From the Stones to the streets

«I always take pictures and I have thousands of photographs which have never been printed and a lot of them are pictures which I took on the streets, which I like. But people want to see more of personalities, because they recognize them; there is fascination with personalities, but to me the fascination is with people,» said Jerry Schatzberg in an interview with Kathimerini’s English Edition. The American photographer and director was in Athens recently for the opening of «Jerry Schatzberg: From Stills to Cinema,» an exhibition of photographs which made their debut during the 42nd Thessaloniki International Film Festival and are currently on show at the Hellenic American Union. An accomplished photographer, Schatzberg belongs to that rare category of artists who have enjoyed considerable success in two distinct disciplines. «Most of the show represents the end of the 1960s; I started making films then, and for the next 30 years in a way I neglected my photography. I’m just getting back to it and I started getting familiar with my photographs again, and really, they are my old friends; I remember what happened in that sitting,» said Schatzberg. In the exhibition, images of Hollywood players – actors and directors – mix with lively fashion editorials from the 1950s, street shots from the ’70s and more recent nude studies. Above all, there are enough celebrities to quench anyone’s thirst for showbiz moments: Sharon Tate in the bathtub; a playful Claudia Cardinale and a stunning Faye Dunaway; Francis Ford Coppola telling a story, not to mention the only studio photographs of Bob Dylan. Above all, every photo becomes a story, a «film strip,» in Schatzberg’s own words. «Take the picture of Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones, for instance; it’s from a sitting in drag. I remember when they put on the costumes, the makeup, the background,» said Schatzberg. Born in New York in 1927, Schatzberg’s parents’ fur shop stood right next to a shop selling photographic equipment. Schatzberg was already 26 and a father when he decided to look for a position as assistant in the photographic field. It was halfway through the golden decade of the 1950s – as Richard Avedon and Irving Penn were having their revolution of elegance – when Schatzberg began assisting photographer Bill Helburn. In 1956 he founded his own studio and began experimenting. Two years later, the authoritative Conde Nast executive Alex Liberman asked Schatzberg to shoot for Vogue. Contracts with other publications such as Glamour and McCall’s followed, while Schatzberg began developing his personal style. He took his models to the street, for instance, where they mingled with ordinary people, or else he invited dancers to perform at his studio and asked models to follow the dancers as he began snapping away. For the «Cha-cha-cha» series, he asked the models to improvise, by putting on lipstick or writing a note – which caused quite a fashionable stir at the time. At the same time, he also counted on the invaluable support of Alexey Brofovitch, artistic director at Harper’s Bazaar. «He always gave you an assignment,» said Schatzberg of Brofovitch. «When you go out with an assignment, even if it’s 3-year-old boys with freckles, at least you are looking for something; you use your eyes and your head.» Since 1951, Schatzberg has been putting his eyes and head to good use on the New York subway. Though not a novel subject matter in the art of photography, Schatzberg attempts a fresh take. «Back in the ’50s, it was all about gentlemen with their hats and cases; now it is mostly African Americans and Hispanics, whereas before it was the Irish, Italians and Jews,» said Schatzberg. «People are different, but you still have to do it secretly, as many are illegal immigrants, while for others it is a matter of religion.» Life in New York City is never short of stories for Schatzberg, who even looks at what people throw away on the streets. «Fifty years from now we will have such a different world, we might find out that everything we eat nowadays is terrible for us and I’m recording that now,» he said. Recently, Schatzberg began developing an interest in nudes. Ranging from 20-year-olds to 70-year-olds, so far he has shot 70 subjects, including mothers and daughters or even sisters. It is a liberating experience for both photographer and sitters, as «most people don’t like the way they look,» said Schatzberg. «So I say, I’m going to show you there is a lot of beauty.» He also has a passion for chairs, the condition they are in and the place where they are found. Did the September 11 attacks affect his work? «I stayed away from the area; I didn’t want to be tempted to take pictures,» said Schatzberg. «I didn’t think I could contribute; so many covered that.» But life in the big city has undoubtedly changed in the last few months, and Schatzberg has already found his angle for his story. «If I were to give myself an assignment now, I would like to photograph people in the lines at the airports,» he said. «Everybody knows what happened but they are still complaining. And it’s not even as a bad as it’s going to be when they start hand-inspecting all the luggage. That is the kind of frustration that I would like to find and record.» «Jerry Schatzberg: From Stills to Cinema,» at the Hellenic American Union, 22 Massalias, tel 368.0000. To February 1. A selected filmography As a film director, Schatzberg’s cinematic career began in 1969, with «Puzzle of a Downfall Child» starring Faye Dunaway, while success came with his second long feature, «Panic in Needle Park» (1971), featuring a powerful performance by Al Pacino and Kitty Winn as a drug-addicted couple. Critical acclaim (together with a Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival) ensued with «Scarecrow» (1973) in which Gene Hackman and Pacino acted as two drifters. A comedy, «Sweet Revenge,» featuring Stockard Channing followed in 1977, while «The Seduction of Joe Tynan,» featuring Alan Alda and Meryl Streep, was shot in 1979. A decade later Schatzberg directed «Reunion,» the tender story of a childhood friendship in Nazi Germany, featuring Jason Robards, while in 1995 the director was part of a project featuring the work of 40 filmmakers using an original Cinematographe camera to make a 52-second film in no more than three takes. Schatzberg’s most recent work, «The Day the Ponies Came Back» (2000) tells the story of a Frenchman who goes to New York to help a friend and also find his father.

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