Chris Levine on creating his iconic portrait of Queen Elizabeth II: “I was the wild card”
Ahead of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations, we spoke to artist Chris Levine about making his iconic hologram portraits of Her Majesty. He reflects on two years of preparation, that fateful day at Buckingham Palace, and lightness of beingthe discard that almost eclipses the original
Multi-disciplinary artist Chris Levine is known for the kind of technical art magic that leaves your jaw dropping, mind boggling and eyes strained. During a career that spanned photography, installation, design, music and fashion, he collaborated with the likes of Grace Jones and Massive Attack and captured the image of everyone from Kate Moss to the Dalai Lama in his distinctive format. of light box.
But he is perhaps best known for one of the most astonishing portraits of Queen Elizabeth II ever made, commissioned to commemorate 800 years of Jersey’s loyalty to the Crown in 2004. Even more recognizable is an image that emerged from an outtake of said charge. lightness of being he captured the monarch with her eyes closed as she rested between takes. The resulting hologram is meditative, ethereal, and hyper-contemporary, and in the long and fruitful history of royal portraiture, it’s totally remarkable.
Wallpaper*: When you were first commissioned by the Jersey Heritage Trust to photograph the Queen, what was your response?
Chris Levine: I got a call out of the blue and I honestly thought it was a friend kidding me. He had photographed rock stars and had been asked to film Indian gurus, but the queen seemed over the top. It was only when I was called to a meeting at the National Portrait Gallery with [former director] Charles Saumarez Smith and the Jersey Heritage Trust that it all became very real.
The portrait commission was to commemorate 800 years since the island of Jersey seceded from France and pledged allegiance to the Crown. It turned out that I was the wild card in a list of well-known artists introduced to Jersey by artist Gordon Young, who was appointed to curate the historical commission.
Equanimity / Queen Elizabeth II by Chris Levine (artist), Rob Munday (holograph) © Jersey Estate Trust 2004
W* How much time did you have to prepare and how did you prepare?
CL: A date was set in the diary giving me about two years to prepare for the shoot. I had a lot of time to process the conceptual development and what I wanted to achieve. I considered several different light-based approaches, from LED display, electroluminescent film, different forms of holograms, and laser etching on glass.
I anticipated that there would be a lot of input from the Palace and the commissioning agency as to what needed to be conveyed in the work. I thought props and suggestive visuals would be needed, for example the three Jersey leopards or Mont Orgueil in the background. It just so happened that everything was left entirely to me, including what Her Majesty wore. A week before the shoot I received a call from Angela Kelly [the Queen’s personal assistant and senior dresser] to ask what I would like Her Majesty to wear. I had to design my theme, which involved going through a selection of clothing and selecting the Crown Jewels Diadem.
W*: Do you remember how you felt that day at Buckingham Palace?
CL: We had three days in the Yellow Room to set up the equipment. I had been pretty nonchalant about the shoot until the day of the shoot and got really nervous. We only had one session and we had to put it in the can. There were many things that could go wrong and we were convinced that there was some kind of electronic interference in the room that was interfering with our electronic devices. George Bush was staying at the Palace and we wondered if some surveillance technology was causing the interference. Luckily it was resolved just before the Queen arrived. She was wearing the dress that she had been holding up two days before when I told Angela that I think this is the one. That was a surreal moment.
W* What did the technical part of the commission involve?
CL: Much of my work is collaborative on a technical level. I can see what my visual and artistic goals are and select the best people to execute my vision. I worked on many hologram designs and a handful of pulsed laser portraits with Rob Munday and Jeff Robb and chose them as my technical team and the camera was custom built by them. Ultimately, I worked with Dr. John Perry in the US to make the last large format holographic stereogram that was unveiled by Prince Charles at the Jersey Museum.
W*: lightness of beingdepicting the Queen with her eyes closed, was made years later based on an outtake of the Equanimity portraits How did this come about and why do you think it still resonates?
CL: To shoot [in] 3D we used a digital camera that moved along a linear track in front of the Queen. It had a normal fixed camera placed in the center of the track to take reference images from the center position of the track. Since I also shot 3D data scans of Ma’am, one of my potential post-production directions was to texture map a reference camera photo onto the computer model.
There was a lot of light on Ma’am as we were filming and each step of the moving camera took time to reposition and recalibrate. I was worried that it would be awkward between passes and suggested to the lady that she rest between shots. She closed her eyes and we captured the moment. Some years later, she was going through the outtakes from the sessions and I came across the shot and was blown away. I immediately put a filter on it and the piece was done. It’s like she channels it. The only touch up I did was the color of the lipstick and I gave it a contemporary twist.
I think that with his eyes closed he somehow takes the viewer into a spiritual realm and from there he touches people. It goes beyond the physical and transmits a sensation of lightness, of being. The title came to me in meditation. Mario Testino told me that it was the most beautiful image of the Queen he had ever seen and inspired me to show it to the world. My exhibition ‘The lightness of being’ was in 2008 and the rest is history. The NPG said it was the most evocative image of a royal by any artist. §