Billie Eilish, Barack Obama and Brad Pitt portraits to be auctioned for COVID relief

Billie Eilish, photographed in Vanity Fair’s Oscar Portrait Studio on Feb. 9. The portrait will be part of an online auction starting May 28.
(Mark Seliger)
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Celebrity photographer Mark Seliger has, since 1992, made portraits of more than 200 famous actors and musicians for the covers of Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone and other publications. It’s brought him riches in creative satisfaction.

Now Seliger is dipping into his extensive archives to pay it forward. He has teamed up with the L.A.-based advocacy group RAD, short for Red Carpet Advocacy, and Christie’s auction house to raise money for COVID-19 relief.

Seliger donated 25 limited-edition prints to be auctioned off online by Christie’s in a campaign called RADArt4Aid. Bidding will take place May 28-June 12, and 100% of the proceeds will go toward coronavirus-relief charities. Each celebrity chose an organization to receive the funds from the sale of the work in which he or she is pictured.

Brad Pitt chose Meals on Wheels; Bruce Springsteen, Community FoodBank of New Jersey. Jennifer Lopez selected America’s Food Fund. President Barack Obama and Willie Nelson had the same idea: World Central Kitchen.

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“It definitely felt collaborative,” Seliger said of organizing the fundraiser with so many of his subjects. “As a photographer, what you have is your archive, that’s your keepsake. Having an inventory of work, this felt like something I could do immediately.”

Here Seliger reveals the stories behind some of the portraits that will be on the auction block.

Mark Seliger's "Barack Obama, Washington, D.C., 2010."
President Barack Obama, photographed for Rolling Stone on Sept. 17, 2010, at the White House. The photograph was published in the magazine’s January 2017 issue.
(Mark Seliger)

President Obama. “I can’t negate the total curiosity and anxiety of going to the White House and photographing President Obama. I’ve photographed a couple of presidents, but Obama is really special because he’s such a nice person. This was after the first 100 days, so he was really getting his hands dirty at that point, really trying to get everything back on track. I said: ‘What an amazing place to end up in every day.’ And he said: ‘Not necessarily when you’re in three wars and a really difficult economy situation.’ You could see the seriousness in the way he felt about it, the weight on his shoulders. This photograph — I had a small, white backdrop set up in the Rose Garden — I think it’s just a very unique moment where you can actually feel a sense of pensiveness. It’s not that guarded smile that someone gives you. It’s a moment of isolation and pensiveness that is very grounded in being a true leader.”

Lin-Manuel Miranda, photographed on May 5, 2016, in New York, for the June 2016 issue of Rolling Stone. The work is in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery.
(Mark Seliger )

Lin-Manuel Miranda. “This was right before Lin was about to leave ‘Hamilton.’ So it was kind of the last hurrah. We were shooting at my studio. There was this crazy little dirt lot next to my studio that we snuck into and that’s where we shot the whole cast. Then afterwards, we built this 6- or 7-foot-long decking, like scaffolding, that we put on my roof — it gave us a cleaner horizon. There were pretty high winds, things were blowing around, and he’s standing on the roof of this four-story building in costume, on the 6-foot scaffolding, so he was pretty high up in the air with high winds. He looked uncomfortable but he pulled through.”

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Brad Pitt, photographed in Humboldt, Calif., on Aug. 12, 2014, for the November 2014 issue of Details magazine.
Brad Pitt, photographed in Humboldt, Calif., on Aug. 12, 2014, for the November 2014 issue of Details magazine.
(Mark Seliger)

Brad Pitt. “I’ve had the great honor of working with Mr. Pitt over the years from the beginning of ‘Interview With the Vampire,’ and what I love about working together, he’s felt as enthusiastic about making great imagery as I did. And he challenged me: ‘What can we do that feels monumental?’ This is in Humboldt County — Avenue of the Giants in the redwood forest. We decided to have a few of his own motorcycles brought up. We spent two days taking pictures. I was laying on my stomach on the roof of an old SUV moving maybe 30 miles an hour. We did a lot of practicing before he got there. I don’t do my own stunts usually but this one I wanted to. This picture, it’s freedom, it just captures him. I find him to be an artist that allows himself to be part of whatever he commits to, and that gives [the work] a sense of authenticity.”

Jennifer Lopez, photographed at Mark Seliger's New York studio on Sept. 25, 2000, for the February 2001 cover of Rolling Stone.
Jennifer Lopez, photographed at Mark Seliger’s New York studio on Sept. 25, 2000, for the February 2001 cover of Rolling Stone.
(Mark Seliger)

Jennifer Lopez. “This was inspired by a series of images I wanted to do with her for a portfolio. We were in my studio in New York. It was done for Rolling Stone. One of my favorite illustrators and artists, in a certain genre, is Frank Frazetta. This was an homage to Frazetta — [his] powerful warrior women, but very Gothic. They’re always wielding swords and holding shields and fighting boa constrictors on mountaintops. That’s how I thought about her — like a superhero.”

Tom Hanks, photographed on June 6, 1994, for an US magazine cover story that August.
(Mark Seliger)

Tom Hanks. “This was during ‘Forrest Gump,’ the publicity for the movie, and for some reason I had this inclination that having a chimp with him would be an interesting connection to the character. So we had this chimp sitting on his lap. And then, all of the sudden, this chimp’s hands went around his face and he started making these pretty honest, human hand gesticulations. And there was this moment when [his arms] looked like Tom’s arms. I thought it was such a great moment, when the ‘Forrest Gump’ character suddenly made sense in terms of the evolution and curiosity and naivety of the character.

Dr. Dre, left, and Snoop Dogg, photographed on Aug. 2, 1993, in Compton, for the September 1993 issue of Rolling Stone.
Dr. Dre, left, and Snoop Dogg, photographed on Aug. 2, 1993, in Compton, for the September 1993 issue of Rolling Stone.
(Mark Seliger)

Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. “This was 1993, I was photographing Snoop and Dr. Dre. We were in Compton, just on the street. They were in the middle of making a video for ‘The Chronic.’ I’d never been to Compton before. I was so out of my element that Snoop dubbed me ‘Casper the friendly ghost.’ It was the wee hours of the morning and I was worried they’d leave. And Dre’s handler said, ‘Oh no, he’s under house arrest.’ And if you look close, you can see the ankle bracelet. They were amazing to work with; they couldn’t have been gentler, kinder and more generous.”

Seven national grant-making groups have banded together to launch the Artist Relief Fund, which will provide $5,000 payments to artists in dire need.