David Attie

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David Attie was a prominent American commercial and fine art photographer, who was widely published in magazines and books from the late 1950s until his passing in the 1980s. His work has been rediscovered and revived with the 2015 publication of his Truman Capote collaboration "Brooklyn: A Personal Memoir, With The Lost Photographs of David Attie,"[1] as well as a 2016-18 exhibit of his early work at the Brooklyn Historical Society. While he worked in a wide range of styles, creating the best-known portraits of playwright Lorraine Hansberry[2] and illustrating everything from novels to album covers[3] to the work of Capote, Attie was known for multiple imagery—highly inventive, pre-Photoshop montages made by combining negatives in the darkroom—and also for a style of portraiture in which the subjects themselves controlled the exposure.

Early life and education

Attie grew up in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn and graduated from Erasmus Hall High School, the same alma mater as Bobby Fischer, whom Attie later photographed. He briefly attended the Kansas City Art Institute and Cooper Union.

During his Army service, Attie painted pinup-style portraits on the noses of combat planes; two of these are singled out as "gems" of the "nose-art" genre in Edward Young's book on the subject, B-24 Liberator Units of the CBI.[4][5] Attie then worked as a commercial illustrator, often under the name Dave Attie; he drew Mad Men-era advertisements as well as the covers of magazines and "pulp" novels,[6] some of which have been reprinted in recent books,[7] until he decided to pursue photography.

Photographic career

Attie began his photographic career as a student and protege of influential Harper's Bazaar art director Alexey Brodovitch, who had similarly mentored the careers of Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Diane Arbus, and Attie's close friend (and Brodovitch classmate) Hiro. When Attie studied under Brodovitch, his legendary "Design Laboratory" course at The New School For Social Research -- which Brodovitch used to discover new talent for Harper's -- was held in Avedon's photo studio.

As Attie's son has written, his success in Brodovitch's famously difficult course was the result of a creative accident: "One night, my father was developing film for his very first class assignment, when he realized he’d underexposed every single frame. Class was the next day. In other words, he was toast -- and so was his new career. In a desperate panic, he started layering the negatives together, to create moody, impressionistic photo montages. His life must have been flashing before his eyes, and at the wrong exposure. Brodovitch loved the montages. He spent the entire class gushing over them."[8]

On the final night of the course, Brodovitch gave Attie his first professional assignment, which was to create a series of photo montages to illustrate Truman Capote's newest work, Breakfast at Tiffany's, for Harper's in 1958. But while Attie completed the montages, Capote began to clash with the publisher of Harper's, the Hearst Corporation, over the tart language and subject matter of his novella. Alice Morris, the magazine's literary editor, later recounted that Capote agreed to make the changes Hearst wanted "partly because I showed him the layouts... six pages with beautiful, atmospheric photographs."[9] But in the end, Hearst decided that Harper's could not run Breakfast at Tiffany's anyway; its language and subject matter were still deemed "not suitable," and there was concern that Tiffany's, a major advertiser, would react negatively.[10][11]

When Capote resold the novella to Esquire, he specified that he "would not be interested if [Esquire] did not use Attie's [original series of] photographs." He wrote to Esquire fiction editor Rust Hills, "I'm very happy that you are using his pictures, as I think they are excellent." But to Capote's disappointment, Esquire used just one full-page image of Attie's (though another was later used as the cover of at least one paperback edition of the novella).[12] Attie's work on the project nonetheless launched his career, gaining him further assignments from both Harper's and Brodovitch.

Attie also went on to shoot portraits of Capote and to illustrate his essay Brooklyn Heights: A Personal Memoir for Holiday Magazine (later republished many times, including in Attie's recent photo book, Brooklyn: A Personal Memoir, Little Bookroom, 2015).[13] Some of Attie's unused Breakfast at Tiffany's montages were later modified and used to illustrate Bill Manville's 1960 memoir Saloon Society, The Diary of a Year Beyond Aspirin, which was also designed by Brodovitch.[14][15] Brodovitch biographer Kerry William Purcell has described Attie's work on this book as "an inspired set of experimental images."[16]

From that point forward, Attie’s commercial work was prolific and wide-ranging – including frequent covers and spreads for Vogue, Time, Newsweek, Playboy, and Harper’s; portraits of everyone from Bobby Fischer and Leonard Bernstein to Ralph Ellison and Isaac Bashevis Singer and The Band; a variety of album covers (including at least one edition of Sammy Davis Jr. and Carmen McRae performing Porgy and Bess); and his own books of photographs, 1977's Russian Self-Portraits,[17] and 1981's Portrait: Theory (together with Chuck Close, Robert Mapplethorpe and others).[18] Attie also did the photos for a 1964 pinup book of Jayne Mansfield called Jayne Mansfield for President, on which he declined to put his name.[19] As part of the promotion for Russian Self-Portraits, Attie appeared on a March, 1978 episode of the game show To Tell The Truth.

