Tag Archives: Decisive Moment

Steve Schapiro, Then and Now: Rare Images from a Photography Legend

Just the list of people Steve Schapiro has photographed during his career reads like a Who’s Who of the most influential politicians, celebrities and newsmakers in American history over the last five decades. But that Schapiro captured his subjects during their pivotal and seminal moments—Robert F. Kennedy during his 1968 presidential campaign; Marlon Brando on the set of The Godfather; Andy Warhol and muse Edie Sedgwick in The Factory, among others—lends his photographs an added significance. They aren’t just remarkable portraits of remarkable people, but snapshots into our country’s historical and cultural milestones.

Schapiro’s output over his more than 50-year career has been prolific, and many people have probably seen one of his photographs whether they realize it or not. But his new book, Then and Now, gives readers a look at Schapiro’s lesser-known work; the majority of pictures have never been published. “There were so many pictures that I loved but didn’t fit with the format of my previous books, so this was a chance to bring forth that work,” he says. The book is comprised of single images shown over a spread, as well as spreads of disparate images that share a composition or theme—one such example has a portrait of Martin Scorcese holding a gun and grapes on the left page, and a portrat of Mia Farrow holding a baby on the right. “I wanted to make a book that was interesting on every page,” says Schapiro. “That evolved into the idea of working with double pages where one picture worked with another.”

Schapiro first took an interest to photography at 9 while at summer camp. He fell in love with “the magic of photography” in the dark room, where he became fascinated by how pictures came to life after being dipped in various formulas. But it wasn’t until he discovered Henri Cartier-Bresson’s The Decisive Moment, as a teenager, that his interest really took hold. He began trying to capture his own decisive moments on the streets of New York City, before going to study the formal aspects of photography under W. Eugene Smith.

In 1961, amid the height of the Civil Rights movement, Schapiro started working as a freelance photographer for publications such as LIFE, Rolling Stone, TIME and Newsweek. Over the next 10 years, which Schapiro calls “the golden age of photojournalism,” he would cover the decade’s most significant events, including Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1963 march in Selma, and later, King’s abandoned motel room after this assassination, as well as the “Summer of Love” in Haight-Asbury and Robert F. Kennedy’s 1968 presidential campaign. “It was an incredible time to be a photojournalist because there was more of an emotional flow—an ability to do more emotional pictures that captured the spirit of a person,” says Schapiro of the period. “I was able to spend a lot of time with people—Bobby Kennedy went to South America for four weeks and I got to go with him. When I got really sick there, Ethel Kennedy brought me Bobby’s pajamas to wear. Bobby was someone who I became friends with, but everyone who worked with him loved him.”

Despite his success as a photographer, Schapiro maintains that he hasn’t taken his most important picture yet—and doesn’t have any idea what it might be. In the meantime, there’s one subject who continues to elude him: “President Barack Obama. I would love to photograph him.”


View more of Schapiro’s work here.



apertureWEEK: Online Photography Reading Shortlist

Aperture aggregates the best posts from this past week in the photography blogosphere.

  • “It is almost impossible for me to shoot a photo where someone is NOT taking a picture or posing for one,” writes Martin Parr on his blog in a post titled, “Too Much Photography.” Prime examples of this can be found in his series Tourism Inc. which is being published by Reporters Without Borders for the 20th anniversary of their “100 Photos for Press Freedom” collection, accompanied by an exhibition at Galerie Photo Fnac Forum des Halles in Paris, La Lettre de la Photographie reports. His photographs of Atlanta for the High Museum’s “Picturing the South” series are also featured in the upcoming summer issue of Aperture 207.
  • In further commentary on CNN’s controversial edit of Stacy Kranitz’ series on Appalachia, Joerg Colberg writes, “If we wanted to know what a place looked like we would need an infinity of photographs, taken from all possible angles excluding nothing, seeing everything at the same time,” a notion he thinks antithetical to the practice of photography, but increasingly possible, not only as Parr points out through the proliferations of cameras, but with the help of the Google Street View car, profiled by the Times here. Check out art made with photos pulled from the Street View service by Aaron Hobson, Jon Rafman, and Michael Wolf of the monograph Transparent City (Aperture 2008). And stay tuned for the upcoming re-issue and expanded edition of A New American Picture by Doug Rickard coming from Aperture in fall 2012.
  • Perpetual shooting brings us to the post on APhotoEditor asking, “Is It Time To Eliminate Stills From Your Shoot?” due to the ease and success with which quality still images may be pulled from video footage as a result of the recent proliferation of HDSLR cameras on the market. Now with no need to pick the decisive moment, soon no need to pick where to focus, who’ll need photographers? Have a look through SFMOMA’s page “Is Photography Over?” and read about the dialectical relationship of aesthetics and distribution/media on Fotomuseum Winterthur’s blog Still Searching.
  • On a different note, watch this great video from Feature Shoot, “Inside the World’s Only Tintype Photography Studio,” a photo gallery and walk-in commercial tintype portrait studio. Owner/photographer Michael Shindler says, ”I think what people seem to be looking for now is a kind of photography where the process itself is going to impart its own flavor to the finished image, a little bit of uncertainty.”
  • American Suburb X  shares Kelly Dennis’ 2005 essay, “Landscape and the West – Irony and Critique in New Topographic Photography,” which explores the work of Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz, Joe Deal, Art Sinsabaugh and more. After reading, check out new-New Topographic photography in Camps & Cabins at G. Gibson Gallery in Seattle, the third solo show by Eirik Johnson, author of the monograph Sawdust Mountain (Aperture 2009), on view through May 26, 2012.
  • LENS blog profiles the opening of “Gordon Parks: 100 Years” at the International Center of Photography, celebrating the centennial of the legendary photographer’s birth with an exhibition of his work presented not inside the center, but in their windows, on view to the street. Parks was featured in an essay by David Campany on “Precedented Photography” in Aperture issue 206. His writing also appears in the requisite volume, Photography Speaks: 150 Photographers on Their Art.
  • Fototazo posts Part II of their three-part interview with Oregon-based photographer Blake Andrews of the popular blog B. During this exchange, they invite him to create a competition for photographers to rank and sequence famous photographs, and predict the most popular sequence. The results of the contest will be published on Fototazo and Andrews’ blog. Part III of the interview will be published on Fototazo May 24, 2012.

