Muhammad Ali, Andy Warhol, Ray Charles, Martin Luther King, Samuel Beckett, Robert F. Kennedy, Truman Capote, David Bowie: Shapiro's portraits on show in Berlin at Camera Work Gallery
New York raised Steve Schapiro discovered photography at nine years old during a summer camp. Being from one of the most exciting cities on earth, it was only a matter of time before he started loving photography, experimenting with it, capturing portraits of those on the streets and finding inspiration from Henri Cartier Bresson's masterpieces. Eugene Smith became his mentor, shaping his outlook on life. Inevitably, Schapiro’s works recall Smith's, with the same dramatic use of black and white, the same intense focus on the person more than the star.
Schapiro succeeded in portraying legends of the world making them look "grounded", real, catching them in natural poses and capturing their essence going way beyond their public image. This perfect balance between technique and poetry is what has made Schapiro one of the most renowned photographers of our times. He started to work as a freelancer photographer in 1961, being featured in magazines like Life, Time, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, People, Paris Match. This era in Unites States was the golden age of photojournalism, and Schapiro not only portrayed the stars of those years but focused on photo-essays and documentaries that addressed social and political issues, including narcotics addictions, migrant workers' difficult conditions, Civil Rights and documented for Life Magazine the moments after Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination.
© Steve Schapiro, Robert F. Kennedy at Berkley
© Steve Schapiro, Martin Luther King Jr with flag
Later on he shifted his focus to film, producing posters and material related to masterpieces like Taxi Driver and The Godfather. Music is a big part of his portfolio, too, having done portraits of legends like Ray Charles and David Bowie for record covers. Today Schapiro lives in Chicago and is exhibiting around the world, sharing his material produced up to today, including reportage about India, Immigration Reform and the Newport Jazz Festival. This season, Berlin is the city that dedicates a retrospective of his work at Camera Work Gallery, (Kantstrasse 149), until November 19th.
© Steve Schapiro, The Whisper, Marlon Brando in "The Godfather", New York, 1971
The series "Heroes", which is on show, includes the famous portrait of a 21-year-old Cassius Clay - and represents at best that golden era, which saw Andy Warhol, Truman Capote, Samuel Beckett emerging with a unique intellectual allure. All the portraits - taken with no staging - succeed in talking about the protagonist going way beyond the image represented, showing the personalities through daily gestures and movement. The exhibition also features frames of The Godfather and Taxi Driver, photos taken during the shootings and behind the scenes moments.
© Steve Schapiro, Muhammad Ali, Kentucky, 1963
Written by: Elisa della Barba
Credits: Steve Schapiro and Camera Work Gallery
Cover credits: Steve Schapiro, The Worst is yet to come, New York, 1965