After weeks in futile pursuit of an interview with photographer Mark Seliger, I frantically e-mailed this month’s cover subject in late January, as we were sliding into the deadline for our February issue. Merchant replied from Amsterdam, where she was on tour: “Sorry you can’t get through to Mark, he’s one of those busiest-men-in-the-world.”
Judging by the sheer volume of work Seliger accomplishes, I’m inclined to agree, and I’m not sure that the man takes time to sleep. Currently under contract to Conde Nast Publications, where he shoots for magazines like Vanity Fair and GQ, Seliger was the chief photographer at Rolling Stone for more than 10 years, shooting the lion’s share of their covers. His portraits of rock and roll icons and movie stars—Johnny Depp, Kurt Cobain, Johnny Cash, Drew Barrymore, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Leonardo DiCaprio, David Bowie, and the list goes on and on—make him one of the most sought-after shooters in the biz. In addition, Seliger has published several books, including Physiognomy, In My Stairwell, and Merchant’s favorite, When They Came to Take My Father: Voices of the Holocaust, which pairs eyewitness testimony with portraits of survivors.
Seliger and Merchant have a long history; he first photographed her for a profile in US magazine in 1992. In 1998, when Ophelia was released, Seliger shot Merchant for the cover of the album and went on to direct (with Fred Woodward) the video for “Kind and Generous,” as well as a concept film based on the album. (The duo have directed numerous videos and commercials together, working with Elvis Costello, Hole, Gillian Welch, and LL Cool J, among others.)
The image that appears on the cover of the magazine this month is an outtake from a recent photo session for Merchant’s upcoming double album Leave Your Sleep. (The album, a setting of Victorian poetry to music, is due out on April 6. A profile of Merchant and a sneak preview of the project appears on page 40.) According to Merchant, there were two photo shoots. The first (from which the cover image is taken) was a highly stylized affair with multiple wardrobe, hair, and make-up changes, with Merchant assuming the role of characters from the songs. The record label found the photographs too theatrical, however, and a more
subdued black-and-white session followed.