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Designing ‘Presence. The Invisible Portrait’ for Chris Buck

A few years ago I took one for the team by agreeing to judge the Houston Art Director’s Guide awards so my wife would be able to return to Texas to see some of her friends.  Before the event all the judges and a small crowd assembled at a gallery outside of Houston for a meet and greet.  I roamed around the gallery making small talk with everyone and eventually found this tall, thin man who didn’t seem like everyone else.  He introduced himself as Chris Buck and when I asked what he did for a living he simply said “I take photos”. We found out we were both from New York and bonded over that while we waited for a short show and tell from all the judges to begin. When it was Chris’ turn to do his short autobiographical presentation I found out that Chris Buck was actually the photographer behind creating some of the best celebrity portraits I had admired for years.

Since then Chris and I have become friends and about two years ago we met in a bar in New York for drinks after work where after some small talk he produced a mock-up of a book he wanted to publish and wanted my thoughts. The concept was a counter-intuitive and conceptual take on the search for celebrity where he had photographed some of the biggest celebrities in the world including Robert De Niro, Chevy Chase, Dave Matthews, Jack Black, Chuck Close, William Shatner and many more so they were in the space that was photographed but not actually visible. Had had witnesses sign statements attesting to the fact that the person was actually in the photo but not actually visible. I immediately thought it was one of the most brilliant ideas I had ever heard. It was completely contrary to what every other photographer in the world would have done given access to that list of celebrities and because of that it was pure Chris Buck. I think Cindy Sherman probably summed it up best when she said “The whole point of having your portrait taken is to promote your commodity – your face – and I love how this series is the exact opposite of that”.

I thought the idea was genius but was floored when Chris asked me to design the book because it was going to be the first book he had ever published. Over the next few months we visited independent book stores and kicked around some ideas for how to handle the design. In the end we decided that project was going to be challenging enough for a lot of people so we wanted the design the stay out-of-the-way to let the concept and the photos take center stage. This was translated in to the design by creating a repeating cadence of a simple white left page with the witness statement where the name of the witness was written by hand, the celebrities name was type set and the witness signature written at the bottom. This provided us with the repeating visual structure that grounded the design by giving it the constant of the repeating witness statement with the uniqueness of the hand written name, signature of the witness, the celebrity name and photograph changing in each layout.

The book is available now in a very limited run so if you are interested you better buy it now. If you want more details about Chris Buck and his work you can browse his website and if you want more details about the book you can check out two recent articles about it in The Huffington Post and on Cool Hunting.

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I’m a Creative Director, Designer, Leader, Blogger and Speaker. For over 15 years I’ve created the strategy, concepts and designs for award-winning integrated global advertising campaigns, multiple global Fortune 500 brands and innovative digital experiences for web sites, mobile apps, wearables, global social media platforms and emerging technologies.

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