Who’s Who @Staley-Wise

JTF (just the facts): A total of 50 black-and-white and color photographs, variously framed and matted, and hung against white walls in the main gallery spaces and the office area. (Installation shots below.)

The following works are included in the show:

  • Milton Greene: 1 gelatin silver print, 1959, sized roughly 16×20 inches
  • Anton Perich: 1 gelatin silver print, c1970s/later, sized roughly 14×21 inches
  • Daniel Kramer: 1 archival pigment print, 1965/later, sized roughly 16×19 inches, in an edition of 25
  • Herb Ritts: 1 gelatin silver print, 1991, sized roughly 12×19 inches, in an edition of 25; 1 gelatin silver print, 1991, sized roughly 14×18 inches, in an edition of 25; 1 gelatin silver print, 1993, sized roughly 15×18 inches, in an edition of 25; 1 gelatin silver print, 1991, sized roughly 8×9 inches, in an edition of 25; 1 gelatin silver print, 1988, sized roughly 10×13 inches, in an edition of 25; 1 gelatin silver print, 1992, sized roughly 10×12 inches, in an edition of 25; 1 gelatin silver print, 1987, sized roughly 15×19 inches, in an edition of 25
  • Harry Benson: 1 archival pigment print, 1968/later, sized roughly 23×28 inches, in an edition of 35; 1 archival pigment print, 1976/later, sized roughly 15×20 inches, in an edition of 35; 1 archival pigment print, 1966/later, sized roughly 14×20 inches, in an edition of 35
  • Phil Stern: 1 gelatin silver print, 1955/later, sized roughly 14×18 inches
  • Arthur Elgort: 1 gelatin silver print, 1988, sized roughly 15×22 inches, in an edition of 30
  • Abe Frajndlich: 1 archival pigment print, 1985/later, sized roughly 15×18 inches; 1 archival pigment print, 1991, sized roughly 14×14 inches
  • Peggy Sirota: 1 archival pigment print, 1994, sized roughly 19×23 inches, in an edition of 10; 1 archival pigment print, 1996, sized roughly 19×23 inches, in an edition of 10; 1 archival pigment print, 1999, sized roughly 23×23 inches, in an edition of 10; 1 archival pigment print, 2000, sized roughly 18×23 inches, in an edition of 10
  • Gilles Bensimon: 1 gelatin silver print, 1988, sized roughly 22×27 inches, in an edition of 6
  • Mark Seliger: 1 platinum palladium print, 2010, sized roughly 16×19 inches, in an edition of 15
  • Lee Lockwood: 1 archival pigment print, 1975/posthumous, sized roughly 12×18 inches
  • Michael O’Neill: 1 archival pigment print, 1999, sized roughly 18×18 inches, in an edition of 14
  • Peter Basch: 1 gelatin silver print, 1967/later, sized roughly 8×12 inches
  • Unknown: 1 archival pigment print, 1946/later, sized roughly 18×22 inches
  • Bert Stern: 1 chromogenic print, 1996, sized roughly 13×19 inches, in an edition of 30
  • Sam Shaw: 1 archival pigment print, 1957/posthumous, sized roughly 24×36 inches, in an edition of 30
  • Edward Quinn: 1 gelatin silver print, 1953, sized roughly 9×9 inches; 1 gelatin silver print, 1955/posthumous, sized roughly 9×15 inches
  • Ron Galella: 1 gelatin silver print, 1971, sized roughly 7×11 inches; 1 gelatin silver print, 1978, sized roughly 8×10 inches
  • Alfred Wertheimer: 1 gelatin silver print/later, 1956, sized roughly 11×17 inches; 1 gelatin silver print, 1958/later, sized roughly 9×13 inches; 1 RC print, 1956/later, sized roughly 6×10 inches; 1 RC print, 1956, sized roughly 6×9 inches
  • Sophie Elgort: 1 Fuji Crystal archival print, 2019, sized roughly 10×15 inches, in an edition of 30
  • Stephanie Stylander: 1 archival pigment print, 2000, sized roughly 20×24 inches, in an edition of 9+3AP; 1 archival pigment print, 1993, sized roughly 20×24 inches, in an edition of 9+3AP; 1 archival pigment print, 2001, sized roughly 20×24 inches, in an edition of 9+3AP
  • Ellen Von Unwerth: 1 Fuji Crystal archival print, 2009, sized roughly 14×22 inches, in an edition of 15
  • David LaChapelle: 1 chromogenic print, 1999, sized roughly 17×24 inches, in an edition of 10+3AP
  • Philippe Halsman: 1 gelatin silver print, c1950/later, sized roughly 11×14 inches
  • André de Dienes: 1 gelatin silver print, 1945, sized roughly 9×11 inches
  • Bob Willoughby: 1 archival pigment print, 1962/posthumous, sized roughly 12×18 inches, in an edition of 25
  • Jerry Schatzberg: 1 gelatin silver print, 1962/later, sized roughly 9×14 inches, in an edition of 20; 1 gelatin silver print, 1966/later, sized roughly 18×18 inches, in an edition of 20
  • Deborah Turbeville: 1 gelatin silver print, 1981, sized roughly 13×19 inches
  • John Loengard: 1 gelatin silver print, 1965/later, sized roughly 8×12 inches
  • Jack Robinson: 1 gelatin silver print, 1969/posthumous, sized roughly 14×14 inches, in an edition of 50

