Friday, July 20, 2012

Editta Sherman's Portraits Are Breathing At 25 CPW Gallery

And so is Editta!

I was delighted to pass by the corner gallery at 25 Central Park West and find it open and graced by the presence of Editta Sherman who was graciously willing to talk about the celebrities she has photographed over a span of 50 years (1940-1990)

First, I toured the 75 portraits in the exhibit, and as is always the case, excellent prints sized extravagantly are what make going to a photo show worth the trip. These celebrity portraits really seem to breathe. Portrait photographers each bring a distinctive style to their depictions. Editta doesn't seem to ask the subject for anything and she doesn't do much set-up. Her approach carefully captures all the details of the subject's face with an infused radiance that is missing from current photographic processes. She works like a map maker. In the room was the gigantic wooden camera she used. A digital camera that fits in a shirt pocket will simply never do what that behemoth can do, and I doubt the disposable Nan Goldin would find much here to appreciate.

I asked Editta to tell me about Frank Morgan (The Wizard of Oz.) She said, "He was a gracious and wonderful man. My husband and I had just set up shop in Martha's Vineyard when we heard he had arrived on someone's yacht. That is why he is dressed like that in the portrait. My husband hurried down to the dock and asked him if I could photograph him and he agreed. His wife said, 'If there's a camera in the room, Frank will go for it.' Later we all went out to dinner and had a great time."

When I remarked about a more recent  celebrity among the vintage stars, Tilda Swinton, Editta said,"When she came to my studio she looked at this dress I had on a hanger and she liked it and asked to try it on. That's what she is wearing in the picture. When we were done, she asked if she could buy the dress from me. I had just purchased it. I didn't know what to say. She offered me $500 and I said okay."

When we discussed Photoshop and the need to produce portraits that flattered the client, she mumbled something about Mary Martin demanding an extreme amount of retouching. That portrait looks like something from Madame Tussaud's.

when I told Editta that I wished she were still working, she said that she has plans to photograph Mario Testino who is himself a famous celebrity photographer. Editta is 100 years old.

The gallery is located at 25 Central Park West and 62nd Street. On July 24th, they will screen the documentary movie Lost Bohemia directed by Josef Astor about the eviction of the  residents of the Carnegie Hall apartments.

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