We often talk of photographs capturing a moment in time, but in Mark
Seliger's new work it is a place that is captured -- a stairwell in an
abandoned elevator shaft in his Manhattan studio.
Seliger began to notice parallels between pic-tures. "For a lot of the artists we shot, like Richard Serra, it was all about representing their own work in some way, whether it was a posture they took or a character they slipped into," he says. Johnny Knoxville, masochistic star of MTV's infamous show Jackass, visited the studio in April of 2005 so hungover that he threw up seven times during the shoot, even though he wasn't really hanging by hooks. (That was created by special-effects expert Gabe Bartalos.) As a photographer, Seliger could only go with the flow.
The Seliger Vision
Perhaps the stairwell simply represents the artistic maturing of a photographer. Seliger's fearful sick-ness during shoots in his early years as a celeb-rity portraitist has turned into calm self-assurance. "Now my creativity is like a big old grab bag," he says. "Tech-nically I've figured out that there are absolute, foolproof things I can use that are easy and that I can count on, whereas before I'd be so caught up in figuring out how to control everything that I could lose sight of who my sub-ject was. Now I can focus on understanding how to create a relationship with subjects a little better." Hand in hand with technical expertise comes a confidence in one's own vision. "When you're young you look at the work of a lot of photographic masters, you study that stuff, and it influences your own work," Seliger says. "Later, that influence becomes much more of an unconscious appreci-ation. And when that happens I think your work becomes less contrived. You always want it to have a cerebral motivation, but you want it to come out on a subconscious level -- that kind of pleasing way, rather than trying too hard."
As far back as 1989, when American Photographer first profiled Seliger as an up-and-coming editorial photog-rapher, he was being described as "well ordered" and "directed" in his career. Born and raised in Amarillo, Texas, he took an art degree from East Texas State Univer-sity and came to New York, where he spent three years assisting photographers like Deborah Feingold, Jan Groover, and even George Hurrell. His first editorial jobs were for back-of-the-book magazine sections -- record review sections, reference images for travel guides -- but eventu-ally he worked his way to Rolling Stone, and he became, for almost a decade, the magazine's chief photographer, producing memorable cover after memorable cover, including what is probably his best-known image -- a soulful black-and-white portrait of the late rocker Kurt Cobain.