Comments/Context: Almost by definition, celebrity portraiture features people we can easily recognize. The familiar faces might be musicians, actors, artists, fashion models, athletes, politicians, or other famous people, and since we as viewers are drawn to these stars and want to get up closer (via these pictures) than we are usually allowed, the resulting photographs tend to make it easy for us to identify who we’re seeing.

This playful group show of celebrity portraiture cuts against this kind of predictable obviousness, offering a range of celebrity images where the subject isn’t shown directly. In all of the included images, the famous sitters are blocked, obscured, turned away, hidden, or otherwise less than entirely recognizable, and the wall labels have been made similarly indirect, with unattributed quotes from the stars on the outside (like clues) and the image details and identities only revealed underneath the flap. The show therefore becomes a kind of celebrity guessing game, with each portrait an engaging test of identification.

Several of the pictures here capture celebrities with their hands over their eyes. The gesture could of course have any number of meanings – shielding from glare or flash bulbs, hiding from paparazzi, taking a moment to think or rest, playing a version of hide-and-seek or peek-a-boo, or simply refusing to participate in the photographic exchange. Bob Dylan seems weary in his hand-over-eyes portrait by Daniel Kramer, while Julia Child is wiping her eyes with a kitchen towel in a picture by Lee Lockwood. Marilyn Monroe seems plausibly annoyed by San Shaw’s photograph, her hand trying to cover herself up while she talks on the telephone, as does Greta Garbo while trying to avoid Ron Galella’s gaze on a New York city sidewalk. And Audrey Hepburn appears to be taking a second to center herself during a glamorous shoot with Gilles Bensimon, her hands tented against her forehead in concentration.

Another group of images essentially reverses this eye covering instinct, by making portraits that only show us the eyes of the subject. James Dean peeks out from underneath his pulled up sweater in a picture by Phil Stern, and Brad Pitt is similarly seen covered to his eyes in a pool of water in a photograph by Peggy Sirota. Wrappings feature in two more pictures, with Elizabeth Taylor with a towel around her head in a portrait by Herb Ritts and Jackie Kennedy in a ski mask in another by Harry Benson. Among the more cleverly staged versions of this eyes-only idea comes in an image of Roy Lichtenstein, half of his face hidden behind a large paint-filled brush.

A number of images capture their subjects from behind, showing us their backs as they stand turned away. The most famous of these is likely Mark Seliger’s formal portrait of Barack Obama, but a handful of other inclusions riff on the same theme with more casualness. Alfred Wertheimer catches Elvis Presley leaving the Richmond train station, Harry Benson finds Martin Luther King Jr. walking away with his suit coat draped over his shoulder, and Edward Quinn documents Pablo Picasso up on a ladder painting a mural. More seductive are Quinn’s portrait of Sophia Loren bending over a balcony in Cannes and Ritts’ portrait of Cher in a slinky body suit, while Ron Galella’s picture of Jackie Onassis running in Central Park has a creepier voyeuristic edge.

