Penelope’s Hungry Eyes
Lillian Bassman, NYC, 1999 © Abe Frajndlich
Robert Lebeck, Hamburg, 1990 © Abe Frajndlich
Ralph Gibson, NYC, 1996 © Abe Frajndlich
Peter Beard, NYC, 1997 © Abe Frajndlich
Arnold Newman, NYC, 1988 © Abe Frajndlich
Eikoh Hosoe, Tokyo, 1989 © Abe Frajndlich
Andres Serrano, NYC, 2005 © Abe Frajndlich
Norman Parkinson, NYC, 1989 © Abe Frajndlich
William Wegman, NYC, 2005 © Abe Frajndlich
Harold Edgerton, Cambridge, Massachussets, 1986 © Abe Frajndlich
Alfred Eisenstadt, NYC, 1988 © Abe Frajndlich
Elliott Erwitt, NYC, 1988 © Abe Frajndlich
Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Mexico City, 1988 © Abe Frajndlich
Yousuf Karsh, NYC, 1989 © Abe Frajndlich
Annie Leibovitz, Sagaponack, New York, 1991 © Abe Frajndlich
Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Princeton, New Jersey, 1988 © Abe Frajndlich
Edouard Boubat, Paris, 1989 © Abe Frajndlich
Vik Muniz, Brooklyn, New York, 2005 © Abe Frajndlich
Gilbert & George, NYC, 1991 © Abe Frajndlich
Penelope's Hungry Eyes cover published by Schirmer / Mosel
We overlooked one of the most important photography books of last year: Abe Frajndlich’s Penelope’s Hungry Eyes, published by Lothar Schirmer:
The genesis of this book goes back to when I arrived at Minor White's house for a live-in workshop in the fall of 1970 and my first task was to organize his photography library. As I took one book after another up to my third floor room, I was mesmerized every night by the plethora of unforgettable images. That was when I learned that photography had a relatively short history, and besides the incredible icons in that history, I was struck by the fact that most of the practitioners were anonymous and unknown except to a miniscule circle. Unconsciously I must have started to dream of changing that fact, and widening that circle. More than four decades later, you are holding the fruition of that dream in your hands.
In 1973 John Szarkowski, in his landmark book Looking at Photographs, wrote that “since its invention, photography has been the world’s ubiquitous picture making system.” If that statement was true only in a broad sense then, it’s literally descriptive of our situation now. Nearly everyone walks around with one or more cameras, even inside their portable phones, rarely not making pictures. We’re not so much living in the moment as snapping in the moment. It’s almost as if the mere act of making images validates our being. “I snap, therefore I am.” But for a certain kind of photographer the blink of the camera’s shutter is more than just a marker. It’s a fateful interaction, a step in a process that can change the way we perceive the world.
Beginning with the show Masters of Light mounted at the Museum Ludwig in Cologne in the fall of 1990, this project has now taken more than twenty years. As the original catalogue grew slowly into this book, it was at first named after the initial exhibit, and then tentatively called Looking at Photographs, as a play on Szarkowski’s title. Hungry Eyes is a more recent attempt to describe the content, and I think a better match. Photographers are never satisfied, always wanting more. This is true for the photographers pictured here, and true of me as well—always hungry for visual experience and for those rare delicacies, those few shots out of all the miles of exposed film that are worth printing. And now we need to add those gigabytes of digitally exposed material, and the match remains the same. Always easy to snap the shutter, never easy to get an image.
I begin to feel as Odysseus must have felt throughout his journey, embarking for a distant Troy, reluctantly risking his own life to chase down another man’s wayward wife. Like the wily Greek—who was Ulysses to the Romans and much later transmogrified by James Joyce’s novel, becoming the peripatetic Leopold Bloom, the long journey has finally brought me full circle, to home and to the completion of this book. Only the truly international man, at once foreign and native to many places, could complete such a voyage. And then I think of Penelope—the muse, the soul, who possesses the hungriest eyes of all, satisfied only by the return of the beloved. Hopefully Penelope, and the reader, will find some satisfaction here, in Penelope’s Hungry Eyes.
The saga began in 1988 when Peter Howe, the picture editor at Life magazine at the time, asked me to photograph the “Grandes Dames of Photography,” influential figures like Berenice Abbot, Barbara Morgan, Louise Dahl-Wolfe, and Ruth Bernhard. In the middle of the shootings I began to feel that Howe was exercising reverse sexism, by excluding the “old boys,” and so he gave me a green light to photograph Aaron Siskind, Harry Callahan, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Andreas Feininger, Alfred Eisenstadt, and others; and I was on my way. Six of these images were published in what was then billed as the 150th Anniversary of Photography issue, dating its inception erroneously from the 1839 invention by Louis Daguerre.
Kodak then picked up the baton for me after the issue appeared in the fall of 1988, giving me a two year grant to go around the world to continue the series, picking and choosing my own list of significant photographers. After these Life photos appeared, Kodak continued to send me checks at intervals; the project progressed and a year passed before I sat down with anyone from Kodak. The go-between with my benefactors was Eliane Lafont, director of the Sygma Photo Agency, which represented my image and story resale at the time. Two years later I had completed dozens of portraits of seminal twentieth century photographers. An exhibition of 110 prints was mounted at the Museum Ludwig in conjunction with the international photo fair Photokina 1990. Hans-Georg Pospischil, the art director of the influential weekend magazine of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Germany’s equivalent of the New York Times Magazine, designed the installation of the exhibition of my 30ʺ X 40ʺ portraits of 55 photographers, along with examples of original work by each of them. The show was mounted on extraordinarily heavy 4′ X 8′ steel slabs that had been weathered outdoors for six weeks and then lit throughout with the soft boxes that I used as my principal light source for my subjects. No expense was spared in those heady days as the late 1980s gave way to the 1990s. The steel slabs rested on I-beams running the entire length of the exhibition space. The show then travelled to five other museums in Germany, only ending its tour in 1997 when it finished at the Fotogalerie Kulturamt Friedrichshain, in what had been East Berlin, close to remnants of the Wall. Unfortunately after the installation at the Ludwig, cost constraints made it impossible to move the immensely heavy steel slabs to the other venues. The elaborate construct was used only once.
