I know Jack Nicklaus is here somewhere. He must be behind the taxidermied bear. But, wait, he can’t be. I would see at least a pant leg. That leaves one possibility. Jack Nicklaus is in the cabinet. He’s curled up, in a ball, in the second level of the cabinet. Well, that, or he’s actually inside the bear.
I wouldn’t put the bear maneuver past Nicklaus.
This is what runs through your mind when you examine Chris Buck’s strangely stimulating celebrity portrait series, Presence. He gave celebrities like Snoop Dogg (Lion), Robert De Niro and Chuck Close 30 seconds to hide in a scene, then he’d take a photo. So what you’re seeing really is a portrait of someone famous, it’s just that their face isn’t in the portrait.
“Presence is a series of celebrity portraits, which, on the surface, is unsatisfying,” Buck confesses. “But if you stick around, it can get richer, and quite interesting.”
It’s true. The more I look at Presence, the more I want to look. And it’s not just that I can’t figure out where Robert De Niro is hiding. I mean, he has to be flat on his back in that bathtub (or I guess, maybe he could be in that side door, even though that feels a bit like cheating). But then I begin wondering, well is he wearing a suit? Is he all squished in there? Is he giggling or is he quite stern? Is Goodfellas De Niro or Silver Linings Playbook De Niro or Meet the Fockers De Niro hiding in the frame?
I even begin imagining the conversation Buck had with De Niro. Most of these shots piggybacked a commercial project. So maybe Buck is shaking De Niro’s hand, wrapping things up. And then–”Oh, I’m not sure if you’d be into this, but …” It’s the entire narrative that I’m drawn to, including this unseen second of consent in which a celebrity who works so hard to protect their image gives into a zany idea.
“The most interesting moments came when the subjects would choose to hide in a difficult spot when an easier, and perfectly suitable one, was available,” Buck writes. “Devendra Banhart and Sarah Silverman both hid in strange and difficult places, and weirdly, I think that it makes their pictures better.”
And then I wonder, just for a moment, if maybe Nicklaus really did squeeze into that bear carcass.