Elizabeth Avedon: How did you begin working for Vanity Fair?
Jonathan Becker: Thanks primordially to Bea Feitler
when she involved me with Vanity Fair's relaunch after almost 50 years.
I'd loved the old issues of Vanity Fair, The Smart Set, those great
magazines of between the wars, and to be involved with the prototype for
this relaunch was beyond my happiest imagination, my wildest dreams.
Bea in a sense launched me when she launched the prototype because you
had in it Avedon, Penn, Helmut Newton, Annie Leibovitz, Bill King and
Jonathan Becker. Who’s Jonathan Becker, right?
She finished it and sent it to the printers, then got on a plane to
Rio and died. It was her swan song. I don’t think she ever saw it. It
was awful. Heartbreaking forever. She went off and died, but she had
thrown me over the fence.
It was pretty rocky for the first decade of the magazine. You had
changing editors and then Graydon Carter came in and put his shoulder to
it and really made the magazine a success in terms of again being the
glamorous intellectual magazine that it is.
Graydon is the classically great editor. Slim Aarons and Frank
Zachary saw him as the last editor making a great magazine under real
journalistic principles that they admired and always called him the
‘Last Man Standing’. Graydon may not be literally standing in this
picture, he’s swimming, but the portrait, to me, is of Frank and Slim's
‘Last Man Standing.’
EA: How does it feel to have all three decades of your work collected in this book?
JB : I’m so moved to have this book printed. It
feels important. In a sense, it also feels like a Christmas present from
Graydon, because he let it be done and let the title of the magazine be
used. Graydon always wanted me to collect my work in a book and had
quite a hand in this one's inception. He stipulated the formatting of
the book, a strict portfolio format. He even stipulated the Helvetica
type for the cover. It’s an Assouline format, but it’s the one he
approved. I don't think he wanted me or anybody editorializing randomly
under the Vanity Fair name. Brilliant set-up. All this was decided in a
half an hour meeting, and then I oversaw the rest. Graydon's truly one
of the great editors of all time. I'm very lucky to work with him.
EA: Tell me about the dinner scene in your photograph of Camilla and the Prince of Wales in Buckingham Place in 2001.
JB: This was in the long Picture Gallery, hung with just dumbfounding paintings – Rembrandt, Vermeer, Rubens and so on. They made a long table, the length of the room with hundreds of people seated. The center of the room was Charles and Camilla. He’s talking to Lily Safra to his right. Bob was seated, but they made me a special table because I had to get up and down. I didn’t use a flash, just available light. It’s a candle-lit photograph. This was the first time they had entertained and received publicly, officially at Buckingham Palace, and it seemed very important to the Prince. She was still Camilla Parker-Bowles. He really appreciated the tone of the picture and the gentility of the whole thing. It was very good for their image together. This story was a huge success for them and everybody else.
EA: I really admire your photograph of Prince Charles standing in his garden. How did that come about?
Bob Colacello and I went out toHighgrove with Robert Higdon, the then
Executive Director of the Prince of Wales Foundation who had hired me.
Bob and I wanted to craft a story for Vanity Fair about the Prince's
good deeds and all formidable people who had come over for the Prince of
Wales Foundation charity events. One result was the picture of Charles
with Camilla entertaining together at Buckingham Palace for the first
time. This was the first time I'd photographed the Prince, and the story
came out very, very well. It was wonderful; I had the whole run of
Buckingham Palace. It was like Eloise with a camera!
This was a
simple story, again with Bob Colacello, about the Prince of Wales's
charities and charitable causes and about Highgrove, so I got to
photograph the exquisite Gardens and whatnot. The Prince was very
relaxed: this was the third time I’d photographed him. There'd been
another Vanity Fair story with Bob in the interim. Highgrove is such a
beautiful place. Look at the walkway. These are all different varieties
of thyme growing between all the lichen-covered paving stones and it’s
so perfectly matured and all these topiaries, and the colors, all the
shades of green and pale yellow and ochre and blue sky. Even his shoes
have a little red tassel.
