Mark Seliger's Iconic Celebrity Portraits

by Jessica Gordon

February 19, 2014

Mark Seliger’s famed career is enviable no matter your chosen genre of photography. 


© Mark Seliger

For the past 30 years, New York City-based Seliger has photographed—with no exaggeration—some of the most iconic portraits of our era. Whether it be Kurt Cobain’s haunting gaze in 1993 (above), John Malkovich’s lofty recline with pigeons in 2008 (below), or New York magazine’s whiplash-inducing cover of (nude and temporarily-tattooed) actress Lake Bell just last year—the photographer’s work is timeless and consistently inventive. 


© Mark Seliger

As chief photographer for Rolling Stone from 1992 to 2002, Seliger shot more than 100 covers for the magazine, and now routinely works for Condé Nast publications, including GQ, DETAILS and Vanity Fair.

“I think the most important thing for a photographer to understand is observation,” Seliger said of his process in a May 2013 article on New York magazine’s fashion blog, The Cut. “You can read somebody pretty quickly if you spend a second and you walk slightly in front. Even if you’re engaged in a conversation, be aware of what’s going on with them. Sometimes someone will just gesticulate or cock their head a certain way, which is a great starting point of the way you want them to react in a photograph. Making a great portrait sometimes is about picking up on those idiosyncrasies and personality traits that people have.” 


© Mark Seliger

In March, Seliger will be taking his perspective on creativity to the West Coast as the keynote speaker at WPPI 2014. Seliger presented a similar multimedia program at PDN’s PhotoPlus Expo in October 2013 to rave reviews.

This means Seliger will not only be sharing some of his favorite images—and the stories behind them—but also performing with his band, Rusty Truck.

“This came across very organically,” Seliger says of the original idea for his presentation. “One of the great things about the seminar in New York is that we didn’t tell anyone anything to expect, and people were like, ‘What the hell is going on here?’ [We said] let’s do something different and think outside the box.”


Mark Seliger singing with his band Rusty Truck. Photo © Jason Walker

Seliger continues: “It’s a multimedia experience, of words and music written with my band, and then I worked with other photographers, editors and filmmakers on a visual companion that reflects a 21st century liner note for the album. It’s a visual journey of music, with a combination of photography and film, music and lighting to create a theatrical experience for the viewer.”

The hope is that audience members will be inspired by Seliger’s images and process of creativity. “For me it’s always great to share like that, especially when it has a different experience for people, it’s enjoyable for me,” Seliger says. “The band has fun with it too.”  

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