Monday, November 28, 2016

Photographer Art Shay at Monroe Gallery

Art Shay: Muhammad's Grandchild With Black Muslim Sisters, 1969

Via The Santa Fe New Mexican

 Friday, November 25, 2016           
The veteran photographer and writer Art Shay cites Honoré Daumier as a longtime inspiration for his focus on civil rights, social justice, and crime. The 19th-century caricaturist taught me to aim my predatory camera at the contumely, at snobbery, pretensions, cruelty, and the machinery of petty power,” Shay writes in his 2000 book Album for an Age: Unconventional Words and Pictures from the Twentieth Century. “Daumier was the only master I really recognized,” Shay told Pasatiempo in mid-November, “because I figured out that what he had done and the time he had done it, like the mid-1850s with a sketchpad, was an extraordinary achievement. I feel that some of my pictures capture some of what he was trying to capture.”
A retrospective of Shay’s images as a street photographer and from assignments with Life, Sports Illustrated, and other magazines, is now on exhibit at Monroe Gallery of Photography, and Shay plans to be there for the opening on Friday, Nov. 25. The last time he was in New Mexico, he was an air cadet — it was World War II, and he would soon be serving as a navigator in a Consolidated B-24 Liberator bomber on more than 50 missions.
Shay was born in 1922 and grew up in the Bronx. In a 2013 piece about his years at Life, he writes that his father, Herman Shay, was once friends with Leon Trotsky in Russia but “had a falling out with him. He came to America and ended up in the family trade, a semi-employed tailor during the Depression who taught me chess and gave me a lifetime reverence for Chekhov, Tolstoy, and Hemingway. He taught me to be a mensch and how to forgive. And as a bar mitzvah present in 1935, he gave me his folding Kodak.”

Shay sometimes had occasion to use a camera in the war years. “As a matter of fact, I began my real photo career at an air base,” he said. “After landing from a mission, I heard this great noise in the sky, and I looked up, and there were 200 planes gathering around a buncher beacon, which is a radio signal; they were all going out on another mission, and two of the Liberators suddenly hit, and 20 kids were killed. I had seven pictures of them coming down from impact to the ball of fire on the ground.”

After the war, Shay was employed for two years as a staff writer at Life magazine. He wrote about those times in a 2011 story in the Chicagoist. “The best show,” he wrote, “was the great Life photographers and contributing geniuses like Ansel Adams who desultorily milled around on the 31st floor where most of the magazine happened. The day I met Adams, a big, balding outdoorsy man, he was flummoxed by the very first electronic flash, sent by Heiland, a Milwaukee strobe firm. ‘Imagine — not having to use flashbulbs!’ Adams exclaimed to Margaret Bourke White.” She then told the story of the time during the war that a flashbulb accidentally exploded as she was posing Joseph Stalin; afterward, the Soviet leader demanded she give him the film she had exposed as he hid behind a sofa.

Art Shay: "be Kind Now", c1950

In 1949, Shay began working on a freelance basis for Life, Time, Sports Illustrated, and other magazines. A small sample of his deep portfolio boasts pictures of Marcel Marceau, the Supremes, Vince Lombardi, Jimmy Hoffa, Johnny Cash, Nikita Khrushchev, nine U.S. presidents, Cassius Clay, Judy Garland, and Timothy Leary. There are also hundreds (or thousands) of images of non-celebrities, the results of his candid work as a street photographer, which included a series of explorations of Chicago with writer Nelson Algren during the 1950s. Shay also worked with photographer Francis Reeves Miller on about 40 stories. According to the Chicagoist piece, Miller was the one who taught him “the art of hiding cameras in shoe shine boxes, briefcases, cigarette lighters, in elaborate bow ties, in holes in jackets my wife would come to hate. He taught me the art of the stakeout, especially of Mafia types.”

More than 70 books bear Shay’s authorship. “There were a lot of kids’ books,” he said by way of explanation. “I raised five kids, and I did things to answer their questions: ‘What happens when you mail a letter, daddy?’ ‘What happens when you put money in the bank?’ ” So his resumé includes What It’s Like to Be a Nurse and What Happens in a Car Factory, as well as 40 Common Errors in Golf and Winning Racquetball; in 2012, this veritable Renaissance man was inducted into the National Racquetball Hall of Fame.