+ + +
EA: What historical implications do you feel this body of work possesses?
JB: It’s a document of documents spanning 30 years of time – actually fairly important times with important people in important places – all touched by Vanity Fair. The criteria for the book is that either the picture had to be done on assignment for Vanity Fair, whether or not it were published, or it can be a picture that I did elsewhere for other reasons that were itself actually published in VF.
I feel that photography is a documentarian art form. I feel it’s very important to have a film negative as proof that this was for real. I don’t have anything against digital imagery per se as long as there’s some point of departure and reference – which there isn’t. They’ve made a big mistake in not establishing some form of a certifiable proof of what the camera took. I don’t care if it’s even a process that one has to go through of verification. This is something I think is very important. Even in war pictures in journalism there’s a lot of fraud from biased, interested parties with digital. Now, with the newest version of Photoshop, as I understand it, there is a way for the program after you’ve done your cloning and cutting and pasting and this’s and that’s, it will rearrange the pixels in such a way that it’s undetectable. I think, in this way, that digital photography is not photography, in the sense of it being a document. It’s become a form of fiction or photo-illustration. And I feel that photography is a poor tool for fiction, in most cases.
Each subject was photographed in front of the same white backdrop,
standing in a 2ft by 2ft box marked out by tape. They were asked to
bring an item that disclosed something about their personality. "One guy
[Senator Robert Casey] brought a basketball because he played daily
with Barack Obama," says Kander. "Other people brought me ties. Ken
Salazar [interior secretary] brought his cowboy hat. A lot of people
said, 'Look I've got two BlackBerries.'
Photography and text by Rebecca Norris Webb Edited with Alex Webb (Radius, 2012)
"In 2005, Rebecca Norris Webb set out to photograph her home state of
South Dakota, a sparsely populated frontier state on the Great Plains
with more buffalo, pronghorn, mule deer and prairie dogs than people." More here
The women in "She" have a vaporous relationship with their surrounding, their house, their streets, and their landscapes. They are shut in their neurotic attitude from where it is difficult to perceive the outside world. Read more in my Interview with Lise Sarfati...
The Unseen Eye: Photographs from the W.M. Hunt Collection follow an unprecedented theme in which the subject’s eyes are averted, hidden, concealed, pierced, or missing in every photograph. Selected works include photographs by Man Ray, Irving Penn, Robert Frank, Diane Arbus, Richard Avedon, Edward Steichen, Robert Mapplethorpe, Berenice Abbott, and Nadar in a range of formats from daguerreotype to digital...Read more in my Interview with Wm. Hunt
Jerry Atnip's beautiful limited editioned book, "GoneSouth," images of the American South, from Tennessee to Georgia. 200 copies and includes a signed/numbered print. “Many photographers feel that they need to travel to faraway or exotic places to capture great images. I also travel the world on assignments, but enjoy recording the land I was raised in. I find I’m never at a lack for interesting subject matter throughout the South.”–Jerry Atnip
"Core Curriculum: Writings on Photography, a collection of essays, reviews and lectures by Tod Papageorge, one of the most influential voices in photography today. As the Walker Evans Professor of Photography at the Yale University School of Art, Papageorge has shaped the work and thought of generations of artist-photographers, and, through his critical writings he has earned a reputation as an unusually eloquent and illuminating guide to the work of many of the most important figures in twentieth century photography. Among the artists Papageorge discusses in this essential volume are Eugène Atget, Brassaï, Robert Frank (with Walker Evans), Robert Adams and his close friend Garry Winogrand."
"Painter and PhotographerSaul Leiter (b. 1923) exhibited alongside abstract expressionists like Willem de Kooning before beginning in the late 1940s to take photographs. Like Robert Frank or Helen Levitt, he found his motifs on the streets of New York, but at the same time was visibly interested in abstraction. Edward Steichen was one of the first to discover Leiter's photography, showing it in the 1950s in two important exhibitions at New York's Museum of Modern Art. This book, published to mark the first major retrospective of Leiter's work anywhere in the world, features his early black and white and color images, his fashion photography, the over painted nudes, as well as his paintings and sketchbooks."