The Kodak grant allowed me to take pictures all over Europe, travel to Japan, and pursue significant photographers on numerous trips across America. Of course, I wasn’t able to photograph everyone I would have liked to meet and portray. The list of “masters” of the medium is very long, and there will always be someone who absolutely should have been included, but was not. I take all the blame myself for whatever gaps and omissions there may be.
In the history of this medium, there are so many unforgettable pictures—like the self-portrait of a young Ilse Bing and her Leica, looking at herself and at us simultaneously, while also hiding behind the camera. Or a little boy levitated by a halo of light in the town of Scanno in Abruzzi, walking as if floating between black-clad crones, seized by Mario Giacomelli in an instant of meta-recognition (to which some post-visualization darkroom magic has been added). Or Aaron Siskind’s platonic glove that seems to float in the deepest reaches of intergalactic space. Or the bullet simultaneously entering and leaving an apple caught not by William Tell, but by Harold Edgerton, Papa Flash of the photo world. Or Bill Brandt’s portrait of Francis Bacon under a black mid-twentieth century sky on Primrose Hill in London. Or the Cartier-Bresson puddle-jumper mimicked so perfectly in the poster behind him. I could go on and on, as could any visually attuned person. From the time I first started to make photographs in 1970, I was enthralled by such images and by the individuals who saw so deeply in an evanescent instant and were able to use a mechanical device to communicate that vision. The books I pored over in the early days, like Bill Brandt’s Shadow of Light and Perspective of Nudes, or Henri Cartier-Bresson’s Decisive Moment and The Europeans, or Eikoh Hosoe’s Barakei, Embrace, or Kamaitachi, fired my imagination to meet and photograph those people and get a step closer to the magic that makes that ineffable, mysterious, ambiguous thing—the photograph—happen.
There are numerous photographers from a slightly more distant past who I would have loved to have met and photographed, but of course did not. High on that list would be the portraitist Nadar, whose piquant sense of humor can be discerned in the self-portrait he makes of himself and his wife in a studio simulation of balloon flight; and Alfred Stieglitz, whose incredibly forthright graphic nudes of his muse, Georgia O’Keefe, still continue to shock; Edward Weston, who could transform a pepper or a body into the Platonic ideal of that object or subject; and Weegee (Arthur Fellig) and Diane Arbus, whose exotic, eccentric, sidelined New Yorkers became the true aristocrats of the Naked City.
Practicing photography for now more than forty years, I have become aware of how seldom a photograph—a truly successful photograph—is made. How easy it is to click the shutter, and how nearly impossible to seize something significant through that act. The clicks that have mattered, historically speaking, were so few and far between, even for the masters. I became intrigued with somehow following the trail and breathing the air of those who had been graced with more than one “keeper.” It became a challenge and a quest to meet and make images of the image makers. Many graciously collaborated in the process, while others were less enthused (the attitude is impressed on the film; maybe you can spot them). But I want to thank all of the distinguished subjects collected here for the amazing images they have bequeathed to us, and most of them I also would like to thank personally for giving of themselves and their time so generously to this project. And also thanks and profound apologies to those who sat for my camera but, because of space and cohesion issues, have had to be cut from the extensive cavalcade in this book.
As I studied these photographers’ work and lives, it dawned on me that even the longest and most illustrious career was known and represented in the popular mind by only a very few images. Those would appear in almost every anthology, defining the photographer for the public. And as I sometimes taught in workshops, I would ask the young students whether they could commit to a medium and a life that if they worked for sixty or seventy years, they might leave a residue of barely a handful of pictures? And even that could happen only if you were not merely visually astute, but lucky enough to have a few images anthologized long decades after your demise. I would get incredulous stares and would explain that common to all these photographers was the joy of going into the world, the street, the studio or the darkroom, and making images on a daily basis, and realizing that only a few in a lifetime were worth keeping and sharing. Of course, as in Zen, it’s the process and not the goal that’s important. The photographers I met during this project exuded love and joy for all aspects of working in their chosen medium.
Perhaps it is well to keep another circumstance in mind. At the time that I started to make pictures, photography was not being done for financial rewards, except by commercial photographers. There was no money in art photography even as recently as 1970. Most of the people making fine art photography supported themselves by teaching. It is now actually hard to remember that at that point one could barely even give photographs away, to say nothing of actually selling them. Photographs were done out of love and passion and a need to communicate a vision with others. Selling them at that point was almost unheard of. When I started in 1970, one could buy Imogen Cunningham prints for $25, Edward Weston for $75, Ansel Adams for the then stratospheric sum of $125, and Minor White for $65—but only $25 if you were one of his students. During Edward Weston’s working life he never sold a print for more than $10. But somehow he and the rest of his generation of photographers were passionate and stubborn enough to persevere against the odds. They each loved the fix and the high that making the image would give them. And if this drug language makes photography sound like a habit, for the best of them it certainly was, or they could not have sustained a life of working and struggling with it.
