The Danish-born, New York City-based photographer Marc Hom is arguably one of the most influential celebrity photographers of our time. His images give us uncanny, unadulterated glimpses into the personalities of some of the most noted icons of the past two generations. His new book Profiles and the exhibition currently running at IMMAGIS Gallery in Munich offer the public special opportunities to view his body of work as an entire sum, leaving one to question how Hom is able to always get that perfect, intimate shot. During a telephone call last week, I asked him a bit about what makes his work tick…..
I think you’re pictures are really interesting; they’re almost like paintings when you look at them. They’re fashion photos but there’s something really painterly about them. I was just at the Louvre in Paris a few weeks ago and I see a lot of connections. I don’t know if you mean to do it, but there’s some connection to these old portraits and the portraiture you do.
Oh really? I never heard that, but good. I mean, I think it’s maybe with the graphicness of the light—especially in the black and white pictures, so maybe becomes or then has that sensibility. So I think it could be perhaps. It’s interesting how you see that.
You should take a look at the Louvre, really. Going through the old portrait halls is really quite nice. The pictures are kind of refreshing. You know, I was watching a video you did and it was talking about the “timelessness” of your work, which is true—your pictures are really timeless. How do you manage to do this? Is it about sticking to a certain style, or what?
You know, I’ve always been a big fan of simplicity. I very interested in an honest picture and I don’t think any tricks are needed. For me, it’s really about the person more than anything else. And I think, you know, the fashion industry there is some of in my images but with the other work that I do it really does always start with the person, but then I maybe use the fashion element as a disguise, but not really ever overwhelming the person. So, it’s always always always about the person in the picture more than anything; it’s the purity of that, which is why I’m so. I’m not into gimmicks.
The only thing you can see in the pictures is that time has traveled in terms of people getting older (I sometimes photograph people again and again, so that’s how you see the collected time in the image.) There’s a famous picture of mine, a ‘Sofia Coppola’ image I did in 96, where you can see that she’s young, you know? I guess that’s the only way you can see.
I mean, none of the images in THIS show, I mean maybe half of them are older but with the other half some I’ve done like a year ago; they also look timeless already, but I think it’s the way I use the faces in the pictures.
Ok, so going back to this thing you said about it being based on the subject, something I think is really interesting is when I think about your pictures from the 90s, the one that really sticks out in my head is Gwyneth Paltrow, she has this crazy…
The one with the snake?
Yes! And the electric hair…(smiles) I think it’s an interesting example. I mean, how do you get the sense how you want to photograph them? Is it by talking to them? Researching them? When I saw that portrait of Gwyneth Paltrow, I had never seen her like that before, but it’s somehow her…
I think that first of all, I always believe in, like, that there has to be a way of complete trust between the subject and the photographer, and you want to get people to relax and take their guard down—that’s when you start taking the picture. Before that, you’ll never get an honest picture; people just don’t want to be photographed. So I think it has to happen from a lot of trust.
That picture was also great because it was the beginning of her career. Sometimes it’s easier to do that with younger girls or younger people because they don’t know what their brand is about at that time. Not that we want to —- but there’s just an open-ness of youth or because of it being at the beginning of a career.
It’s probably just because they are open overall and it makes them more interesting.
Yes! Exactly. I think it also depends a lot of people, famous people, not famous people, I think that people are so aware of their image sometimes—that’s why it’s so important to kind of break that down a little bit, and most important is that I really believe that they are giving me their time and I am giving them my time and I really feel there needs to be a common respect towards each other; I’m never anybody who’s out to portrait people in a very kind of non-likeable way or you know. The most important thing is that I completely love my picture and hopefully the sitter will like it, too. It’s very important for me that the person who I’m photographing—that they love the image as well.
For me it’s not an ego-driven thing; I don’t have to prove my point and disappoint them, you know what I mean? I think it’s a complete bonus when everyone is happy and it’s a huge success.
I feel the same way with my interview process—who I interview and the questions I ask and stuff. I see interviews being portraits of people, too. Hearing it from you makes me realize that the key to a good portrait really is intimacy.
I mean, it’s kind of scary having a camera pointed at you. And every time I press that shot I feel it—so there better be good memories of it instead of bad ones.
That makes total sense. I think there’s this thing, too, about this new generation who always seems to be camera-ready because of apps like Snapchat—I think about this a lot—this camera-ready thing because I am not; I don’t wear so much makeup or do a lot for my appearance. (Laughs) I always think about this when I think about how much stars are photographed, like in public and stuff…
I think what’s happening today is like when you look…I don’t know if you read the forward of my new book, but it talks about how today we are completely bombarded with imagery. All the time, all the time, all the time. And I think we owe it to our children to really educate them in photography. A lot of people can’t see what a good picture is because there’s so much being thrown at them– you know what I mean?
With real photography, there isn’t so much editing going on like with cell-phone photography these days…
Exactly. There’s no editing and people don’t treat it like shooting with really film. I mean, maybe 70 percent of photography today is digital, but I still treat it like shooting with real film. I never over-shoot—I mean in the old days, I’d use maybe ten rolls of film to cover underexposure, but I never press to shoot unless it’s a good picture. I also never crop a picture—I use the camera instead. I believe that every time you start manipulating it just kind of shows and becomes more and more fake. I also never retouch really, unless it’s something small like someone has a pimple on their head. (Smiles). I think that having lines on faces is just beautiful—it’s what tells a story of a person’s life.
Totally, I also find it interesting with your work—and I could be totally wrong—but when I look at your work I see a lot more than just the celebrity; I see certain leitmotivs that can be clearly tied back to you—different layers, some are clear, some aren’t. I think it’s interesting because some of these elements in the end come out and make your images look a bit photoshopped—for instance, there’s a common theme of high-voltage energy going through your work,
I think it’s fascinating, though, to hear how other people see my work—this is why I am so happy with the forward Anne Hathaway wrote for my book, which I mentioned before. I mean, we are quite close friends and we chose her portrait for the cover and so I asked her to write something and I wasn’t sure what to expect. But it turned out really good and it was interesting to see how she saw my work.
I think the honest picture is the best picture and I like capturing funny expressions on peoples faces and capture them doing strange things. The one picture I did of Alexander McQueen is really great—with the horns on top. It was great, he had just finished his show and the girls were walking down the runway with these antlers. Then we thought ‘Great! Let’s put them on him!’ but he didn’t like it so much and took them off, but it was a great moment and I captured a picture that has become quite iconic and I love that. It’s funny how a portrait keeps living on, perhaps because of the person and what they go on to do in their lives—like dying.
SHOW CLOSES 08. May 2017.
Marc Hom — Profiles
IMMAGIS Fine Art Photography / Blütenstrasse 1 / 80799 Munich / Tu – Fr 14 – 18 / Sa 11 – 14 + by appt
About the book “Profiles”:
Published by teNeues; 27.5 x 34 cm / 248 pages / forward by Anne Hathaway / hardcover with dust jacket / ca. 200 color and duplex photographs / text in English, German + French / price: €79.90 / ISBN: 978-3-8327-3433-6
Photos: Copyright + Courtesy of Marc Hom.