Changed faces and altered points of view

A celebrated photographer's imaginative retrospective


By Melanie Abrams, September 28, 2012
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Steve Schapiro: Then and Now/ Hatje Cantz, £55

Woody and ant

Woody and ant

Steve Schapiro has taken some of the most instantly recognisable photographs of the past 50 years so it must have been a tough challenge to decide what went into his new, retrospective photo-book.

Interestingly, instead of focusing on his best-known images from the sets of The Godfather, Taxi Driver, Chinatown and other legendary films, Schapiro has prioritised his documentary work. He takes us from the tough streets and vibrant theatres of 1960s Harlem, and poverty in Prague, to the close-knit, hippie community of latter-day Dublin.

But the famous faces have not been eschewed. Rather, they have been given a subtle twist. His iconic portrait of Marlon Brando as Don Corleone in The Godfather, for example, is not the actual shot. Instead, it is a photograph of a graffiti image splayed across the wall of a building in Berlin.

Rarely seen or previously unpublished shots in domestic settings add new insight to celebrities’ everyday lives and personalities, making them more accessible. Mae West, for example, parodies her sex-symbol image by adopting the pose of a Greek statue on an ornate table behind her. Elsewhere, Barbra Streisand and Goldie Hawn tenderly play with their sons.

Schapiro’s gentle humour pervades the selection, offering a clue as to how he achieve his results. The opening image is of a man with mousetraps attached to his face, and Woody Allen is pictured (right) taking an ant for a walk on a lead.

While Henri Cartier-Bresson’s “decisive moment” technique inspired Schapiro, the images in this book are more those of a master of the intimate moment — on the streets of LA, at home with Mohammed Ali, behind the scenes with Dustin Hoffman, or Kanye West in concert.

This arresting juxtaposition of images reflects a still-evolving career and whets the appetite for what Schapiro will do next.

Melanie Abrams is a freelance arts writer

    Last updated: 3:24pm, September 28 2012