Those who entered this field back then clearly didn't do it for financial rewards but responded to a deeper and higher calling. It is also interesting to note that in 1970 there were still photographers alive, like Imogen Cunningham, Berenice Abbott, Ansel Adams or Man Ray, who were linked back directly to the very beginning of the medium. Abbott, for example, worked as an assistant to Eugene Atget; and Atget’s birth in 1857 occurred only thirty years after Niepce took the very first photo, and less than twenty after the first daguerreotype. Atget as a young man certainly knew people who were around before photography even existed.
And with this medium, innovation and technical advances have always come at a furious pace. Joseph Nicephore Niepce, born in 1765, managed to fix the first image—an eight hour, almost cubist looking complex image of a house in the moving shadow of the sun, in 1826—and was not acknowledged in his lifetime for his achievements. He was soon eclipsed by both William Henry Fox Talbot in England with his photogenic drawings and later his calotypes, a positive/negative process that allowed multiple prints, and by Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre in France and his widely disseminated invention of the daguerreotype, both in 1839, which made unique prints on a silver plate. Almost immediately upon Daguerre’s death in 1851, the wet collodion process was invented by Frederick Scott Archer, and slowly the medium became technically more accessible.
In the century and a half since then, changes followed one another almost faster than they could be absorbed. Afloat in a sea of innovations and pictures of every kind, the practitioners in this book, those who have completed their visual journeys and the ones who still voyage with us, have contributed something more necessary: a non-stop banquet of imperishable moments for our ravenously hungry eyes.
As for Penelope, the ever faithful, she is metaphorically the camera through whose aperture this miraculous world has been brought in for our individual and communal delight.
Writings about the photographers
Manuel Alvarez Bravo1902-2002b. February 4, 1902, in Mexico City, Mexicod. October 19, 2002, in Mexico CityPhotographed in Mexico City in May 1988Alvarez Bravo had a career that stretched for at least eighty years. He was one of the really powerful Latin American voices in photography and was a friend and influence to all kinds of people. He was doing mature work by the early twenties and became friends with Diego Rivera and Frieda Kahlo, who lived around the corner from him. When Edward Weston came to Mexico City, Bravo connected with him in the early twenties. By the late twenties, when Cartier-Bresson came to Mexico, they connected up and went out shooting together. He was part of a very international, very tight-knit, photographic community. He survived two or three wives, one of whom, Lola Alvarez, was also quite a well-known photographer. He did significant portraits of her. These photographs were taken in the courtyard of his home, which he often used as a setting for his photographs of nudes. It was clearly something that kept him going. He began making nudes in the late twenties and was still at it a week before he died. I remember him at his opening at the Museum of Modern Art for his 100th birthday. There was a party afterwards that went until past 1:00 in the morning, and he was there and kicking—he wasn’t going home early! He had probably taken his siesta in the afternoon and was ready to party.
When I took these pictures he was in his eighties and had mellowed a bit, but his work always had a brash edge to it. I tried to suggest that with the rough texture of the plaster on the wall behind him and the cactuses in the photograph shown here. He did a well-known self-portrait looking at himself through the prison-like lattice of the window in this picture.
One of Bravo’s strongest pictures shows a man who was shot on the street with blood running out of his head onto the sidewalk. When I went to photograph him I wanted to buy that picture, but he wouldn’t sell it to me—he didn’t want an American to have it. Or so he said to me. So I ended up buying a nude from him—a platinum print. I always remembered the print of the shot man on the wall of the home of my friend Peter Bunnell. Somehow Bravo thought that the picture’s violence would reflect badly on Mexico if he sold me a print.
Lillian Bassman b. June 15, 1917, in Brooklyn, New YorkLives and works in New York CityPhotographed in New York City on August 25, 1999Lillian Bassman was a fashion photographer in New York from the 1940s through the 1960s. Much of her work was published in Harper’s Bazaar. Like Hans Namuth, she studied with Alexey Brodovitch, and her work resembles his in that there’s often blurring, movement, and very high contrast in her images. At the same time, they’re very stylized, elegant, and pure in feeling. Her husband, Paul Himmel, was also a photographer, but dropped it to become a psychotherapist. Her son Eric Himmel has been the editor at Abrams Publishing for many years. Their daughter Lizzie Himmel is a photographer who works for The New Yorker and The New York Times. The entire family has been in the business.
The eyes were from an optometrist’s shop, and she had them in the corner of her studio. I used the object and the little Brownie camera as a way to create a sort of cartoon of a photographer, although I wasn’t trying to make fun of her accomplishments. I have great respect for her work.
Peter Beard b. January 22, 1938, in New York CityLives and works in New York City and Kenya, AfricaPhotographed in New York City on May 7, 1997
Peter Beard is remarkable not only as a photographer, but also as a diarist, writer, and consummate character. He’s an adventurer and seems to live on adrenalin. He was at Yale for his undergraduate degree, but he had fallen in love with Africa while still a teenager and kept returning after meeting Karen Blixen, a Danish writer and explorer of Kenya. After college he ran off to Africa, where he began making photographs of the wildlife and their slaughter. His first book, The End of the Game, has become a classic. The Allgemeine had been interested in doing a story on him for some time, when I was strolling by a gallery named The Time is Always Now that had opened on Broome Street in New York. When I walked in, Peter Beard was on the floor shooting a beautiful black model who was standing against one of his pictures, which had been blown-up to maybe ten feet high. He had a lens that was about a foot long and he was snapping away and going, “Great! Great! Great!” One of his legs was in a cast. It turned out that five weeks before he had been less than gingerly stepped on by an elephant, which had trampled his leg and almost killed him. Later on he showed me a film that was made while the elephant was charging him. The gallery was run by his friend Peter Tunney. When Tunney got off the phone, I introduced myself and said, “I want to do a story about Peter.”
He said, “When do you want to do it?” I said, “I don’t care, whenever.”
