Welcome to The Director’s Cut, an interactive column featuring fashion, beauty and career advice from RGNN Director and Founder, @isabelevabohrer.
We all have them in our wallets. Bills, in American English. Notes, in the UK. But have you ever stopped to think about who takes the portraits donning the pieces of paper that buy you the things you want?
They’re not regular portraits. They’re holographic portraits that require immense precision – after all, governments wouldn’t want anyone to just start producing counterfeit money.
Chris Levine is one of the talented photographers who has mastered this holographic portrait. In fact, his entire work as an artist focuses on light, and he has photographed numerous celebrities, including Kate Moss, Grace Jones, Naomi Campbell, Giorgio Armani – and even His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.
In 2004, Levine was commissioned by the Jersey Heritage Trust to create a holographic portrait to commemorate the Isle of Jersey’s 800th year of allegiance to the Crown. Little did he know that the ensuing chosen portrait, “Equanimity,” would end up on the £100 note in 2012. But more than that, an outtake has become one of the most iconic portraits of a royal to date. It’s the “Lightness of Being,” a shot where Her Majesty had her eyes closed, resting in between photographs.
Kate moss is an icon, and so is this portrait – watch the video and I’ll show you the hologram effect | Video credit: RGNN.org
Now, these world-famous portraits have made their way to Madrid for the first time in an exhibition titled “Chris Levine: Selected Works of a Visionary” at the Spanish capital’s newest exhibition space, the Museo Gran Vía 15. In fact, we got to visit exactly on Kate Moss’ 50th birthday, today, January 16, 2024! It is she who opens the exhibition, followed by portraits of Grace Jones and Banksy, whose face cannot be seen, of course.
But the true treasures are in the basement. The building in which the exhibition space is located used to be owned by a jeweler, and two enormous jewelry vaults can still be found in the subterranean. Careful with your head, the ceilings are low, but ducking is worth it – it is here that you’ll find the “Lightness of Being.”
Watch this video – I will take you along to the museum’s basement, inside two huge vaults, where the Queen’s portraits are being exhibited! | Video credit: RGNN.org
Talk to any photographer and he or she will tell you that there’s a story behind every portrait, behind every sitting. Her Majesty liked the first sitting with Chris Levine. But there was a lot of tension in the room – George Bush was staying at Buckingham Palace at the time, strict security measures were in place, and the press was giving Price Charles a particularly difficult time. When the Queen left, “I just lay on the floor,” Levine told The Telegraph.
But he ended up coming back for a second sitting, and it was then that both “Equanimity” and “Lightness of Being” were shot. The latter really was a happy accident – Levine in fact did not discover the discarded shot until a few years later. “I immediately put a filter on it and the piece was made. It’s as if I channelled it. The only tweak I made to it was to the color of the lipstick and I gave it a contemporary spin,” he said in a Wallpaper magazine interview. He showed it to Mario Testino and decided to make it public. The Queen liked it.
Continue walking and you’ll enter the larger vault, where you’ll find five prints of “Equanimity,” all emanating in their colorful holographic splendor. The museum staff is there to help – it’s best to turn off the lights to fully appreciate them. To get a technical idea of the process involved, Levine explained in that same interview, “to shoot [in] 3D we used a digital camera that moved along a linear track in front of the Queen. I had a normal still camera positioned at the centre of the track to shoot reference images from the central position of the track. Because I also recorded 3D data scans of Ma’am, one of my potential post-production directions was to texture-map a photo from the reference camera onto the computer model.”
Sound complicated? That’s because Chris Levine really is a visionary in the true sense of the word. “Be Light!” is his email signature, as The Telegraph has reported.
There’s a few other, much less famous, works in the exhibition, including “The Geometry of Truth.” It’s hard to trump the portrait of the Queen. But stay tuned, perhaps there’s another royal in the works. When asked if he would like to photograph Prince Charles, Levine said, “I can’t say too much here but suffice it to say it’s in the cards. I’ve already seen the image in my mind’s eye, and it would apply the same creative processes, but the feel of the work will be quite different. Time will tell.”
Plan your visit
Museo Gran Vía 15.
Calle Gran Vía 15. 28013 Madrid.
- Monday through Sunday, 11.00 a.m. to 9.00 p.m.
- Until April 7, 2024.
- Buy tickets online here.
Thank you to the Museo Gran Vía 15 for inviting us.