David Bruce: The Coolest People in Art — Photography


• Leonard Nimoy, famous as Dr. Spock in Star Trek, is also a renowned photographer. He spent the first decade of the 21stcentury creating three books of concept photography as well as working on other projects. In 2005, he published Shekhina, a book of portraits of women that explored both their bodies and their soulfulness in his attempt to study “the feminine aspect of God.” In 2007, he published The Full Body Project: Photographs by Leonard Nimoy, which featured plus-size women. Mr. Nimoy says that the book looks at the “distance between reality and the fantasy of fashion photography where clothes are worn by women who, on average, weigh 25 percent less than average women.” In 2008, he photographed strangers in Northhampton, Massachusetts, inviting them “to reveal their secret selves, the self they wish to be or the self they hide from the world. There was a measure of bravery in this by everyone involved. I had no idea what to expect. Some of the people walked in with these amazing stories, stories you couldn’t anticipate or make up.” One portrait shows a man dressed as a forest spirit. His public self is a painter who creates portraits of war veterans, and his secret self reflects his wishes to avoid “war, strife, and violence of all kind[s], and be part of nature,” says Mr. Nimoy. A rabbi wore a leather vest over his bare torso and announced that he was taking this opportunity to reveal to the world that he is gay. A middle-aged psychologist carried a chainsaw that made a powerful contrast to her conservative clothing, explaining that the chainsaw represented her “inner masculine power,” a power that most people do not recognize. A heavyset woman revealed her tattoo-covered backside and said that she was “a shy whore.”

• When famed Canadian portrait photographer Yousuf Karsh took a photograph of playwright George Bernard Shaw, Mr. Shaw said that he would give him only five minutes to take the shot. Mr. Karsh pleaded for 10 minutes, to which Mr. Shaw replied, “When I said five, I meant 10. When you say 10, you probably mean half an hour. This is likely to end up with you taking all the time you want.” Mr. Shaw spoke truly. The photo shoot ended up taking much, much longer than five — or 10 — minutes. During the photo shoot, the two men discussed caricatures — drawings that exaggerate (sometimes cruelly) the features of one’s face and body. Mr. Shaw spoke about the best caricature of himself that he had ever seen. At a dinner party, he conversed with his hostess, then admired a caricature of himself hanging on a wall. He felt that the caricature was cruel, but still the best he had ever seen done of himself. However, when he went to take a closer look at the caricature, he discovered that he had been looking at his reflection in a mirror

• Yousuf Karsh was a master portrait photographer. When Mr. Karsh photographed the artist Joan Miró, Mr. Miró showed up wearing a Savile Row suit and with his hair slicked back. Mr. Karsh asked, “Is this the way you work?” Mr. Miró replied, “Of course not.” Mr. Karsh then said, “I want to photograph the artist, not just someone on a Sunday afternoon.” The finished portrait shows the artist in work clothes, with spots of paint on his hands. Mr. Karsh photographed Tennessee Williams in 1956, a time when the playwright was creating masterpieces. Later, Mr. Williams underwent treatment for alcoholism, and he asked Mr. Karsh for a copy of that portrait, saying, “I want to look at it and remember, and become that person again.” In 1948, Mr. Karsh photographed Albert Einstein, whom he asked, “To whom should we look for the hope of the future of the world?” Mr. Einstein replied, “To ourselves.”

• Photographer Jim Marshall had a terrible temper, but he was capable of kindness. The day after Mimi Fariña, the younger sister of Joan Baez, died, Mr. Marshall, grieving, and wearing for once a coat and tie, distributed photographs that he had taken of her to other mourners at her house. In addition, of course, he was a wonderful photographer, both of the famous and the not famous. He once photographed a group of Italian garbage collectors in San Francisco who sang opera as they worked. A famous photograph of Janice Joplin showed her unhappy and tired backstage with a bottle of Southern Comfort. Looking at the photograph, Ms. Joplin told Mr. Marshall, “Honey, some nights, that’s how it is.” To get a photo of the Allman Brothers laughing, he told them, “I want a laughing shot — or nobody gets any coke.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved



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