Silhouetting is another strategy employed by these portrait photographers to create a sense of mystery or to amplify certain personality characteristics. Cigars feature in silhouetted pictures of Alfred Hitchcock (by an unknown photographer) and James Gandolfini (by Michael O’Neill), while the head of John F. Kennedy Jr. is silhouetted in front of the US Capital building (by Bert Stern). More feminine are a late 1960s era image of Catherine Deneuve (by Peter Basch) and a 1970s picture of Dolly Parton putting on her makeup in a mirror (by Harry Benson), both women seen in darkened lit-from-behind profile.

Placing a celebrity in a costume, or using a prop to give the setup some unexpected energy, is perhaps a more straightforward way to give someone familiar a temporary new persona. David LaChapelle puts fried eggs behind Elton John’s eyeglasses, Philippe Halsman threads Salvador Dali’s mustache through a block of cheese, and Herb Ritts hides Prince’s face behind a hat with a veil of chains. Even more extreme are Ellen Von Unwerth’s head-to-toe wrapping of Lady Gaga in gauze, and Jerry Schatzberg’s group shot of the Rolling Stones in drag. Other masked examples feature Jack Nicholson in his makeup as the Joker (by Herb Ritts) and Brooke Shields sitting in her kitchen in a gas mask (by Sophie Elgort).

The last approach used by photographers to upend our usual notions of celebrity portraiture is getting closer to the subject, so close indeed that we lose sight of their faces and instead pay attention to other body parts that might have a particular personal resonance or importance. A salon style hanging of images gathers together Marilyn Monroe’s hand (by André de Dienes), the Dalai Lama’s hand (by Herb Ritts), Elvis Presley’s hand (by Alfred Wertheimer), and the lips of Louis Armstrong (by John Loengard). And feet get similar notice, in the form of Marlene Dietrich’s legs (by Milton Greene), Judy Garland’s feet and shoes (by Bob Willoughby), Bruce Springsteen’s boots (by Herb Ritts), and Diana Vreeland’s loafers (by Deborah Turbeville), among others.

With all these games of visual misdirection going on, Who’s Who is a whimsical and spirited group show, clearly one of the most engaging and fun of this summer season. When we unpack its offerings more systematically, it also offers a thoughtful range of portraiture strategies that successfully avoid the standard face forward setup, and do so with a lively and mischievous sense of play. Anton Perich’s image of Andy Warhol hidden behind his Polaroid camera will likely appeal to a narrow group of photography specialists, but the rest of the show is broadly exuberant and smart, challenging us to check off the bold-faced names we can recognize with a limited array of visual evidence.

Collector’s POV: The works in this group show are priced as follows, by photographer:

  • Milton Greene: $15000
  • Anton Perich: $2000
  • Daniel Kramer: $5000
  • Herb Ritts: $50000, $9000, $8000, $6000, $6000, $6500, $10000
  • Harry Benson: $20000, $6000, $6000
  • Phil Stern: $6500
  • Arthur Elgort: $9750
  • Abe Frajndlich: $4500, $4000
  • Peggy Sirota: $6500, $6500, $6500, $6500
  • Gilles Bensimon: $5000
  • Mark Seliger: POR
  • Lee Lockwood: $2500
  • Michael O’Neill: $5000
  • Peter Basch: $4500
  • Unknown: $1300
  • Bert Stern: $7500
  • Sam Shaw: $8500
  • Edward Quinn: $5500, $1900
  • Ron Galella: $3000, $2300
  • Alfred Wertheimer: $5000, $5000, $3000, $3000
  • Sophie Elgort: $1500
  • Stephanie Stylander: $4500, $4500, $4500
  • Ellen Von Unwerth: $11300
  • David LaChapelle: $12000
  • Philippe Halsman: $5000
  • André de Dienes: $2300
  • Bob Willoughby: $2000
  • Jerry Schatzberg: $6000, $11000
  • Deborah Turbeville: $10000
  • John Loengard: $2500
  • Jack Robinson: $1600

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JTF (just the facts): Published in 2023 by MACK Books (here). Hardcover, 17 x 21 cm, 192 pages, with 87 color and black-and-white photographs. Includes texts by the artist and ... Read on.

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