Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Staring in the eye of celebrity at the BAFTA Behind The Mask Exhibition

BAFTA Behind The Mask Exhibition - Geek Girl Kerensa bryant blog header

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but in this case, it’s in the eye of the BAFTA holder, as this wonderful Behind the Mask portrait exhibition at London’s Somerset House reveals BAFTA winning (and nominated) celebrity faces, laid bare to photographer Andy Gotts’s camera lens.

BAFTA Behind The Mask Exhibition Print Emboss - Geek Girl Kerensa bryant blog headerThe exhibition, or ‘photographic census’, covers over one hundred film actors and actresses to have graced the British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards ceremonies since 1954 (not bad going as the charity was formed in 1947).

Photographer Andy Gotts has a zero-Photoshop policy, meaning every hair, follicle, tender wrinkle and facial contour is where it belongs, unedited and thoroughly au naturel. Literally a ‘warts and all’ approach. I adore this fact. In an age where the average glossy, high-fashion magazine front cover has been manipulated to present an ideal that you and I will never attain, Gotts has captured all of these personalities, on the most part quite evidently free from makeup and clear of the stylist's chair. I found myself scanning these faces, at centimetres distance from them, taking in their DNA, stunning in their honesty.

As the exhibition name suggests, Behind the Mask works well on two counts. One being the iconic BAFTA logo associated with the charity which I always think is in someway an homage to the Greek theatrical masks of Melpomene and Thalia, and two, the idea that actors and actresses put on their characters like outfits, and shed the character mask and nuances at the end of each performance.

The majority of us will never be able to eyeball a film celebrity in such a way, but this exhibition allows just that – up front and personal access to the people who wear a mask for their day job. One dimensional in format, but a menagerie of skin tones, filters and beautiful composition adds life to these portraits.

It's easy to think that each of the subjects in Gotts' prints have just put on a mask for that single shot, hanging in front of you. But stood there, pausing for thought, it's incredible what you notice. Ralph Feinnes covers most of his face, perhaps in a bid for gaining control, almost turning the camera aspect on the photographer, framing him up instead with his hands. One of my favourites in the collection is the surprising lack of visage in Samuel L Jackson's portrait, choosing to have the back of his head and neck pictured; kooky or original, I'm undecided, but it stood out from his exhibition neighbours. There are many perceived flaws on show, I mentioned the lines and the skin imperfections, but there are also the genuinely flawless complexions of Charlize Theron and Thandie Newton who, it seems, really are as finished and immaculate as the perfume and beauty adverts portray. Looks aren't everything. It's also the feeling the portraits emit. For example, a lot of laughter fills the air and whitewashed walls between the portraits of comedy actors Timothy Spall, John Cleese and Brenda Blethyn. The maniacal gurn of Heath Ledger is also frankly a little unnerving, as both his choice for such a portrait, and knowing what sadly became of his life. Then there are some people who just have a face you can't stop staring at; you don't know why, but you are drawn to something in the skinned architecture, the glint of the eye, the balance of symmetry. That stand out face for me was Ben Kingsley. Funny really as I really haven't seen many of his films (from his vast filmography), and it's not a chemical thing, but the portrait is just, powerful.
  • Helen Mirren’s ‘regrettable’ hand tattoo
  • The film quotes on the walls (play my BAFTA Film Quiz)
  • The casually dressed to the premier-ready apparel choices
  • The photo opportunity with the giant BAFTA mask in the entrance hallway
  • The actors/ actresses lost deep in thought 
  • The softened, blurred lines of Kelly Macdonald and Julie Christie
  • Robin Williams mid-laugh
  • Finger fishing Michael Palin
  • Helena Bonham-Carter's choice of headwear 
  • Alan Rickman under some sort of Harry Potter styled curse
  • Emma Thompson, channelling a spirited The Sound of Music glee
  • Kevin Kline childlike, thoughtful, in the naughty corner
  • The grunge border effect on Johnny Depp's portrait
  • The strength in Kirk Douglas, still believable that he could lead an army to freedom

Exhibition photos:

BAFTA Behind The Mask Exhibition - Sir Ben Kingsley - Geek Girl Kerensa Bryant
Sir Ben Kingsley, photographed by Andy Gotts
BAFTA Behind The Mask Exhibition - Christopher Lee - Geek Girl Kerensa Bryant
Sir Christopher Lee, photographed by Andy Gotts
BAFTA Behind The Mask Exhibition - Billie Whitelaw - Geek Girl Kerensa Bryant
Billie Whitelaw, photographed by Andy Gotts
BAFTA Behind The Mask Exhibition - Miriam Margolyes - Geek Girl Kerensa Bryant
Miriam Margolyes, photographed by Andy Gotts
BAFTA Behind The Mask Exhibition - Hugh Jackman, Kenneth Branagh, Liz Smith - Geek Girl Kerensa Bryant
Hugh Jackman, Sir Kenneth Branagh, Liz Smith photographed by Andy Gotts
BAFTA Behind The Mask Exhibition - Marion Cotillard, Julia Roberts, Christoph Waltz - Geek Girl Kerensa Bryant
Marion Cotillard, Julia Roberts, Christoph Waltz photographed by Andy Gotts


Behind The Mask exhibition is FREE and runs until 7th Feb 2014 at Somerset House, and then relocates to BAFTA HQ at 195 Piccadilly until the BAFTA awards day of 16th Feb 2014. Give yourself at least an hour to see all the portraits, more if you really want to spend time with Sir Kenneth, Tilda and company.


Knowing how to make a foot-traffic stopping scene, in true celebratory fashion BAFTA will be beaming all of the portraits featured in the exhibition onto their HQ walls in London for all to see during 16th-17th Feb 2014. Expect Instagram to be awash with close ups of Keira’s reduced pout and Michael Caine’s spectacled stare.


"I thought to myself...this is Spartacus's house!"

Lovely audio of Gotts talking about photographing screen legends:

Audio of Gotts talking about his Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon themed Degrees photographic adventure:

Posted by: Geek Girl Kerensa Creswell-Bryant
Geek Girl, Updated at: 23:11