Unbeknownst to many, the beauty mogul Francois Nars is also a photographer. Who better to capture someone’s beauty and essence than by having a photographer who is a master makeup artist first and foremost. One who is best known for being able to draw strength, beauty, emotion and magic — in some cases all at the same time — on the faces of his subjects with the touch of a makeup brush or rouge or sometimes just with an application of moisturizer.
For his latest book entitled Persona, Francois has assembled a variety of celebrities to pose for portraits all with the same black backdrop. Persona is a large format book in brilliant glossy paper, giving the portraits an extra special quality. So much so that you may want to rip out your favorite images and bring them to the framers. It is the kind of book that deserves a special spot on a coffee table or a personal library with its cover star Tilda Swinton looking luminous, her dramatic stare inviting you to go ahead and flip through the pages.
There’s the supermodel Giselle Bundchen in all her bare-faced glory making faces for the camera. There’s Christina Ricci with kohl rimmed eyes and dark red lips like a goth Infanta in a black lace ensemble. There’s the milliner Stephen Jones in a photo that borrows inspiration from a Dutch master portrait complete with ruff and top hat. There’s the drag performer Violet Chacki looking like a cross between a sexy pin-up and a socialite bedecked in Chanel.
The portraits range from the dramatic and exaggerated to natural beauty. The subjects either taking on other personas or putting forward their own. Models, movie stars, dancers, architects, chefs, musicians, fashion designers and artists like Candice Bergen, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Isabelle Hupert, Kim Kardashian, Christian Liagre, Linda Evangelista, Riccardo Tisci, Kanye West and of course the glorious and magnificent Tilda Swinton are all featured in this stunner of a book.
Below Francois Nars talks all about the process of making Persona.
How did you decide on the cover? Why Tilda?
I always loved Tilda! She is unique. She is extremely talented and has an immense personality. She is beautiful She has the most incredible face – a perfect face to put on a cover.
Can you talk a bit about your decision to use a black background for all these portraits?
I wanted all talent to be photographed against the same backdrop. I find the depth of the black background elegant, strong, dramatic. I thought the intensity of the blackness would drive the viewers’ eyes to focus on the subject, its character, persona, and truly pop off of the page.
The characters included in the book are from such varied industries. How did you decide which personalities to include in the book?
I wanted to include a diverse and eclectic collection of talent to take on the personas throughout the book. I love to bring together people from different backgrounds, generations, industries, and life experiences.
What did you hope to capture in these images?
When I photograph someone, I try to capture a little part of their soul. I always want to seize something special, something fun. While shooting Persona, I did not want the talent to feel like they were on a job, or it to feel boring. I wanted everyone to have fun, to laugh and to enjoy, and I think they did. They really had no boundaries. I wanted them to have full freedom and revel in the process.
Which of the portraits were the most challenging and why?
Each portrait was a challenge. I wanted to capture a strong image. I had a concept for each talent, but it was important that it fit with their personal identity, and that they felt comfortable.
How did you decide to give someone a dramatic persona versus deciding to keep someone almost bare-faced?
It’s an instinct. I can’t explain it. I had a very particular vision for each of the subjects – something about their personality drew me to see them in a certain way. The process was really a collaboration. They were all very happy with the direction I proposed, and when they presented an idea, I went along with it.
What is it like relinquishing the makeup tools and being behind the camera instead?
There are so many parallels between doing makeup and taking photographs – they are complementary.
What do you hope to achieve with this magnificent book?
I had so much fun creating Persona! I hope everyone photographed in the book also had fun, loves their picture and are happy with the results. I hope that people enjoy the book as much as I enjoyed creating it.
Scroll through for some images from the book.