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« A Moment: Master Photographers, Portraits by Michael Somoroff »



With essays by Michael Somoroff and William A. Ewing    

      Published by Damiani, October 2012    

From 1977 to 1983, Michael Somoroff, then a gifted young New York photographer in his twenties filled with passion, drive, and unbridled enthusiasm, had the privilege of photographing some of the greatest photographers of the 20th century, including Brassaï, Elliot Erwitt, Andreas Feininger, Ralph Gibson, André Kertész, Duane Michals, Arnold Newman, Helmut Newton, and Jacques Henri Lartique, among others. He was first introduced to many of these icons through his father, Ben Somoroff, who studied under Alexey Brodovitch, and was one of the most influential still life photographers in the history of the medium. These photo sessions granted to Michael were deeply personal, and it was never his intention to make the resulting images public.

The prints and negatives remained in storage for decades until just recently several colleagues saw them, felt they were important, and convinced Michael to share them with the world. Nearly 35 years after the first photo session, this historic body of work will be published in A Moment: Master Photographers, Portraits by Michael Somoroff (Damiani, October 2012) with an essay by William A. Ewing who knew Michael at the time he had begun executing the portraits as he was working with the young photographer putting together his first show at the International Center of Photography. The book also includes personal reminiscences by Somoroff. In 2011, Somoroff made the last portrait of the late Lillian Bassman, and a portrait of Mary Ellen Mark. These images are included in the book. (See complete artist list below.)

Master Photographers represents a special “moment” in the history of photography, and the artists that played a dominant role in shaping the medium. These portraits reflect the climax of analog image making. The photographs were made in various locations, including at Somoroff’s studio in New York where he bathed his subjects in natural light. The images were made in a spirit of comradeship, collaboration, and experimentation between apprentice and master, and are remarkable for their emotional impact, composition, and creativity.

Somoroff’s Story

In his essay, Somoroff reminisces about growing up in his father’s studio, which was a mecca for some of the most prominent art directors, designers, writers and artists of the time. Somoroff’s mother, Alice Bruno, was one of the most successful fashion models of the era, and one of the great successes of Eileen Ford’s original stable of models. His mother and father met on assignment for Mademoiselle. Privileged to have been mentored by many of his parent’s milieu (Henry Wolf was Michael’s godfather, and Milton Glaser gave him his first magazine assignment), Michael was a proficient photographer by his early twenties when Richard Avedon helped facilitate his first show at the fledgling ICP in 1979 by asking Cornell Capa to review young Somoroff’s portfolio. At the time Michael was in regular contact with other Brodovitch alumni including, Arnold Newman, Art Kane, Louis Faurer, and Ben Rose. He writes that it was Irving Penn, another colleague of his father’s who had assisted Brodovitch, who was a driving force behind his decision to turn to portraiture when he saw Penn’s Small Trades series as presented in his book Moments Preserved, and the subsequent book Worlds in a Small Room published in 1974. The greatest influence by far in Michael’s career was his father who he assisted for years while also working for many of his father’s friends.

Ben Somoroff studied photography at the Pennsylvania Museum of Industrial Art (now the University of the Arts) under the legendary Alexey Brodovitch who was the art director of Harper’s Bazaar from 1938- 1958. His illustrious fellow students included Irving Penn, Louis Faurer, Ben Rose, Arnold Newman, Sol Mednick, and Isadore Possoff, as preeminent American curator Anne Wilkes Tucker writes in her monograph, Louis Faurer. This group became known as the “Philadelphia School” of photographers. Their work in portraiture, still life, and fashion photography dominated the major magazines during the heyday of magazine publishing, including Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Look, Esquire, and Mademoiselle. The rigorous teachings and philosophy of Brodovitch informed every aspect of their work.

A Defining Moment in the History of Photography

In his essay, acclaimed curator and historian William A. Ewing contextualizes Michael’s work within the fertile and expansive period from which it emerged, when photography was slowly receiving the recognition it deserved as an art form. Institutions were being formed, galleries were springing up, a market was being created, a public was being educated, and photographers were buoyed by a tremendous optimism. Ewing also addresses the spirited debates of the time, when battles raged over the spheres of art and commerce. In short, Ewing’s essay provides a vivid sense of the world of photography in the 1970s and early ‘80s, a world in which the young Michael Somoroff found his voice.