Among the images in a 2002 book titled Animals are Kentucky Derby thoroughbreds and monkeys in little racing cars. “As a Life reporter,” he writes in those pages, “I named the first pair of octopuses that mated in captivity.” His 2003 book Couples has some splendid photographs of couples — and of a couple of pigs, a couple of men outside Ed’s Tap & Restaurant, a couple of nuns, and a couple of clowns. He also wrote several plays. His most recent book is My Florence, a photo-essay on his beloved wife, who died in 2012. “She was a famous rare-book dealer and the friend of a lot of writing types and acting types,” he said. “We just sent an invitation to one of them, David Mamet.”

Another book is now in the works at University of Chicago Press. Its subject will be the same as was featured in last year’s Shay exhibition at the Gage Gallery in Chicago. Called Troublemakers, the show focused on “the chaos Chicagoans experienced in their fight for civil rights from 1948 to 1970,” according to a gallery description. “One of the images is of black people with a sign that says, ‘If you believe in human rights, Mr. Mayor, how come there are no blacks in your neighborhood?’ It’s about the ironies of social change,” Shay said. “There are pictures of kids demonstrating, a lot of police brutality, the 1968 Democratic National Convention, and also a lot of good kid pictures and some others about a human-rights battle in my own community, Deerfield, Illinois, in the early 1950s. There’s lots of action and lots of violence. I’ve always been the go-to photographer in Chicago for this kind of picture, as well as for intellectual sports pictures like the guy in the vines.”

It was less than two weeks after the Chicago Cubs had stunned the sports world by winning the World Series, and we had already discussed Shay’s great 1961 photo of an outfielder trying to catch a fly ball while almost totally submerged in the famous ivy at the back of Wrigley Field. The image shows a line of fans leaning out of the stands reacting to the baseball about to enter the gloved hand sticking out of the tangle of vines.

Asked about favorite cameras over the years, Shay said, “I was mostly a Leica user, an experimenter, and I’d adapt to all kinds of activities. My background was as a reporter and then a bureau chief at Life magazine; I was the youngest bureau chief. When I was twenty-six or twenty-seven, I was head of the San Francisco bureau. I still have a bunch of cameras and camera parts that I gaze at fondly every now and then. And I would design trick cameras for certain uses. I did about 80 Mafia stories — with a hidden camera, usually. My wife was my assistant, and she had a favorite purse camera, with which she nailed the head of the Cleveland Mafia, a guy named Moe Dalitz, who was two tables away.”

The Monroe Gallery show features 50 photographs, a pithy sampling from a very long career. “I’ve had something like 1,200 magazine covers,” Shay said. “That’s a lot of comings and goings and packings and unpackings.”

Thursday, November 24, 2016

History Seer: Art Shay’s America

Marlon Brando and family dog, Libertyville, Illinois, 1950
Art Shay

Via The Santa Fe Reporter
Image result for sf reporter

November 23, 2016

Lifelong photojournalist Art Shay says that his favorite photo shoot was with the legendary Marlon Brando. He tells SFR—during a phone interview from his home in Chicago—that the superstar asked Shay for lady tips. “We were both the same age, about 27. He said, ‘Well, you’ve been around Life magazine a long time. Can you tell me how you know if a young woman is coming after you—is she really hot for you, or is she trying to advance her career?’”
Shay says he answered with age-old, sage advice: “I advanced the same argument that had been historically advanced, which is, ‘You have to figure some things out for yourself.’”

Now 94, Shay helped cultivate the iconography of American history throughout his 70-year career working for publications such as Life and Time magazines. He’s captured nine presidents and countless celebrities, and his work is in the permanent collections of major institutions like the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago and the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Muddy Waters and his wife, Geneva, 1950
Art Shay

Shay’s portfolio has, in fact, shaped the public experience of modern history. Viewers can see a representative sampling at an upcoming exhibit of his photography opening Friday at Monroe Gallery of Photography. “As you really study his work, it’s almost like the work of multiple different photographers,” says Sid Monroe, who co-owns and curates the gallery with Michelle Monroe. “There is an element of street photography, there is photojournalism and documentary photography, there are some elements that are autobiographical. He photographed his wife over the entire course of his marriage and made really beautiful photographs—if the viewer didn’t know it was his wife, it wouldn’t matter.”

