about it.”
“We started making mockups and people were giving me funny looks and saying ‘Really, you’re going to spend a lot of time on it and this is going to be your first book?’ ’’
Buck said he started getting some good buzz about Presence once people started to see the book and said choosing to publish with a traditional publisher (Buck went with Kehrer) and not to self-publish made a difference.
“There are great advantages to self-publishing because you can control the product more, but the big advantage of traditional publishing when doing something this odd is it gives outside validation and makes people take it seriously enough and suspend disbelief enough to come onboard.”
It also helped that Buck is known for having a sense of humor.
“There is an overall arc to my work, which is a dry sense of humor, so people who know me well say (about Presence) ‘this is so you; this is your work distilled down,’ ” said Buck.
Buck’s career spans more than two decades and includes a portfolio of some of the most recognizable people in entertainment, arts, and politics, including a recent portrait of President Barack Obama.
“People told me they were looking forward to his (Obama’s) Presence photo,” Buck laughed. “He worked hard to be president twice—he’s not hiding anytime soon.”
But Buck said the idea of hiding from the camera appealed to some of the celebrities in the book.
“Jonathan Franzen said he would do it because he wouldn’t be visible,” began Buck. “He doesn’t like getting his picture taken.”
Doing the Presence project wasn’t the first time Buck played with the idea of celebrity. His series Isn’t focused on celebrity look-alikes in both familiar and intimate environments. It not only explores Buck’s sense of humor but also includes another thread common in his images: the concept of identity. Next year Buck will release a series he has been working on for the past 12 years—documenting Chris Bucks.
“I’m photographing people who have my full name,” said Buck. “I’m shooting Chris Buck in Vancouver next week, and I found a guy who has a whole band called ‘The Chris Buck Band,’ and I also found a married couple who are both named ‘Chris Buck,’ ” said Buck.
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