July 01, 2012 Author: Chris Buck
Chris Buck’s new book Presence is a collection of celebrity portraits – sans the celebrities. Orchestrating fifty celebrity sittings, he’s taken these photos so that the subject is physically within the frame, but hiding behind or under some object to the extent that no part of the person is visible. Alongside each photo is a signed witness statement, assuring us of the celebrity’s actual presence, even though it cannot be seen. It’s a clever and absurd thing to do, in recognition of the desperation with which people demand celebrity photos, and the ubiquity of their appearance. Including such big names as David Lynch, William Shatner, Snoop Dogg, Nick Cave and Chevy Chase, it’s an impressive line-up of famous people that are (not) appearing in the pages of this book.
However, following the initial chuckle of appreciation for the clever idea, how does the project stand up? Looking at each photo has a kind of ‘Where’s Waldo?’ effect on the viewer, asking you to look for the likely hiding place of the celebrity. However, in this case, the hiding Waldo will never actually appear, so prepare yourself for the fruitless search.
The settings themselves do not naturally convey any particular message or meaning about the occupying celebrity, so there are also no clues with which to view the photos and interpret a particular significance to that person – you could easily switch the names associated with the photos of Robert De Niro and Kathy Griffin, and it wouldn’t necessarily feel any different. This is surely a weakness, as the photos aren’t otherwise striking enough to keep our attention and, while it would be one thing to be able to try to guess the celebrity in the photos, these photos of non-indicative settings with an absent celebrity don’t last much longer than the initial sense of novelty.
Robert De Niro © 2012 Chris Buck
Michael Stipe © 2012 Chris Buck
David Lynch © 2012 Chris Buck
Reviewed by Katherine Oktober Matthews.