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Exclusive Interview with Jerry Schatzberg – High Low Vintage

jerry collage dispatch

HLV EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW  Jerry Schatzberg. Photographer. Filmmaker. A truly iconic creative force from the 50s through today. His fashion photography broke ground with it’s natural and sophisticated sensibility. His work with Dior and the accompanying book are stunning. He was part of the 70s film renaissance. He discovered Pacino and worked with him twice. His contemporaries are Scorsese and Cimino. He was a member of the Cannes Film Festival jury in 2004… and he shot Dylan’s ‘Blonde on Blonde’ cover. Wow… and that was just the beginning. Mr. Schatzberg was kind enough to answer a few questions for HLV. He’s in pre-production on his follow up to the film ‘Scarecrow’ with Pacino…. so HLV feels fortunate to have a few minutes with him.  So without further ado, Mr. Schatzberg… (Info on each shot included in the above collage is below the interview here).

You grew up in New York and still live there.  What do you love about New York today and how does it inform both your photography and filmmaking?  I love it all. When I walk out my door I know I’m home, it’s where my roots are. I love the people, I love the chaos, I love the cultural aspect of it, I love the restaurants, the subways, I love New York. And I love the weather, I think when the sun shines it’s the most beautiful light in the world. But we don’t only have that, we do have overcast, we do have rain, we do have snow, we do have our share of it all and that’s what I believe that New York is… it has everything.

Your fashion photography always conveys elegance and sophistication. Was that intentional or did you let each shoot organically evolve. As a Bronx Boy, was the Manhattan elegance something you pined for growing up?  What I convey is purely instinctual. It’s the way I feel, its what I’ve observed, and what I like. As a boy in the Bronx I was completely influenced by the Bronx. Then I lived in Queens and I was influenced by that. Finally I lived in Manhattan and of course I was influenced by that.

You started at a very early age to work with Alexey Brodovitch but you jumped ship and started on your own. Did people at the time think that was reckless of you or just an innate, ballsy confidence of what you knew you could achieve?  First of all I didn’t work with Alexey Brodovitch, I took his course, so I didn’t jump ship. He was very influential in my thinking and still is. I was, at that time, working for Bill Helburn and I worked for him for two and a half years and I learned an awful lot working there. When I started I knew nothing, believe it or not I’m still learning today.

Your work with model Anne St. Marie is iconic. How did that relationship start?  When I was working for Bill Helburn he used her, we became friends. Family friends, hers and mine. And as I started to grow in the business and had my own studio she became my favorite model and I hope my work shows that. She was just as good as they come. When people can relate to one another in any creative endeavor the work will always come out good.

When Esquire Magazine sent you to Paris in 1962 for the collections you came back with photos that definitely had a photojournalistic look, very cinematic…not a traditional fashion look at that time.  Was that the assignment as planned or was Esquire surprised? No, the assignment for Esquire was Behind the Scenes and that immediately means they want something more journalistic. The fact that it has a quality of cinema to it, that might just be the way I think. I have had many comments saying that my photographs are very cinematic and I take that as a compliment. Fashion has taught me a lot about movement, composition, design and I have always been thankful for the chance to work in that field. It has given me a lot. I’m not sure whether Esquire was surprised but they seemed to like what I did.

How did the shoot for Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde album come about? Were you two friends before the shoot because you really seemed to capture his soul at that time in his life, his intelligence and his arrogance, like he was looking through people — and was not impressed with what he saw.  Yes, we had become friends because I started shooting him when he was recording Highway 61. His manager and he liked the photographs very much and then I asked them if they would come into the studio. I felt I would have a little more and different kind of control. They agreed and as we photographed more and more Dylan felt more at ease and confident that I wasn’t there to take advantage of him in any way. Since he liked what I was doing he asked me if I would do a cover for an album he had just recorded. I said yes. We started working in the studio and then I felt I wanted to go outside. It was a very cold day, I’ve always liked the Meatpacking district, before it became so fashionable. We went down there on a fairly cold shivery day and the results were the cover of Blonde on Blonde.