Without even checking with Peter B., he said, “Why not start tomorrow?”
I said, “Great!” and the next day we started shooting.
The first thing I did was a picture in which he doesn’t have a shirt on. There was a big photo on the floor of a dead baby elephant that had been shot from a plane flying overhead. I said, “Peter, take your shirt off.” We had barely met. He said, “Oh, sure. Whatever you want. You want the rest of my clothes off too? No problem?” So he took off his shirt and lay on the floor, and we started shooting.
The blurred portrait merges him with his work and of course alludes to his longstanding relationship with Francis Bacon. It was from a page of his ongoing notebooks, and as often as he photographed Francis, he was also a model for numerous Bacon paintings. He was incredibly alive to the moment. He had made pictures of rotting animals, as well as very alive fashion models. He also did a lot of drawing on his photographs. He splashed them with animal blood or used the blood to write text along the sides of the very large prints. I wanted to capture some of that feeling of action and immediacy and of both beauty and horror that you find in his photographs.
Edouard Boubat 1923-1999b. September 13, 1923, in Paris, Franced. June 30, 1999, in ParisPhotographed in Paris on February 7, 1989Edouard Boubat is another very gentlemanly French photographer, although I don’t think he was born to wealth—I believe he had to work for a living. He traveled quite extensively. He did wonderful nudes of beautiful women around the world, including the beautiful woman he ended up marrying.
As a young man he studied to be a painter, and in the portrait here are some of his paintings, hanging on the wall behind him. It’s quite a hat that he’s wearing. We found it by going to his closet and saying, “Let me see what you’ve got here.” When we found it, he was happy to put it on. “I believe,” he confided a bit shyly, “that it came from Tibet.”
Louise Dahl-Wolfe 1895-1989b. November 19, 1895, in San Francisco, Californiad. December 11, 1989, in Princeton, New JerseyPhotographed in Princeton on March 1, 1988
Louise Dahl-Wolfe was 92 when I did her portrait in Princeton, New Jersey, in 1988.
When we spoke on the phone and I asked for directions, she had to turn to someone else in the room and ask, “What town are we in?” It was very sad to photograph one of the great fashion photographers of her era who was going in and out of clarity. One minute she was fully in the present moment as we were working, and the next she was talking about being in New York with her husband of many years and thinking it was still the mid-fifties. It was a difficult moment with this grand dame of the medium who allowed me to make a seminal portrait of her in the closet with her camera, her valises, and her clothes. And it was also a memorable visual moment for me in the course of this project.
Harold (Doc) Edgerton 1903-1990b. April 6, 1903, in Fremont, Nebraskad. January 4, 1990, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Photographed in Cambridge on March 17, 1986.
This is Doctor Harold Edgerton, who I photographed for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung-Magazin. Everyone called him “Doc” or “Papa Flash.” He and Minor knew each other and taught across the street from each other, on opposite sides of Mass Ave. As an undergraduate at MIT, Doc and a colleague, as a sideline, invented the strobe flash. By the time he graduated a few years later, he and his buddy were millionaires. The army picked up the device. During World War II, they could fly a plane over an area, and by using the flash, they could see the armaments and the buildings and everything the enemy had. And of course we still use the flash for photos and snapshots, all these years later. He was just this kid who had grown up on a farm in Nebraska who first invented the flash and then went on to invent many other things. A lot of the photographs he took were made simply to document what this little instrument could do. He synchronized the flash with the camera and the subject so that it would capture the exact moment that he wanted. If you’re photographing something really fast, like a bullet, you need to figure very precisely when the bullet is going to hit the target and then have a mechanism that triggers the lens just a little before it hits. He was really a physicist showing what his toys could do, but his work has become an important part of the history of photography. He took pictures of tennis players, golfers, and baseball players in motion.
The picture shows him under a photograph of a bullet going through an apple and is my play on the William Tell legend. It was an image to wake you up, to make you stop for just a little longer than the quarter second it takes to turn a page. And of course it’s like a cartoon of the brain having a new thought—an explosion of the brain imagining something new.
Doc was just shy of his 83rd birthday when I took this picture. He was still teaching freshmen at MIT—he didn’t want to teach graduate students. He loved the idea that there were these kids coming in with uncluttered brains—who were hungry, and young, and open to new ideas.
Alfred Eisenstadt 1898-1995b. December 6, 1898, in Dirschau, West Prussia (present Tczew, Poland)d. August 24, 1995, in New York CityPhotographed in New York City on September 20, 1988 Alfred Eisenstadt was in the first group of photographers at Life magazine when it started in 1936. In a very long career, he seems to have photographed nearly everyone. One of his very famous early pictures is of Hitler’s lieutenant, Josef Goebbels, sitting with this very accusatory look saying, “Jew, how dare you take a picture of me?” Eisenstadt’s response seems to have been, “With a camera between us, you can’t touch me.”
He was aboard on one of the crossings of the Zeppelin Hindenburg and took pictures of men doing repairs on top of it. He was this very small man, but was in very good shape, and would brag even late in life about continuing to do his daily sit ups and push-ups, contending that photographers had to be in great shape. He was a brilliant photographer and lived to be 96.
The photo shows him in his den—the little office he had at Life after his retirement, filled with all his Kodak boxes and his famous images of John Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, Marlene Dietrich, Hedy Lamarr, The Swiss Waiter/Skater, and him bare-chested on the beach on Martha’s Vineyard.
Elliott Erwitt b. July 26, 1928, in Paris, France. Lives and works in New York City Photographed in New York City on July 26, 1988. This was also an Allgemeine story.
