Between Shadows and Highlights

Shades of gray. Photo by Alina Oswald.

Advice on photography from celebrity photographer Greg Gorman – excerpts from a #tbt cover story interview

“A photograph is most successful when it doesn’t answer all the questions but leaves something to the imagination.”

“It’s not always what you say in the highlights, but what you don’t say in the shadows that makes the picture more successful.”

Celebrity Photographer Greg Gorman

Many years ago I had the chance to interview celebrity photographer Greg Gorman for a cover story article. Gorman is known for photographing the likes of Al Pacino, Elton John, and many others. He’s also the author of several photography books.

Here’s an excerpt:

Between Shadows & Highlights
Photographer Greg Gorman Talks Candidly About Celebrities, Photography & the AIDS Pandemic
by Alina Oswald

Photographed Exclusively for A&U by Sean Black

The other day I came across not one, but two inspiring quotes by celebrity photographer Greg Gorman. “For me, a photograph is most successful when it doesn’t answer all the questions, but leaves something to the imagination,” says the first quote. It’s followed closely by a second quote, which adds, “It’s not always what you say in the highlights, but what you don’t say in the shadows that make the picture more successful.”

“The two quotes are pretty intertwined,” Gorman explains over the phone, as he’s preparing large, thirty-by-forty prints of celebrity portraits for a show that opened in Berlin, Germany, this past December. “Back when I started [out as a photographer], my pictures were really broadly lit,” he further comments. “The people looked good, the pictures were pretty and very clear, and you could see everything that was going on. But there wasn’t any mystique.” That mystique came through only once he started creating a relationship between the highlights and shadows in his work. As a result, his images started creating more intrigue, leaving viewers wanting to know more about the subjects. And that’s a good thing, because, he adds, “I don’t think you have to spell everything out.”

Read more here.

Print mats in black and white. ©Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
Print mats in black and white. ©Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.

Here’s also a brief Q&A with celebrity photographer Greg Gorman:

Frame by Frame:

What are your favorite subjects?
People who are not caught up in their own image. Often enough in Hollywood, people have this idea of who they’re supposed to be in front of the lens. Sometimes, breaking through barriers can be a complex situation.

Who would be one person you’d like to have the chance to photograph?
The person I’ve wanted to photograph most of my life, and I’ve been pretty open about that, is Brigitte Bardot. She’s someone that I used to love when I was growing up. For me, she was the ultimate sex symbol, and the hottest gal on the planet. She never really [had] any work [done], and she’s quite old now. I wanted to do a book with her as a contrast [between the way she used to look and the way she looks] right now. She’s very open and candid, but [that kind of project] is something that she doesn’t see the relevance of, which is really unfortunate. But it would have been a great project.

What is your favorite project you’ve worked on?
Gosh! I’ve worked on a lot of great projects over the years. I think probably my favorite project is L.A.Eyeworks, which was an amazing campaign for which I’ve shot people from every walk of life, with very [few] issues from the creative side. They really pretty much let me do what I wanted. We’ve shot everything from drag queens to prolific authors, actors, musicians, and models. And the strong dichotomy in that project, I think, not only produced a great book [Framed], but also broke down a lot of barriers in a lot of ways.

What would be a photography project that you’d like to work on?
It’s funny…I think when you spend your whole life [photographing] people, you often look and admire people that you’re [photographing] outside the comfort zone. I think everything that I work on, it would have to be people-related. I’d like to do a project showing any aspects of humanity. It could be very interesting.

What would you tell someone who wants to become a celebrity photographer?
I think that the celebrity world has changed lately. I think the reason why I got out of the world of celebrity—I did it for forty years—is that creatives, today, have a different mindset, [and] are much younger. It’s totally contradictory to who I am, and who I am as an artist. The world today is a different world….It’s a completely different mindset.

What advice would you give young photographers?
Starting out today? Well, for young photographers starting out today I’d suggest finding another profession…because with the onset of [smart]phones, everybody considers himself to be the greatest photographer. So, that being said, for working photographers, and I think for most photographers, I would say, don’t ever feel like you’ve taken the perfect picture. There’s always room for improvement. Every time I look at my work, and at [recent work], I think of how to find a way to be much better, and I think that’s what pushes [the] drive of a creative person, and keeps an artist moving forward.

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