1. Frances McLaughlin-Gill, New York City, 1978 2. Cornell Capa, New York City, 1978
3. Art Kane, New York City, 1979
4. Bert Stern, New York City, 1979
5. Ben Somoroff, New York City, 1977
6. Sid Kaplan, New York City, 1979
7. Herman Landshoff, New York City, 1979
8. Arnold Newman, New York City, 1979
9. Horst P. Horst, Oyster Bay, New York, 1980
10. Elliott Erwitt, East Hampton, New York, 1980
11. Ernst Haas, New York City, 1980
12. Ralph Gibson, New York City, 1980
13. Andreas Feininger, New York City, 1980
14. Alfred Eisenstaedt, New York City, 1980
15. Duane Michals, New York City, 1980
16. André Kertész, Paris, 1982
17. Jeanloup Sieff, Paris, 1983
18. Jacques Henri Lartigue, Paris, 1983
19. Brassaï, Paris, 1983
20. Robert Doisneau, Paris, 1983
21. Helmut Newton, Monaco, 1983
22. Fritz Kempe, Hamburg, 1983
23. F. C. Gundlach, Hamburg, 2011
24. Lillian Bassman, New York City, 2011
25. Mary Ellen Mark, New York City, 2011

Michael Somoroff studied at Parsons The New School for Social Research in New York City. He later moved to Hamburg where he met and was guided by F.C. Gundlach and others, including Brassaï, Jeanloup Sieff, and Robert Doisneau. It was in Europe that his career as a photographer really took off. Somoroff photographed for virtually every major magazine on the continent. From Europe he eventually moved back to the United States and continued photographing as well as developing work in other mediums. He is an internationally celebrated director/cameraman, and a senior partner in one of the most successful commercial production company’s in the world, MacGuffin Films Ltd. In 2011, his body of work titled Absence of Subject in which he appropriates select images of August Sander as an homage to the artist was published as a monograph entitled Absence of Subject: The Images of Michael Somoroff and August Sander, and also exhibited on Piazza San Marco during the 2011 Venice Biennale. In 2006 he was invited by the Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas to place his acclaimed photo based sculptural installation, Illumination I, on the campus grounds. It was the first such invitation ever made by the Chapel, and the only addition to it since Barnett Newman‘s Broken Obelisk was placed there some 30 years prior. A book about the making of this groundbreaking installation was published by the chapel that same year, and includes an essay by renowned art historian David Anfam. Somoroff’s work is in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art, New York, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., among other venues. He is represented by the Feroz Gallery, which is owned by Julian Sander, the great grandson of the great portrait photographer August Sander and the Thomas Schulte Gallery in Berlin.

William A. Ewing is an internationally respected curator and author on photography. From 1977 to 1984 he was director of exhibitions at the International Center of Photography, New York, and between 1996 and 2010 he was director of the Musée de L’Elysée, Lausanne, Switzerland. His exhibitions have been shown at major venues in the US and Europe, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Centre Pompidou, Paris; the Hayward Gallery and the Serpentine Gallery, London; the Kunsthaus Zürich; and the Montreal Museum of Art. His many publications include: The Body: Photoworks of the Human Form (1994); reGeneration: 50 Photographers of Tomorrow (2005); reGeneration2: Tomorrow’s Photographers Today (2010); Face: The New Photographic Portrait (2008); and Ernst Haas: Color Correction (2010). He has also co-authored two Edward Steichen publications: Edward Steichen: Lives in Photography, and Edward Steichen: In High Fashion, the Condé Nast Years 1923-1937 (2008). For many years, he taught the history and analysis of photography at the University of Geneva. Today he is director of Curatorial Projects for the international publishing house, Thames & Hudson.

Download the press release (PDF)

28 x 33 cm.
Pgs. 138 ill. 110
Rights world
Eur 40.00 Usd 50.00 GbP 30.00
ISBN 978-88-6208-211-2


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