Interview by Drew Doggett
My work has been inspired by so many photographers who have come before me, different genres and styles, and from my own beginnings in fashion photography and portraiture. Marco Grob is one of my inspirations, his work prompting my own exploration into portraiture, particularly in remote areas of the world. I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Marco to chat about his practice and new book, Money, People, Politics. Marco has photographed the world’s most recognizable faces, including Steve Jobs, Stephen Hawking, and George Clooney.
DD: You started your career in still life and landscape photography. What drew you to focus on portrait photography, and how has this influenced your aesthetic and approach to the medium?
MG: Portraiture was always part of my repertoire, but for many years I treated it as a hobby. I knew this was one of the things that I could do that came easily. It just worked. I’m interested in the face beyond the genetics. I find it fascinating that a laugh can wipe away all information from a subjects face, everything embedded is taken out. In a person’s face you can interpret their social class, the way the eat, what they drink, whether they smoke, or if they are happy or not. One can learn so much about another person, and I’ve always been drawn to that and to question why that is. When I was 37, I thought I had better give portraiture a real shot. Still life photography teaches you about textures and provides you with a deeper understanding of lighting, how it interacts with certain surfaces and at what angle. I still call on these skills when needed, I try and keep my approach and lighting very simple, using one hand-held light when possible.
DD: Part of your portrait style is to photograph your subjects up close, getting very close and entering their personal space. Tell us about why you so often choose to capture your subjects in this way?
MG: We all have our default position on how close we come into contact with people. When we push that boundary –even by one inch– there will always be a reaction. There’s an intimacy. By coming close, I am making myself a witness to their lives. All of our experiences are engraved into our first line of communication, which is our face. I aim to make these faces, and their experiences eternal.
DD: You’ve taken countless images of celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Lady Gaga and political figures including several presidents. Did you set out to shoot high profile subjects or was it a natural progression for you?
MG: I think it was a natural progression for me. Sometimes I seek them out, sometimes they come to me, I really like to shoot a good mix between the famous and non famous subjects. I primarily see people as simply subjects, whether celebrity or not. We have rulers and are ruled over, and I want to show both sides of that line.
I say this often, but I truly believe that from the moment you carry a camera, you carry a responsibility. There are so many stories out there to be told, locally or globally, and a camera is an extremely powerful weapon. Personally, I feel as if I have to take more initiative and look out for the everyday people over the celebrities. History has shown that the advent of cameras and rise in everyday documentation make it harder for people of power to act irresponsibly, take for instance the genocide in the Congo. I like to think I do my part to encourage this documentation.
DD: Like me, you also use video to add another dimension to your work. How has this influenced your aesthetic and approach to your subjects?
MG: I’ve been working with film as a medium since the mid 90s, but just held off on exposing it until I felt confident that it was worth it. Whereas, in still photography I might work with my subject for a few minutes, in film, I am able to really ask in-depth questions. The combination of picture, sound, and music gives so much more dimension to the story, it feels more complete.
Photography is very incomplete. Photography itself is a form of edit. You decide what is important based on a single moment. Film is similar in this respect, as a storyteller, we each have our own points of view and we make journalistic decisions about how to represent our subjects. I try to stay objective, which in some instances is harder than others.
DD: You believe that “when you carry a camera, you carry responsibility”, how much research do you do before you shoot a subject? What is your process before the big day?
MG: Years ago, I would do much more research and think more about what I wanted to do. Nowadays, I want to feel what I do in the moment, so I spend less time researching. I may have a basic idea in terms of lighting, I’m always ready with a few different options if something doesn’t work. But the rest you can’t possibly know. It doesn’t do any good to force your concepts on your subjects, it’s about the person and what he or she brings along.
A great example of this was my recent shoot with Bill Murray. He was incredibly giving and I had to really feel out what he would be up for in the moment. I cannot make these decisions alone, I like to start with a blank canvas.
DD: Congratulations on your book Money, People, Politics. What is the meaning behind the choice in title?
MG: The title came together organically, because that’s pretty much what the book is about; money, people and politics. It’s essentially my personal view on the world, my front row seat in history and time, and what interests me. I’ve picked subjects that I love and images that mean a lot to me.
With money you have fame, as well as rulers and hierarchy. There are people who have changed the world or who are trying to explain the world we live in. My absolute favorite subjects are those who put their energy into life to change society undoubtedly for the better.
DD: The book covers a 10 year history of photographing everyone from Steve Jobs, to Stephen Hawking, to the Dalai Lama, and the Hollywood elite (George Clooney is on the cover), how humbling is it have shared a space with the most influential people in the world?
MG: Whether it be campaigning for civil rights, making huge technological contributions like Steve Jobs did, or Stephen Hawking explaining why we are here and where we could possibly go in the future, the book has a nice collection of inspiring people who are representative of the time we live in. However, I must admit that the book is incomplete. I should have started in my teenage years and I could probably go until I’m 200 years old. It’s like fighting windmills.
It is extremely humbling to be spending time with people who are making huge differences in the world, but honestly, it’s much more humbling to be a hospital spending time with children who’ve been hurt from landmines or sharing a quiet moment with the last man on the moon. Politicians I don’t give a damn about, and frequently question their motives.
Spending time with my favorite band, or guitar player, is of course a thrilling experience, nobody is immune from that feeling you get being with someone you respect or admire. It’s a beautiful energy, something that is very touching.
DD: Your book was created in collaboration with creative direction from Charles Blunier, could you tell us a bit about how that came about.
MG: When I decided to do the book, I invited some first class creative directors to make a draft and Charles’ vision, of all the people I had approached, was my overall favorite. Charles was the first person to tell me go to NY make portraiture, so collaborating with an old friend turned into a really amazing experience.
It is so important for my craft to have something tangible at the end of the day, something you can touch, smell, and feel. These days, everyone is a superstar on the internet, not that many people print their artwork, which is a shame because you see things in print that you cannot on a screen. I’m grateful for Charles creative direction, and the final product.
DD: The book accompanies a retrospective at the Museum of National History in Denmark, can you tell us about how this came about and how Denmark’s royal family are involved?
MG: I was hesitant to print the book unless it was just perfect, so it took a very long time for me to get it to a point where I was happy, and when I finally printed it, everything happened so fast. I received a request from the Museum in February this year to do this exhibition, and I said yes without realizing they meant THIS august, as opposed to August 2017!
It was a tremendous amount of attention in a very short time span. Of equal importance was how many friends and supporters from all over the world were at the opening, it was really amazing. The exhibit is essentially a variety of my work and projects. There are images not in the book and others from the new book. It was so difficult to narrow down, especially when recognizing that there’s only so much you can show people before it can get overwhelming. As an artist, it’s such an important process because it forces you to think about what’s important to you here-and-now, as well as what’s important for your future. It’s important for your personal growth to think about this.
In the wake of the exhibition, I was asked to shoot the future king of Denmark, Prince Frederik and his wife, Mary, Crown Princess of Denmark. It was one of those moments where I asked myself, “How did I get here?” It was a real honor.
DD: Your book includes quotes from Astronauts and presidential candidates, do you have a particular favourite?
MG: I feel incredibly lucky that I have these quotes. I really cherish them all. I’m especially fond of the funny ones, one particular quote I like is when Joe Biden called me “the quickest son of a bitch out there