Life is pretty glamorous for Mark Seliger, a ten-year staff photographer for Rolling Stone who also shoots for the Condé Nast publications GQ and Vanity Fair. There's nary an A-lister or white-hot up-and-comer who hasn't posed for the onetime Houstonian and HSPVA grad. Celebs love him because he transforms them into cooler, sexier, more iconic versions of themselves. (He's made David Bowie into a fairy-tale prince, made Susan Sarandon the ultimate MILF and made Will Farrell, well, handsome.)
That's all well and good, but Seliger is perhaps proudest of his shot of the Jucker brothers, owners of Three Bros. Bakery, whom he knew as a kid in Bellaire. The candid, black-and-white image of Houstonians Max, Sol and Sigmund Jucker is among the 20 Seliger portraits on view in the new exhibit "When They Came to Take My Father," which opens this week at the Holocaust Museum Houston. The show's title is taken from Seliger's 1996 book, which offers intimate photographs of 50 Holocaust survivors. The celeb shutterbug says he felt it necessary to use his gifts to leave a legacy and pay tribute to some real stars.
"I was really touched when I truly understood the concept of what being a survivor meant, and what the Holocaust represented," he says. "When I first saw a tattoo on someone's arm, it was like a dark cloud like a sense of this reality, really dark and really sad." Compelled, Seliger and writer-editors Leora Kahn and Rachel Hager researched and shot the book in a year, with Seliger working nights and weekends. The result was a powerful snapshot into a horrific legacy, which is magnified in the new show. The survivors' gripping stories run alongside Seliger's dramatic photographs. Some describe the day-by-day hell in the concentration camps; others relay the dread of having a hiding place invaded by the German SS troopers.
Seliger recalls an immediate change in his work after he completed When They Came. "I remember I had to shoot Sean Penn for Rolling Stone," he says. "It was a really stripped-down shoot. There was this sense of honesty that came out of shooting Holocaust survivors."
This isn't the only show Seliger will debut in his hometown. In February, images from his book In My Stairwell which captures celebs in offbeat poses will be on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston as part of FotoFest. But for now, he's focused on sharing the story of Holocaust survivors like the local Jucker brothers. He considers it his chance to reach a generation more interested in Hilary Duff than in history. "We live in a world dominated by genocide, and the Holocaust is the poster child for that terminology," he says. "I hope that this helps people become aware of how the world works, more than what they're fed. It's right there for them to find." Meet Seliger Thursday, January 12 at 7 p.m.
Jan. 12-April 2