He’s as lean and chill as a bottle of Lone Star. As stoic as a desert gecko. His southern charm, honed in his boyhood Amarillo, woos all comers. He is the largehearted celebrity portraitist Mark Seliger, veteran of publications such as Vanity Fair, GQ, and Rolling Stone. And next month Abrams publishes Mark Seliger Photographs, a 30-year retrospective of his attempts to bottle starshine. As the images here attest, Seliger’s talent lies in exposing new aspects of overexposed personalities by rendering their inner shimmer. Beyond his “technical and artistic skill,” says actor John Slattery, who has sat for Seliger several times, he stands out because of “his empathy, his emotional intelligence.” Seliger makes every photo session an encounter, his subjects coming away feeling he’s the long-lost pal they’d been meaning to hang with but never found the time. The result? When a magazine needs to shoot Big Game, Seliger’s often the gun for hire. For whimsy and irreverence (to wit, his group portrait of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, nekkid). For vulnerability and tenderness (Lenny Kravitz lying in bed, embracing his daughter, Zoë). For intensity (Kurt Cobain’s disembodied noggin amid a tableau of severed doll heads).
Seliger—no surprise—is a killer guitarist-songwriter in his own right, and plays country rock at a Manhattan barbecue joint. His songs are like his pictures: bold, original, and polished to a high sheen. “As I look through the pages of this book, I see people, not process,” observes singer-songwriter Lyle Lovett. “I see what Mark sees in people. I see them through that kindness in his eyes. . . . I see their trust in him.”