Elliott Erwitt was born in 1928 in Paris to Russian-Jewish parents and immigrated to America by age ten. Known for the humor and wit of his photographs, he joined Magnum early and has done journalistic and advertising photography for more than sixty years. He’s had numerous wives and one or more children per wife. So he’s had a complicated navigational journey. He’s still working daily. Amazing books keep coming out of his archive.
Elliott has an inexhaustible sense of humor. In some smaller Japanese towns that can’t afford policemen, they have plastic cops that remind you to slow down as you drive through town. In the entryway to his apartment when you get off of the elevator, there are two of these Japanese cops on either side putting their hands out, and between them is a moose with big antlers. You have to navigate through that obstacle course to get to his apartment.
He lives in an enormous apartment overlooking Central Park on the West Side that he has had from when that area was really rough—when no one wanted to be there. He’s a dandy and is well known for wearing these corduroy pants. Somebody gave him a plaster version of the corduroy pants as a gift, and he’s standing beside it in the photograph. He made it into a planter. He had these wonderful red slippers. So there are a bunch of things that play off each other: the plastic red roses against the red slippers, and the stance of the planter which is echoing the pose of Elliott himself.
Ralph Gibson 1939-b. January 16, 1939, in Los Angeles, CaliforniaLives and works in New York CityPhotographed in New York City in January 1975 and on May 14, 1996I attended a workshop by Ralph Gibson in Rochester, New York, in 1972 about the self-published book. One of the first things I remember Ralph talking about in this workshop was the problem of getting one’s work out in the world. As you’re getting started, you have the problem that no one knows you, and you want to reach an audience. It’s the basic Catch-22 of anyone starting in the art world. Ralph’s solution was to self-publish his first few books through his imprint, Lustrum, and slowly get on the map by creating an audience for his work. The Somnambulist (1970) was his first book, followed by Deja-Vu (1973) and Days at Sea (1975). The three form a conscious visual trilogy. His images often incorporate fragments with erotic and mysterious undertones, building narrative meaning through contextualization and surreal juxtaposition. His method worked for him, and through workshops around the country, and then in Europe, he established his work and his style and became a viable force in the medium. The high-contrast nature of his prints also owes a debt to Brandt and Brassaï, but the emphasis on the close-up and the sequence of the images creates a very specific visual world view.
Gilbert and George
Gilbert (Proesch)b. September 11, 1943, in South Tyrol, Italyand
George (Passmore) b. January 8, 1942, in Devon, England. Both live and work in London Photographed in New York City in May 1987 and October 1991 Gilbert and George were art students who fell in love with each other in 1969 and decided that they would not just live and work collaboratively as artists, but actually become art. Almost from the first moment they got together, they began to call themselves living art. This became their trademark, and at this point, it has lasted for more than 40 years.
They took on this very bourgeois look. You never see them not dressed like this—or some variation of this—with matching suits and complimentary ties. They did performances and made paintings and photographs which feature them as a pair always in the same get-up.
This picture was made on the occasion of their exhibition at the Sonabend Gallery in New York, when they had a show in the early ’90s. With body paint under their suits, it shows them performing a piece called Under the Arches, which is an English drinking song. When they performed it early in their career, it was a big hit, and they realized that they were on to something. At the Sonabend Gallery they performed it all day long for visitors and the press.
Eikoh Hosoe b. March 18, 1933, in Yonezawa, JapanLives and works in TokyoPhotographed in Tokyo on October 18, 1989Starting in 1970, when I was arranging Minor White’s library, I became aware of Eikoh Hosoe. He had already done the book Ordeal by Roses, which was comprised of surreal collaborative portraits of the writer Yukio Mishima, who would within the year commit hara-kiri in protest of the Japanese signing of the non-aggression treaty with the U.S., as well as Man and Woman, a book of abstracted nudes heavily influenced by Brandt’s work in Perspective of Nudes. Hosoe learned a great deal from the range of subject matter and from the visual/literary allusions and connections in Brandt’s work and also by the sharp black and white contrasts of the prints. Hosoe would go on to explore Butoh dance in his Kamaitachi series, do architectural details in his extensive work on Gaudi in Barcelona, and, with the 20 X 24 inch camera in Tokyo, consciously follow in the footsteps of Atget in Paris and Abbott in New York with his own ongoing exploration of a changing Tokyo. That series, after more than 20 years of work, is as yet unpublished, but I got a chance to make pictures of him photographing Tokyo at night with this almost 500 pound monster camera and see some of the extraordinary 20 X 24 contact prints from the project. Hosoe is one of the true masters and innovators in photography of the past half century, but because of his remove from the American-European axis of image makers and his visual articulateness, he has sometimes been underappreciated by the cognoscenti.
Yousuf Karsh 1908-2002b. December 23, 1908, in Mardin, Armenia (present Turkey)d. July 13, 2002, in Boston, MassachusettsPhotographed in New York City on May 1, 1989Yousuf Karsh was an Armenian born in Turkey. As a child he fled the genocide of the Armenians, making his way first to Syria, and then to Canada. He apprenticed to portrait photographers in Canada and Boston and then set up a portrait studio in Ottawa, right next to the House of Parliament, where political notables would sit for him. His approach was very solemn and formal. It took him about four hours to set up the lights—there were primary spotlights and secondary spotlights, and the secondary lights had to highlight the skin in just the right way. He did the same thing over and over again—with movie stars, power figures, endless presidents, and cultural notables like Helen Keller. Everyone looks very wise and serious.