Shay’s photographs may feature many different subjects, but each portrays a mood and a story. “I think there are a couple of components to that,” Monroe continues. “The first criteria for a photographer is that a single image conveys a story, captures the time and the emotion; the second part is less under the control of the photographer, and that is the window of history, being present in a moment. And I think what Art did was recognize that he was in the presence of history.”
The exhibit features about 50 of Shay’s photographs, representing multiple periods throughout his career. “What we found so astounding was the enormous range of his work. We tried to present and illustrate that and, at the same time, show off what we feel is a really unique approach to how he made photographs,” Monroe tells SFR.

Shay’s approach, eye and technique produced everyday images just as striking as his portraits of American elites. “There is something so uniquely American about his experience and his perspective and it translates into his images,” says Monroe. “You have these wonderful pictures of children playing in essentially the ghetto of Chicago, and they are just as iconic as pictures of President Kennedy.”

Shay is a bit of a comedian, too. “There’s a place for humor and most photographers don’t handle it too well, [but] I’d like to think that a lot of my pictures are funny,” he says, referring to a particularly humorous photo he snapped as he witnessed three delivery trucks marooned in snow drifts on an empty street in the Bronx, each emblazoned with the words “co-op.” As the drivers assisted each other in escaping their snowy tombs, Shay’s shutter opened and closed. “So I have one picture in which I show the street trucks cooperating and getting each other out of the snow. I thought that was pretty funny,” he says. “I was only 17. I still think it’s funny.”
Many of the events Shay photographed—especially on magazine assignments—were captured in the presence of a slew of other photographers, yet it is his work that stands out among the crowd and that we still see today. These assignments didn’t always include glamorous celebrities. “What makes one photographer’s image stand that test of time?” Monroe posits. “Again, it’s that ability to really capture it,” he says.

And yet, Shay isn’t quite the famed artist he probably should be. Considering he has photographed everyone from Liz Taylor to Mohammad Ali and many of our nation’s most important protest movements, he’s supremely humble. “Art has been a very gentle soul,” Monroe says of the photographer. “He has worked hard and had great success—he hasn’t promoted himself, he hasn’t really reached for recognition. We feel so fortunate because we feel like we’re almost bringing an undiscovered genius to light. We want to be on the rooftops and say, ‘Hey, everybody look at this guy!”

Art Shay: Storyteller Opening reception
5-7 pm Friday Nov. 25. Free.
Monroe Gallery of Photography,
112 Don Gaspar Ave.,

Monday, November 21, 2016

Tuesday To-Do in NYC: Underfire: The Untold Story of Pfc. Tony Vaccaro Discussion at ICP


World War II, Tony Vaccaro played two risky roles, serving as a combat infantryman on the front lines, as well as a photographer who shot nearly 8,000 photographs. Though he began as a young GI eager to record the war, he vowed never to take another war photo on the day the conflict ended, horrified by what he had seen.

Underfire: The Untold Story of Pfc. Tony Vaccaro chronicles the life and vision of this remarkable man, exploring how photography defines the way the public perceives armed conflict, and revealing the sheer difficulty of survival while taking photos in a war zone.

Clips from the film will be shown, followed by a panel discussion. (The entire film will not be shown.)


  • Tony Vaccaro
  • Max Lewkowicz
  • James Estrin


With a $47 camera and developing the negatives in his helmet at night, World War II infantryman Tony Vaccaro took nearly 8,000 photographs on the frontline, creating one of the most comprehensive, haunting, and intimate photographic records of combat of all time. In the decades that followed the war, Tony would go on to become a renowned commercial photographer for magazines such as Look, Life, and Flair, capturing everyone from Marilyn Monroe and Sophia Loren to Pablo Picasso and John F. Kennedy. Tony's work is currently on display at a retrospective in Caen, France and housed in a permanent museum in his honor in Bonefro, Italy. His work is represented by Tony Vaccaro Studio in New York and he is the subject of HBO Documentary Underfire: The Untold story of Pfc. Tony Vaccaro, premiering November 14, 2016.

Max Lewkowicz, founder and owner of Dog Green Productions and director of Underfire: The Untold Story of Pfc. Tony Vaccaro, has written, directed, and produced feature films and hundreds of productions for network and public television, museums, and multinational organizations. He is the recipient of a New York Emmy for his feature film Morganthau, as well as the Silver Screen Award at the U.S. International Film and Video Festival, the grand prize of The Chicago International Film Festival, and the 2003 Award of Excellence from the National Association of Museum Exhibitions.

