November 12, 2014 2:14 PM EST

When Martin Schoeller was sent to the White House to photograph president Bill Clinton in 2000 for the New Yorker, he knew exactly the shot he wanted: the Commander-in-Chief playing golf in the official residence.

“Him putting in the Oval Office was my main goal,” Schoeller tells TIME, saying he wanted to recreate the seemingly casual atmosphere of Kennedy’s “Camelot,” where JFK junior was photographed inside the Resolute Desk. But there were to be two problems. Firstly, Clinton’s main office was off limits, so they had to move to a similar looking space next door. And then a second problem reared its head: the president didn’t have any clubs. What to do?

“I have some right here!” Schoeller told the president excitedly, having brought his own clubs and balls, ever-prepared. Clinton couldn’t resist: he took the sticks and started playing, much to the chagrin of his publicity-savvy entourage. The resulting image is as candid as it is amusing and features in Schoeller’s newest book Portraits, alongside several years of his work.

Martin Schoeller

A native of Germany, Schoeller once worked for Annie Leibovitz, later going it alone to make portraits of people on the streets of New York (he would even set up a working studio on the sidewalk). He got an early break photographing Vanessa Redgrave for Time Out New York and worked for magazines such as Fortune and Worth.

Probably most famous for his close up head shots, he is now a regular photographer for the New Yorker and many other publications and has shot several covers for TIME, including Mark Zuckerberg for Person of the Year in 2010 and the May 21, 2012 “Are You Mom Enough?” story. Schoeller’s photographic method is known to be one of persistence: he shoots until he catches a subject in an unguarded moment. And for some, the resulting work is notable for its equal treatment of subjects of varying stature. Schoeller’s lens, in the words of various commentators, is ever democratic.

“One feels not confronted by the subjects of the pages,” Jeff Koons writes in the foreword to Portraits. “[Instead], one shares an honest moment with each individual and embraces the truthfulness that Martin presents.”


Martin Schoeller is a New York-based photographer whose work has appeared in the New Yorker, GQ and TIME among many others. Portraits is available now. Read Schoeller’s LightBox piece The Photo That Made Me. An exhibition of Schoeller’s work will run at Hasted Kraeutler in New York from Nov. 13, 2014 to Jan. 3, 2015.

Richard Conway is reporter/producer for TIME LightBox


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