As far as I’m concerned, Karsh made three great pictures. He made the unforgettable picture of Churchill where he had just pulled the cigar out of his mouth. He made a brilliant picture of Georgia O’Keeffe. And he did a great picture of the cellist Pablo Casals from the back. A lot of the rest of his oeuvre is formula shooting of the greats, or the image is carried by the strength of the subject.He was a very dapper gentleman. His main studio was in Ottawa, but he also had a New York studio, which is where I photographed him. He’s not one of my greatest photo heroes, but I respect what he did. I think those three photos are amazing. It may seem like funny math, but making three significant pictures like those is a huge achievement for a lifetime. And over a long career, he certainly kept making strong portraits of the rich and powerful.
1930-b. March 21, 1929, in Berlin, GermanyLives and works in BerlinPhotographed in Hamburg in April 1990Robert Lebeck is a photo-journalist who worked for many years for Stern, the leading German picture-magazine. Robert was born in 1930 in Berlin, and close to the end of the end of the war, in 1944, when he was fourteen, he was forced into the Hitler Youth army. Hitler was taking the young, the old, and the maimed—any bodies that he could gather—for the last defense of the Reich. You didn’t have any choice—you’d be shot immediately if you didn’t go. In 2006 I was in an exhibition with Robert in Berlin. One of my cousins, Tanya Lichtbach, who was born in Russia and is the daughter of my father Reuven’s brother, was with us one day at lunch, and the two of them began talking. Pretty soon Tanya was crying because she had never had this sort of close-up exchange with someone who had been in Hitler’s army, and Robert was crying because he had never broken bread and shared these experiences with someone who was Jewish, who was so affected by what Hitler did. One of the most poignant moments of that visit to Berlin was when I walked Robert to the underground afterwards. He was convulsed in tears and thanked me for the shared lunch and emotions. Much like Gordon Parks in America, Lebeck’s camera got him close to a number of the last century’s great stars of cinema and art. Among those he was closest to was Romy Schneider, and their friendship and working relationship lasted throughout her abbreviated life. Some of his seminal images were made of Romy, but there were also great images of Joseph Beuys, Konrad Adenauer, and the Bouvier sisters at John Kennedy’s funeral.
Robert had an extensive collection of 19th and early 20th-century pornographic postcards. About six or seven years ago he sold that collection as a unit for a considerable sum. His erotic collection ironically turned into a bigger moneymaker than all the pictures he’d probably ever taken. When I photographed him, he was very playful. In the picture here, I’m playing on the notion that he’s inviting someone to come and see his “dirty pictures.” This was taken twenty years ago, but he doesn’t look much different today. He has the buoyant spirit of a very young man.
Annie (Anna-Lou) Leibovitz 1949-b. October 2, 1949, in Waterbury, ConnecticutLives and works in New York CityPhotographed in New York City on November 15, 1991Annie Leibovitz jumped into the role of professional photographer as a kid in her second year at the San Francisco Art Institute. She was friends with Jan Wenner who was starting Rolling Stone, and he said, “How’d you like to take some pictures? We’ve got something set up with John Lennon in New York. Come with me.” Her portrait of John Lennon was on the first issue of Rolling Stone, and she was off and running. You can’t avoid coming to terms with Annie. She’s a powerhouse, but she wasn’t easy to work with, and I’ve heard endless tales about her mistreatment of her assistants.
When I took these pictures, Annie was certainly not easy. We had called her studio to arrange a session, and she agreed to it. I was coming back from London and our appointment was a few hours after I got back. I had just landed when I got a call from her studio saying, “Can you come an hour earlier?”
My response was, “You know, I’ve been on a plane since dawn in London. I really need to go home and take a shower, just in courtesy to Ms. Leibovitz.”
They said, “No, she needs to see you now.”
But I went home anyway and arrived at her studio at the time that we’d arranged—not an hour earlier. She wasn’t pleased. She knew my work because she had worked for the Allgemeine before I did and they were sending her weekly copies.
Her first comment was, “I’m not going to do any of your crazy stuff for you.”
I said, “Hey, that’s up to you. We’re supposed to do a story together. If you don’t want to do any stuff at all for me, that’s okay too.”
“What do you want from me?”
“Annie, you’re in the same business I’m in. I want from you exactly what you want from every one of your subjects—endless time, endless cooperation, and let’s make it fun. Because the magazine is doing a cover story about you. They’re giving you full space, and as you know, it’s one of the best magazines in the world. But if you don’t want to play the game—I’m out the door.”
“Okay,” she says. “I get it. Meet me tomorrow morning at my apartment, and you can shoot whatever you want. You’ll work around my schedule, and we’ll do this.”
I was a bit jet-lagged, but I arrived the next morning at her apartment at 7:00 a.m. The doorman told that she wasn’t there. I waited for a bit more than an hour, and she finally arrived in a limousine, because her girlfriend Susan Sontag lived down in the village and Annie’s apartment was at 107th and 5th Avenue. She showed me through her apartment, and it looked like some decorator had made up the place and nobody really lived there. “I’m not really interested in shooting here,” I told her. But the day before, I had gotten a tour of the studio, and it was far more interesting. I suggested we do some shooting on the roof of her studio building as the light was coming up.
She agreed. My two assistants and I started setting up lights and taking test shots at 4:30 in the morning. When she arrived an hour or so later, she was in the foulest mood imaginable. We did a few Polaroids, and she wasn’t being cooperative, and at some point I turned to her and said, “Annie, I can’t do this without you.” At that point she suddenly relaxed a bit and began to work with me. This was on a Friday, and we had agreed to two more days of shooting. On Saturday we agreed to meet at her place in Sagaponeck out in the Hamptons where she and Susan had a house. We agreed to meet at 7:00. So I got up at 3:30 in the morning, met up with my two assistants, and drove out to her house. We were there before 7:00. No Annie. At 8:00 there was no Annie. At 8:30 there was no Annie. Finally she rolled up in her little sports car and apologized for being late. “Sorry, I was stopped by the cops. I was speeding.” But from that point on everything went well. We worked on the beach, we worked in the backyard of the house, and we went to lunch. She couldn’t have been more charming.