James Estrin is a Senior Staff Photographer for the New York Times. He is also a founder of Lens, the Times's photography blog, and co-edits it with David Gonzalez. Mr. Estrin has worked for the Times since 1987 and was part of a Pulitzer Prize winning team in 2001. He is a co-executive producer of the movie Underfire: The Untold Story of Pfc. Tony Vaccaro, which will appear on HBO in November 2016. He teaches at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism and the School of Visual Arts Digital Photography Program as well as at Anderson Ranch in Aspen, Colorado. Mr. Estrin attended the Advanced Studies Program at the International Center of Photography from 1979 to 1980.

Event Hashtags


Full details here.

View Tony Vaccaro's photographs at Monroe Gallery of Photography

Friday, November 18, 2016

Join Us Friday, November 25 to Welcome Art Shay

Art Shay: Chili Con Carne, Chicago, 1949

A major exhibition of photographs from one of America’s most accomplished photographers, Art Shay, November 25 through January 22, 2017. Opening reception with Art Shay Friday, November 25, 5-7 PM.

For over 70 years, Art Shay has documented life, combining his gifts of storytelling, humor and empathy. Born in 1922, he grew up in the Bronx and then served as a navigator in the U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II, during which he flew 52 bomber missions and a series of pictures he took of a collision between two B-24s above his air base in East Anglia was published in Look magazine. Shay joined the staff of Life magazine as a writer, and quickly became a Chicago-based freelance photographer for Life, Time, Sports Illustrated and other national publications. He has photographed nine US Presidents and many major figures of the 20th century. Shay also wrote weekly columns for various newspapers, several plays, children's books, sports instruction books, many photo essay books and authored several pays. Shay's photography is in the permanent collections of major museums including the National Portrait Gallery, the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago, and The Art Institute of Chicago. Although his last formal assignment was in 1988, when he shot the night the lights went on at Wrigley Field for Time Magazine, Shay has continued actively photographing in his later years.

View the exhibition on-line here.

Also on exhibit: Tony Vaccaro: War, Peace, Beauty

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Tony Vaccaro: War, Peace, Beauty - A Pop Up Retrospective

© Tony Vaccaro: The Violinist, Venice, Italy, 1947

A pop-up photographic exhibit, in association with the Monroe Gallery of Photography
November 11 – 21, 2016

10:00 am to 6:00 pm, Mondays through Saturdays; 12 - 6 on Sundays
508 W 26th Street, Loft 5G, New York, NY 10001

Also on view at Monroe Gallery of Photography, 112 Don Gaspar, Santa Fe, NM

Essay by Peter Frank from the Catalog TONY VACCARO: WAR, PEACE, BEAUTY

When our lives and our communications were based on a simpler equation than they are now – when there were no social media posts suspended in a zone of truthiness and selfies took a week to come back from the camera store – our relation to the big news and big names of the day was a distant one. Pictures from wars were ominous and dramatic; pictures of celebrities were glamorous and iconic; fashion shots were staged in places we never knew could exist. These people and places and events impacted our lives indirectly – closely enough to get us to vote and go to the movies, but at enough of a remove as to float somewhere between the real and the imagined, the now, the soon, and the later. Time elapsed between the taking and the delivering of the photograph, which gave the photographer just enough room to make a good picture out of a good image – and a good story out of that. This is an entirely different approach to reportorial photography than we’re used to these days; it allowed photographs of urgency and beauty to be artful as well as truthful. Major periodicals were built on this approach, and for decades brought both the world and the brilliance of the people who photographed it to a huge and hungry audience.

