Chimney Sweep

A Photographer Who Likes Inspiration as a Roommate

It is perhaps not surprising that a photographer collects work in his own medium.

But Mark Seliger’s West Village building – a roughly 12,000 square foot building that includes a studio, offices, and his home – offers an unexpectedly large selection of 20th and 21st century images by Irving Penn, Arnold Newman, Edward Steichen, Paul Caponigro, William Wegman and Diane Arbus.

“I never really feel like I am actively going out and collecting,” said Mr. Seliger, 59, who had just finished a Drew Barrymore photoshoot. “I buy photographs that I will never think about selling. I like to live with inspiration. “

If you’ve started a magazine since 1990, you’ve seen Mr. Seliger’s work. Originally from Texas, he moved to New York City and quickly became his own brand. He photographed stylish and tightly composed portraits and fashion images for Rolling Stone and then for a number of Condé Nast titles. But he has always devoted himself to personal photography, some examples of which are presented in his recently published book “Mark Seliger Photographs”. An exhibition of his work at Chase Contemporary in Manhattan recently ended.

Mr. Seliger loves other photographers, and this admiration drives the collection of around 50 pictures with which he lives in the apartment of his building. “I can be a fan,” he said, remembering recently photographing the well-respected William Eggleston. “I’m not one of those guys who hold back.”

He recently talked about how he started. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

What was the first thing you bought here?

In college I had a professor who taught us the history of photography. And one of the first photographers I came into contact with was Arnold Newman. This portrait he made of Igor Stravinsky – a bell rang on me. I didn’t really understand studio photography, but I loved the idea of ​​a slightly environmental, conceptual work. He got Stravinsky to basically imitate the pose of a piano.

How did you buy it later?

It was from the Howard Greenberg Gallery in the early 1990s. I made a $ 200 deposit on it and had to wait a year to pay it off. I believe the total price was $ 1,100.

This spiky frame picture is dramatic.

This is an outtake from Edward Steichen’s series by Martha Graham. It’s very rare; you just can’t find it. It’s from Howard too. Next to it is a picture taken in New Guinea by Irving Penn from his book “Worlds in a Small Room” [1974]. He was traveling with a portable studio in a tent.

How did this Penn takeover come about?

I had a show in LA at Fahey / Klein about 15 years ago and we had some sales straight away. So I took that money and invested it in this photo. After the Newman, I think the second picture I ever bought was this Penn chimney sweep photo from his Small Trades series.

What is so appealing about Penn?

He had this incredible way of simplifying the portrait but making everyone look regal and giving them such honor and respect.

I also see a lot of guitars.

Well, I’m from Texas. I play in a country band called Rusty Truck. We’ve been together for about 20 years now and have a residence at Hill Country Barbecue [in Manhattan]. Sitting down and playing takes a lot of energy out of everyday life – it’s old-school entertainment.

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