She was about to go to London to shoot Mick Jagger. But she agreed to give me one more day when she returned. I told her that for the last session I wanted to get a photograph that was taken from the vantage point of one of her subjects. “I know you photograph lots of celebrities. I want to photograph behind one of those people, set up my lights, and be looking past that person’s cheek or face at you, Annie, shooting them, surrounded by your four or five assistants.”
She replied: “I’m shooting Laurie Anderson in about eight or nine days. If it’s okay with Laurie, you can come in with your assistants.”
When she was in London, her studio called and said, “Laurie’s okayed it, so everything’s a go.” But then, the day before the shoot, while I was in the middle of a session with the violinist Midori, I got a call saying that, “Annie has decided that you can’t shoot with anything but a hand-held camera. No lights.” In the meantime I had hired a stylist and created an entire body suit for Annie to wear, made up of her iconic images cut from one her books. It was really Rococo and gorgeously done. The stylist worked on it for the whole period when Annie was shooting Mick in London.
When I arrived at the studio for the shoot, I showed her this thing and she responded, “What, are you crazy? I’m not going to put that thing on. By the way, what do you need two assistants for? You’re only going to work with a hand-held camera. Get that second assistant out of my studio.”
It wasn’t exactly “Hello. How are you? Nice to see you again.”
So I sent Franco away and worked for 45 minutes with Andy, taking shots of Laurie, Annie, and Annie’s assistants with my Widelux and the Leica. Once I was done, I said goodbye to her studio manager at the desk and left without disturbing her. But by the time I got back to my studio, there were two phone messages on the machine, one from her assistant asking me to call Annie immediately, and one from Annie saying, “How dare you walk out on me without saying goodbye?”
I called the studio, and they told me that I couldn’t speak to Annie just then, but a few minutes later she called me back.
“Annie,” I said. “Give me a fucking break. Two days ago I was in the middle of a shoot, and you called and changed the whole game plan. Laurie had okayed this. You threw out my assistant. What do you mean, I walked out on you? I said goodbye to your people behind the desk, but I wasn’t going to stop you in the middle of shooting.”
At some point she backed off. “Sorry, I’m a bit schizoid,” she said.
“Well, at some point let’s go out for a drink or something.”
“Okay,” she said, but I never called her for a drink, and she never called me, either. In the end, the Allgemeine ran a big story with her picture on the cover and six pages inside. But she was hard work. I also took some pictures of myself in that suit she wouldn’t wear which are quite funny. My feeling about Annie is that she’s a man who just happens to be in a woman’s body. She’s about six feet two and she’s got hands that make mine look like baby hands. She’s got this macho approach to everything. But she is an amazing photographer, and the image of Yoko and the naked John Lennon wrapped around her dressed body is one of the truly remarkable portraits of the 20th century.
Vik Muniz b. 1961 in São Paulo, BrazilLives and works in New York and São PauloPhotographed in Brooklyn, New York, on July 8, 2005Vik Muniz is an extraordinary figure in contemporary art, one who has expanded the language and syntax of photography, as well as its humor quotient. Like Warhol, he feels that everything’s fair game. His work makes reference to just about the entire range of both art and photo history. He’s taken the stance that the photograph is a tool to record projections in the mind.
His career was helped immensely by a Cleveland collector who made an early commitment to his work. This support took him to another level. He now runs good-size factories/studios in Brooklyn and in São Paulo in which he produces his work. More than a dozen people, including a full time art curator, work with him in each location to create his massive output.
The piece he made here is playing on Monet’s paintings of the Rouen Cathedral in which the façade dissolves into a pattern of colored light. We overlaid my photo of a section of this piece with a portrait of him that I made to create this mask. I wanted to capture the fact that he’s working with so many layers. Muniz has a very open and playful approach to the possibilities of the photographic medium.
Besides being an incredibly articulate image maker, he is a profoundly gifted writer and thinker about the process whereby the artist transforms the givens of his world into the magic of his works.
Arnold Newman 1918-2006b. March 3, 1918, in New York Cityd. June 6, 2006, in New York CityPhotographed in New York City on March 3, 1988 Arnold Newman began his creative life as a painter and soon realized that he was not going to make his mark in that field in the middle of the twentieth century. When he shifted to work in a photo portrait studio in Florida in the thirties, he soon was in his true métier. By the time he reached New York City in 1946 and opened a studio, he sought out the artists who had recently arrived from Europe, and with his definitive portraits of Max Ernst, Mondrian, Duchamp, George Grosz, and others from the artistic community—the greats of European sculpture and painting—he was on his way. He started carving out the domain of the environmental portrait. He wasn’t just portraying someone’s face—it was a person in a setting.
I learned a lot from looking at Arnold’s work. No question. He was a big hero of mine. He was very responsive to people, very gregarious. He told endless stories about well-known people he’d met. And he was very open to the next generation of photographers. He judged a show at the Jewish Community Center in Cleveland Heights around 1972 and included one of my pictures. He had some of his own pictures at the JCC show—they were selling for $65 apiece. At the time I thought, “How can anybody ever get to a point where they can sell a photograph for $65?” It seemed like so much money. I was still selling my pictures for $12 and I thought even that was a lot of money. And for someone whose monthly rent was $50 a month, with studio and darkroom, it was.