Tony Vaccaro is one of these brilliant photographers, one of the last. He may have lived long enough to see his values all but swallowed up by the vacuity of today’s globalized and instantaneous sociobabble; but Vaccaro has also lived long enough to see his own work, along with his peers’ from the golden age of photojournalism, enshrined as examples of the-news-as-art. Vaccaro was adept at conveying what a portrait subject meant to her or his civilization with the same immediacy invested in what a tank rolling through a town meant. Both images had a monumental right-thereness, the moment at once fleeting and eternal. And such images retain that vitality and profundity to this day.
Vaccaro’s early life was spent between the United States, where he was born in Pennsylvania in 1922, and Italy, where his parents’ families resided. In 1939, with the formation of the Axis, Tony and his sisters reclaimed their American passports and returned Stateside. Encouraged by a high school art teacher in suburban New York, Vaccaro discovered himself as a photographer at age 20 – just in time to enter the army and be sent over to England with the 83rd Infantry Division. The “Thunderbolt Division” landed on Omaha Beach two weeks after D-Day and fought its way into Germany, participating in the Battle of the Bulge. As a frontline scout, Vaccaro had both time and inclination to compile photographic documentation of combat, army life, and the newly liberated Europeans he encountered. Discharged from the army in September 1945, Vaccaro stayed in Germany until 1949, working as a photographer for (among other news services) Weekend, the Sunday supplement of Army newspaper Stars and Stripes. His documentation of postwar life throughout Europe was as reverberant as his combat-zone work had been, and – recording as it does both momentous political occasions and everyday life in a continent reduced to rubble – as much of a contribution to history.

Returning to the United States, Vaccaro embarked upon a career as a feature and fashion photographer. This was at a time when glossy weekly publications, with their emphasis on the visual, comprised a form of communication distinct from, complementary to, and every bit as  successful as daily newspapers. Vaccaro spent more than two decades contributing to such magazines as Life, Look, Town and Country, Harper’s Bazaar, Newsweek, Venture, Quick, and Flair, working out of Rome as well as New York and proving equally adept at portraiture, fashion, and action photography. Indeed, many of his published photographs in various genres have proven signal images of the postwar era, etched into the public’s memory as deeply as those of Arnold Newman, Margaret Bourke-White, or Vaccaro’s friend W. Eugene Smith. People know Gwen Verdon, Sophia Loren, Anna Magnani, and Ali MacGraw through his lens as much as they do through the lens of filmmakers; his photo series on Georgia O’Keeffe culminated in an unforgettable picture of the painter holding an abstract painting before the landscape that inspired it. Vaccaro’s vast inventory includes many more such photographs, published and unpublished. In his day he was one of the more sensitive photographers of artists, whether capturing a pensive Jackson Pollock in his studio, a stolid Giorgio de Chirico in raking light, or Frank Lloyd Wright gesturing like a conductor while lecturing at Taliesin. Vaccaro’s postwar portrayals of Europeans, especially Italians, capture in still photography the gritty but poignant neo-realist spirit of filmmakers like Vittorio de Sica and Luchino Visconti. His often experimental fashion shoots play on the animated patterns and extravagant contours coming out of European fashion houses in the 1950s and ‘60s. No matter who they are, Vaccaro seems to empathize with the thoughts and spirits of his subjects, endowing his pictures with a doubled allure for the viewer: you wish you’d been there even as you feel you somehow had been. This allure is only heightened by Vaccaro’s exquisite compositional sense, a formal elegance that calls attention to the subject rather than to itself even as it pervades everything. As Vaccaro has said, “I was born with this idea in my head that every photograph has an order. I have always believed in this. Without geometry, I don’t do photography. Each photograph must be in the geometry.”

As the glossy weeklies (the fashion magazines excepted) waned in prominence in the 1970s, Vaccaro worked less and less with them until officially retiring in 1982. Of course, he has not put his camera down for an instant since, adding steadily to an oeuvre that now numbers some half-a-million pictures. About to celebrate his 94th birthday, Vaccaro is still very much among us. Despite many honors in Europe and America, however, despite numerous exhibitions and upwards of a dozen publications, Vaccaro’s remains a name just beyond the public tongue. We know so many of his images, we respond so readily to his intimate connection with his subjects and his innate ability to compose a picture, but we can’t quite place the signature. The experts know him, historians cite him, his peers laud him as their equal, and those who would keep such inventive photojournalism alive in our Instagram culture turn to him for inspiration. But only now, with a new television documentary and new exhibitions and publications, are the rest of us coming to recognize Tony Vaccaro, not just as one of many cameras in the crowd but as an artist, artisan, reporter and story-teller with his own style and spirit – and, again, author of some of the quintessential images of the postwar era.
— Peter Frank

For further information please contact Monroe Gallery of Photography.