"...my 25th Anniversary show and book, “An American Gallery, Twenty-Five Years of Photography” (although publishedby Lumiere Press in 2007, this Collection is timeless). I labored for a couple of years about the 25th anniversary, I want to do a publication, I want to do a show, I didn’t know what to do. Part of the problem was I’ve worked with so many photographers and estates and I have so many friends out there that I didn’t feel I could be politically correct. So I just took twenty-five pictures from my own collection and spoke about them and about my involvement in photography." –Read the Interview with Howard Greenberg here
"It’s a document of documents spanning 30 years of time – actually fairly important times with important people in important places – all touched by Vanity Fair." –Jonathan Becker
As one of the great visual storytellers of our time, Becker has worked in an exclusive world of aristocrats, artists, and heads of state most would never observe except through the lens of his Rollei. He’s documented for Vanity Fair HRH The Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker-Bowles at their first public appearance together in Buckingham Palace, "Dr. Death" Jack Kevorkian, China’s outspoken human rights activist Ai Weiwei, the mother of modern dance Martha Graham, as well as countless other fascinating characters from the rarefied worlds of art, literature, politics, pop culture, and society. Read more in my Interview withJonathan Becker...
"John Schabel’s series of photographs depicting anonymous
airline passengers effectively captures the curious blend of impersonal
efficiency and poignant humanity that pervades the experience of
contemporary commercial air travel. Like products on an assembly line,
the planes carrying Schabel’s subjects churn down the runway; and with
the same regularity the individual passengers emerge, identically
framed, from his camera and onto the gallery wall. Interestingly, it is
precisely this mechanized process that lays bare the active, but often
overlooked, emotional and intellectual relationship between human beings
and flight.” — Laura M. Andre
The rocky coast of Maine is where Briechle found himself driven to make pictures, using the wet-plate collodion process, of the individuals who constitute his stand-in family. “I've been in Maine close to eight years now and there are some people I've photographed for the entire time. A few have died and I've shot their likenesses tattooed on the chests of those they've left behind.”
Michal Chelbin, text by novelist A.M. HomesTwin Palms, 2012
There is nothing easy about it.It is a constructed moment, a scene within a scene, the real within the unreal. They are moments, lunga fermata, suspensions of time in the midst of what might otherwise be unbearable.
The images are about a kind of discomfort—theirs, hers, mine and ours. It is like an old fashioned staring contest—one guy looks at the other and the first one who blinks is the loser, except Michal Chelbin never blinks. Instead she captures with the click of a shutter. Chelbin is always looking, drawing what is hidden to the surface. She captures—we shudder.— A.M. Homes
Sailboats and Swans Michal Chelbin's latest body of photography, shot inseven prisons in the Ukraine and Russia over the past six years, explores what it means to be locked and constantly watched.With text by the novelist A.M. Homes, one hundred twenty pages.
Postcards Home, an upcoming book of photographs by Henry Jacobson, is being published byDaylight Booksin 2013 with an essay by Stephen Mayes (Director of VII). The book is the result of three years of nomadic life as a filmmaker/photographer with no permanent address. This was a period of personal, and social, upheaval, of endings and beginnings of very important relationships, of illnesses and deaths and births, of revolutions and occupied public spaces. Every image in this book was taken with an iPhone, and most were immediately sent to Henry's loved ones, friends, and family. The pictures then became a means of connection, a modern day postcard. This synergy of photography and communication, through the use of mobile technology, is changing our understanding of the medium from a frozen moment to a visual interaction between individuals. This work is Henry's attempt to connect with the people and the environments that replaced his concept home.
Green Driver, NY 2010
"TheKickstarterends on the December 18th. I am 50% of the way there and halfway through the time period." Prints and advanced copies can bepurchased here