I photographed him on his seventieth birthday—March 3rd of 1988. I made the bag by tearing up one of his 50 Years books. It had fragmented images of everyone from Picasso, Marilyn Monroe, Alfred Stieglitz, Francis Bacon, Georgia O'Keeffe, Marc Chagall, Man Ray, and lots of other famous people that he had photographed. When I first came into his studio, I hid the bag. We started talking, and he asked me what I wanted to do. I brought out the bag and was being very apologetic, saying, “Well, I hope this is not going to make you look foolish.”
“No way, let’s do it!” he said.
He ended up with a big color dye transfer print of it, and he loved it. When you first see it, you only notice the paper bag. And then you realize that you’re getting a lot of information about him and his creative output as well.
Norman Parkinson 1913-1990b. April 21, 1913, in Roehampton, London, Englandd. February 14, 1990, while on assignment in SingaporePhotographed in New York City on June 2, 1989Norman Parkinson was a wonderfully dapper man. He always wore suits like the one in this photo. When he came to my apartment there was a circular staircase to go up, and since I realized he was elderly, I asked if he wanted to use the elevator. He said “No,” and then went racing up the steps, at which point I realized that he was quite an energetic guy. My assistant, who was 24, was huffing and puffing as he went up the stairs behind him.
When we started talking, he told me that when he made fashion pictures he would sometimes throw something at the model or do something to surprise them. And at that point he began throwing his hat up into the air to show how we needed to get some motion into the thing. I said, “Absolutely. By all means,” and then we took this shot. This is not Photoshop. We had to do it a few times until I caught the hat in the right place. But he was an absolute pro at throwing it.
In addition to portraits and advertising, Norman had a very long and successful career doing fashion work for magazines as well. Fashion is tough. Norman was a very playful master of the medium. He had people in motion; he had people walking through rain. He was very original in his approach.
At some point he retired and moved to Barbados, but then there was a fire in his house, and a big chunk of his photo archive was destroyed. So he had to go back to work. At that point he called up art directors in New York, London, and Paris and started getting assignments and going back on the circuit again. They were flying him to exotic places with five or six nubile girls in their early twenties, and the end of the story is that he took one of them to bed and literally died in the saddle at the age of 84. So the hat never stopped flying. It’s probably one of the better ways for an old man to go.
1950-b. August 15, 1950, in New York CityLives and works in New York CityPhotographed in New York City on June 21, 2005Andres Serrano clearly grew up under the sway of Catholicism. He lives in an apartment in New York, on Eighth Street off Fifth Avenue, which has very tall ceilings and lots of imbedded sculptural elements that came right out of churches and cathedrals. You walk in there knowing it’s a private home and studio, but instead it feels like a church. It really works with the kind of aesthetic that he’s been exploring for years. He was good friends with two friends of mine, the painter Leon Golub and his wife, Nancy Spero. He did some pictures of Leon dressed up as a Cardinal in full garb next to a naked woman who was being flagellated by someone else. The first image he made that grabbed the art world’s attention was one called “Piss Christ” in which he took a crucifix, put it in a shallow pan of urine, and then photographed it. This was right around the time of all the controversy in Cincinnati surrounding Robert Mapplethorpe’s intensely homosexual pictures. Serrano stirred up almost more of a controversy because of the Christian connection. In the image here, since he had created the Piss Christ, I decided to photograph him in cruciform in “piss light”—putting yellow gels on him and slightly washing him.
I respect what he’s done. I was very moved by the close-ups of dead bodies that he did—and also, simultaneously, very repelled. It was an extremely shocking set of images. He’s made a career out of extreme shock. But it works—he’s a memorable photographer.
William Wegman 1943-b. December 2, 1943, in Holyoke, MassachusettsLives and works in New York CityPhotographed in New York City on June 30, 2005It’s hard to know what to say about Wegman—he’s truly a phenomenon. The pictures he does with his dog are like a sophisticated joke that seems to go on and on forever. He started out doing self-portraits and videos, conceptual pieces where he used himself as his primary subject; and then came a moment with his first dog, named Man Ray, when something clicked, and he started using just the dog, or himself and the dog. It was around the moment when Cindy Sherman began doing her self-portraits and started getting recognition for stretching the possible concepts and uses of the self. Before long, he had created a recognizable art brand around his various Weimaraners. First, there was one dog; and then, before you knew it, there were four dogs and a trainer to handle them. Somehow he’s managed to straddle different worlds. He has Pace McGill, who sells his photographs as fine art, and Abrams, who uses them in books for kids. Some critics fault him for being too popular—God forbid an artist should be popular—but if you can reach kids and also sell to museums like the Metropolitan, MoMA, and the Whitney, you’re doing something right. He’s one of those people who, thirty years after starting to work with the first dog, is never short of new ideas.
He’s a working artist who goes into the studio every morning and works. When I made this picture on the right, Bill had been working non-stop since eight in the morning, and it was 5:30 in the afternoon. He’d been working with the dogs and four assistants and the big Polaroid camera that he had rented with a couple of technicians. He was truly exhausted. When he lay down with his dogs to take a break, that seemed to be my picture—the real picture. It’s touching how much the dogs like him. They’re family. His two children and wife are the real family, but the dogs have also become the extended family.
Bill is also a very strong and witty painter, although that work has not been widely appreciated. He uses found early 20th-century postcards and then paints out from the edge of the postcards onto a canvas—sometimes canvases that are quite large. So he’s playing with ideas of reality and illusion and with the question of what’s kitsch and what’s art. When I did the pictures of him for this book, his preference was to show him with his paintings rather than his dogs, but I felt that, in this context, that was a digression; nevertheless, I think the paintings are very strong. And I should also add that he’s a very accommodating colleague as well.
Penelope’s Hungry Eyes: Portraits of Famous Photographers