Elliott Erwitt: Sequentially Yours

Elliott Erwitt generally likes to let his pictures do the talking. “I’m very bad about talking about things,” he tells me with a smile, during a recent sit-down to look through his latest book, Sequentially Yours, published this month by teNeues.

The book playfully presents a series of unscripted vignettes that bear the personal hallmark and humor of his classic images and movies, but with an original twist— rather than single shots, the photos are shown as sequences. The result is somewhere between single exposures and films, and the stories play out like silent movies—touching, funny, sad, irreverent and full of surprise.

Erwitt uses his film sparingly; he’s the first to acknowledge that he does not take as many frames as most photographers when he shoots. “The process is sometimes more interesting than the finished picture,” he says. And it’s that thought that served as the impetus for Sequentially Yours. Looking through his archive, Erwitt decided it made more sense to show sequenced images— as opposed to a single shot a la Henri Cartier-Bresson’s “Decisive Moment.”

“You always look for the best picture, but sometimes the pictures are not that great alone. But in a group, they become interesting,” Erwitt says, citing the series of people trying to close an umbrella on a windy day. “None of these are a picture on their own, but as a sequence of 32, it’s hilarious—not being able to close the umbrella and going home with it open.”

The book’s layout mimics Erwitt’s photographs in style—classic and effortless—and each of the vignettes has different constructs and different outcomes—often open to interpretation—that surprise and entertain. There are iconic images of Erwitt’s that you would expect to be the final statement in a particular sequence that actually appear in the middle of a story, proving that the iconic image can come at different points in the process and that Erwitt continues to shoot with a natural curiosity beyond the point where other photographers might stop after they’ve gotten the picture.

In a photo series of an old man and his dog, Erwitt says “the picture is of course the man talking to the dog—having had his discussion, he goes on his way.” In another series, which takes place at a graveyard, he says, “You really don’t know what is going to happen—it starts with a woman going to a cemetery to deposit some flowers and a dog follows her.” The last picture shows the dog rolling on the ground—and could stand on its own as the picture—but it is made more interesting by those that precede it. But even as the punch line, this image is still open ended. Is the dog playing dead or simply being playful?

These sequences reveal how Erwitt shoots, and he clearly has a relaxed approach and patience. “It’s like fishing. Sometimes you catch one. You lay in wait for something to happen— sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t,” the photographer says of his process.

Along with the stories, there are Erwitt’s iconic photographs of public figures. The familiar images give further context by the frames which were taken immediately before or after. A group portrait taken on the set of the The Misfits movie reveals the chemistry of the cast in the build up to the final image. Richard Nixon and Nikita Khrushchev are shown as a dyptich, and a series of Che Guevara portraits are simply four pictures taken from a single photo shoot. In a Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier fight sequence, the subtlety is almost lost in the magnitude of the moment. Erwitt’s explanation of this unique series is almost as surprising as Ali being knocked to the canvas. While the accredited photographers shot handheld directly at ringside, Erwitt shot from the audience a distance away, with the camera on a tripod, so you can see that all three pictures are taken from the identical position.

And while most of the image sets are taken in a concentrated time frame, there are a couple of notable exceptions. Two photos of Erwitt’s first daughter—one in which she is pregnant and the other three months later with her baby—and a series which ends the book, showing Erwitt’s personal agenda covers adorned with photographs of his two daughters taken over a thirty year period.

Erwitt has published nearly 40 books, but Sequentially Yours provides a perfect, original and refreshing context for his intuitive and instinctive images. His playful humor and wit are as sharp as ever. Here, Erwitt gives you a sense of what happens next, the end point being sometimes comic, sometimes poignant and often with a wink.

Sequentially Yours was published this month by teNeues. Erwitt will participate in a book signing at the International Center of Photography in New York on Nov. 4.