The photos of The Rolling Stones in WWII drag from 1966 for the U.S. cover of the single HAVE YOU SEEN YOUR MOTHER, BABY, STANDING IN THE SHADOW? is terrific! How much planning was needed and were they immediately up for the challenge?  Yes I was immediately up for the challenge. I knew The Stones, I knew their personalities and when it was proposed to me to do them in Drag I just felt I wanted to do them as American mothers, since I am American, and they agreed. The photo was kind of a cool idea. We all had a terrific time. My fashion coordinator Jo Ynocencio did a fantastic job in getting clothes together and dressing him. They insisted on wearing the underwear, and-all. Challenges like that are always invigorating and fun for all involved. I must say I was a little worried when they tried to get my cat Cha Cha stoned, but it all worked out well.

When did you first start to think you wanted to direct films and how did you put the financiers at ease with being a first time director?  When my favorite model was having personal problems I was very friendly with her and felt very bad about her situation. I tried to help her in a number of ways as she helped me enormously in a number of ways. And I wanted to tell the story. In thinking how to tell it I tried to think of it in stills at first but that didn’t have enough power. So I started talking to friends and I realized that the only way I could tell a story completely with the kind of emotion I was looking for was to do it as a film. I was lucky enough to be friendly with Faye Dunaway and when she came on board it became much more of a major project. Another advantage we had is that she was able to meet Anne and know her character.

Your films have great story telling and, seeing that you’ve worked with great writers like Carole Eastman, Joan Didion and Carol Sobieski, do you feel like you had a deeper rapport with your female collaborators? And might that have come from working for so long in the fashion industry?  I’ve always liked working with women, it started in the fashion world. My closest friends are women because I find them more interesting quite honestly. That’s not completely true because I had an incredible collaboration with Harold Pinter in one of my films and also David Freeman. Joan Didion’s collaborator was John Dunne, so it’s not something that is thought out. If it happens that you find someone you can collaborate with and it works then the project will work. I feel the most important thing in making a film is the script.

You discovered many actors, like Al Pacino, that went on to become American cinema giants. Did you think they would become so iconic or was it simply that their talent impressed you at the time?  It was simply that the talent impressed me. Actually, characters like Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, Morgan Freeman, were so evident to me. We never know whether a career will come out of it but I know who I want to work with. I had seen Al on stage 4 years before I ever went in to film and I knew he was a great actor.  That’s all I think of. Whether they become cinema giants, that’s not up to me. All I can do is what I do; give them a part, work with them, and get as good a performance as I can.

You’ve been linked romantically with many famous women, among them Faye Dunaway, Catherine Deneuve and Barbara Parkins. Was this just because you all worked and lived in the same world or is there something about an actress that attracts you?  Don’t believe all that you read and what people say about who and when someone is linked with somebody. It’s obvious that in the world of fashion and the world of cinema there are many beautiful women and if you’re working there you can’t help but make contact with each other.

I’m going to assume you’re shooting digital now. What’s your everyday, walking-around-NY-and-shooting camera? And do you find digital gives you the same warmth and depth as film stock or is there something missing?  My camera of choice right now is the Nikon d800 and I never look at it in terms of warmth and depth. I think only of subject matter and the digital camera gives me the same subject matter as a film camera.

Thank you Mr. Schatzberg. Much appreciated!


Breakdown of image information from above collage:

1. Jerry Schatzberg Vogue 1960

2. Jerry Schatzberg of Bob Dylan 1965

3. Jerry Schatzberg of Anne St. Marie for Vogue 1958

4. Mr. Schatzberg 1960s

5. Jerry Schatzberg of Faye Dunaway in his film ‘Puzzle of a Downfall Child’ 1970 which was inspired by the life of Anne St. Marie.

6. Mr. Schatzberg 2010

7. Jerry Schatzberg 1962. Cover of his book PARIS: 1962.