For three decades, Chris Buck has been making curious, quirky and revealing
portraits. He recently self-published a retrospective collection titled Uneasy,
a 400-page book comprising 338 portraits shot between 1986 and 2016. With
his offbeat humor and counter-intuitive sensibility, Buck pokes and prods at
self-aggrandizing cultures of celebrity and politics. His quick reflexes are on
full display. Celebrities ham it up in front of his camera at their own peril.
He has no qualms about catching his subjects a little—and occasionally a lot—
off guard. When rapper and DJ Timbaland fell asleep on set, for instance,
Buck made a portrait that more deferential photographers wouldn’t have
dared to make. Buck also manages to be brazen and disarming at the same
time, so his subjects do outlandish things for him—sometimes on their own
initiative, and occasionally over the strenuous objections of their publicists.
“No, no, no, we can’t do this!” said Kevin’s Smith’s publicist, to no avail.
Moby’s publicist was also evidently overruled, or not present.
Among the photographs in Uneasy are several iconic portraits, including
Buck’s 2005 photographs of Steve Martin and Steve Carrell. But so many of
Buck’s portraits stand out, and the collection is notable for its range and variety.
He reveals his process through amusing and informative anecdotes about
more than 100 of the portraits. Buck plans his shoots, showing up with props
and requests, but he also thinks on his feet and leaves things open to chance.
Of his portrait of Billy Bob Thornton turning his back to the camera to pee on
Buck’s seamless backdrop, the photographer says, “When I present ideas that
are a little out of left field like this, I don’t over explain, I just ask—because the
more you explain, the more likely they are to overthink it and say no. You want
to present an idea like this as if it’s very reasonable and normal.” About his
portrait of Jerry Stiller riding a horse, Buck says, “In trying to make funny
pictures, I often try to think of what I cannot picture this person doing.”
Buck’s photographs are ultimately distinguished by his singular instincts
and interactions with his subjects. He gets people to reveal their vulnerability,
in part because he’s unafraid to reveal his
own. (He seems to delight in recounting some
of his most embarrassing moments on set.)
Buck also has a lot of moxie, and a keen sense
of just how far he can push things. When
Barack Obama arrived on set chewing gum,
Buck mock-scolded him. During the shoot,
he directed the president to give a sidelong
look at the camera. Buck recounts: “[Obama]
said, ‘I don’t do that.’ I shot anyway. I felt
like I’d spent the first 25 years of my career
preparing to defy a sitting president to get the
shot that I wanted.” —DAVID WALKER
LEFT: “Billy Bob Thornton,” 2001.
Buck likes to present his subjects
with an outré idea for a shoot
“as if it’s very reasonable and
normal,” he says.
Ona Leather Bond Street
Ideal for mirrorless or advanced compact cameras, the Leather Bond Street features
full-grain leather with antique brass hardware. Adapted from Ona’s Bowery bag, the
slimmer Bond also features water-resistant canvas and side weather flaps to keep your
gear safe from the elements when you’re pounding the urban pavement. There’s a closed-
cell foam padded interior that’s roomy enough for a camera body (even a compact DSLR body) and
two lenses. You’ll also find a padded divider that can be removed from the bag if you want to use it
to transport your non-photo items. There are four exterior pockets including a zippered pocket on
the back for smartphones and small accessories. Thanks to its detachable strap, you can use the
Bond as an insert in a larger camera bag when you need to lug more
gear. The Bond is sold in black, antique cognac (read: tan) and smoke
(read: gray). It weighs 1. 7 pounds sans your stuff. — GreG Scoblete
Introduction by Sheila Heti,
End notes by Chris Buck
Norman Stuart Publishing
UNEASY BY CHRIS BUCK
PDN SELECTS OUR FAVORITE BOOKS, EXHIBITIONS, GADGETS AND PRODUCTS FOR MAY 2017