the man who photographed heroes
From Martin Luther King to Muhammed Ali, David Bowie to Andy Warhol, Steve Schapiro captured the turbulent spirits who ruled the 60s and 70s. As a new exhibition of his work opens in London, we flick through the varied career of one of photography’s...
Bowie with Keaton Book, New Mexico 1975
Steve Schapiro has spent a career photographing the people and events that shaped the culture we live in now. He's shot Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground, Robert De Niro, Robert Redford, David Bowie, artists, musicians and actors who captured the seismic changes that rocked the 60s. And now this iconic body of work is now being brought together in London, for a landmark exhibition, Heroes, uniting Steve's photographs together at ATLAS Gallery.
Born in New York in the 30s, he started taking photos when he was just nine years old, and had his raw talent honed under the tutelage of war photographer and photojournalist William Eugene Smith, and found inspiration from the street photography pioneer Henri-Carter Bresson. These two aesthetics combined in his work, rawness and emotion, bluntness and beauty.
He found himself, right place, right time, starting out as a photojournalist in 1961, and began working for the titans of the genre; Life, Vanity Fair, Sports Illustrated, Newsweek, Time and Paris Match. He found himself at the forefront of the events that shaped the decade's politics, the characters and personalities who shaped its culture.
He took to the streets of Selma with Martin Luther King to protest for voting rights, images that are haunting and powerful, and still resonate today. Around that time he photographed Bobby Kennedy too, JFK's younger brother. By the end of the decade, both MLK and Bobby Kennedy would be dead, assassinated at the dream of the 60s hippies turned to dust.
In the 70s, holed up in Los Angeles, Schapiro began shooting the stars that passed through the city. He started working on the sets of new Hollywood's future greats like Francis Ford Coppola, Roman Polanski and Martin Scorsese, as they made the films that defined the outsider spirit and aesthetic pioneering of the decade. He shot De Niro on the set of Taxi Driver and Brando as The Godfather.
This was followed in 1974 by a chance meeting with David Bowie, who'd relocated to LA to shoot The Man Who Fell To Earth. Schapiro's images of the star document the Thin White Duke in his prime, detached, ice cold, shock of orange hair, cigarette dripping out of mouth, crafting his plastic soul opus Station To Station.
Those images of Bowie stand out as some of the most iconic he ever captured, a rare moment when both photographer and sitter combine at the height of their powers, to create an image that transcends time and place.
HEROES by Steve Schapiro runs from 9 June to 20 August 2016 at ATLAS Gallery, 49 Dorset Street, London, W1U 7NF
Text Felix Petty
Photography © Steve Schapiro