While a number of Attie's portraits are in the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery,[20] for years after his passing his work was not widely seen. In the past handful of years, however, Attie's work has experienced a significant revival. In 2014, New York Magazine published some of his previously-unseen portraits of Capote from 1958,[21] as well as a 1959 portrait of pioneering Brill Building songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, which was originally shot for Vogue.[22] Then a small selection of his music-related portraits became available through the online gallery Rock Paper Photo.[23] Then a much broader selection of his work became available through Getty Images, leading to its publication in magazines and books around the world.[24] In addition, his Hansberry portraits appear in Netflix's acclaimed 2015 Nina Simone documentary What Happened, Miss Simone?, in the Oscar-nominated 2016 James Baldwin documentary I Am Not Your Negro, and in director Tracy Strain's 2018 American Masters documentary about Hansberry herself, "Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart." His Leiber and Stoller portraits appear in HBO’s 2018 documentary “Elvis Presley: The Searcher.”

Most significantly, in November, 2015, The Little Bookroom published a coffee-table book of Attie's portraits of Capote and his street photography taken in connection with Brooklyn Heights: A Personal Memoir, entitled Brooklyn: A Personal Memoir, With The Lost Photographs of David Attie.[25] The book was well-reviewed in The New York Times[26][27] and many other publications in America and around the world; The Independent named it one of the eight best art books of 2015 and wrote "when it comes to illustrated works, [this] one relatively slim volume stands out... a real gem of a find.”[28] The book was also a finalist for a 2016 Indie Book Award.[29] Its publication and reception have helped to bring considerable attention to Attie's work, including prominent supporters such as Bruce Weber and Mary Louise Parker.

In July, 2016, the Brooklyn Historical Society opened a year-and-a-half-long exhibit of Attie's Brooklyn and Capote work, which gained wide press attention.[30] In June, 2018, Contact Photo LA opened an exhibit of Attie's long-unseen photo montages.[31]

References

  1. ^ "Brooklyn: A Personal Memoir, With The Lost Photographs of David Attie". Retrieved 15 September 2015.
  2. ^ "Lorraine Hansberry portrait". 1hlt.org. Retrieved 7 December 2014.
  3. ^ "David Attie album covers". Retrieved 10 December 2017.
  4. ^ Young, Edward M., B-24 Liberator Units of the CBI, 2011, Osprey Publishing: p86 and p95.
  5. ^ "Stripped For Action". Retrieved 4 January 2015.
  6. ^ "David Attie pulp covers". Retrieved 29 January 2015.
  7. ^ McKnight-Trantz, Jennifer, The Look of Love: The Art of the Romance Novel, 2002, Princeton Architectural Press: p100.
  8. ^ Attie, Eli, afterword to Brooklyn: A Personal Memoir, 2015, The Little Bookroom: p101.
  9. ^ Clarke, Gerald, Capote: A Biography, 1988, Simon & Schuster: p308.
  10. ^ Plimpton, George, editor, Truman Capote, 1997, Doubleday: p162-163.
  11. ^ Wise, Kelly, editor, Portrait: Theory, 1981, Lustrum Press: p7.
  12. ^ "Truman Capote's Papers". Retrieved 9 September 2015.
  13. ^ Christopher Bonanos (30 September 2014). "On His 90th Birthday, Unseen Truman Capote -- Vulture". Vulture. Retrieved 7 December 2014.
  14. ^ Manville, Bill, Saloon Society, 1960, Duell, Sloan and Pearce.
  15. ^ "Saloon Society". Holden Books. Retrieved 7 December 2014.
  16. ^ Purcell, Kerry William, Alexey Brodovitch, 2002, Phaidon: p180.
  17. ^ Attie, David, Russian Self-Portraits, 1977, Harper and Row.
  18. ^ Wise, Kelly, editor, Portrait: Theory, 1981, Lustrum Press.
  19. ^ "Jayne Mansfield for President". Retrieved 11 September 2015.
  20. ^ "National Portrait Gallery Archive". Retrieved 5 July 2018.
  21. ^ Christopher Bonanos (30 September 2014). "On His 90th Birthday, Unseen Truman Capote -- Vulture". Vulture. Retrieved 7 December 2014.
  22. ^ Rebecca Milzoff (25 March 2014). "Mike Stoller On The Musical Universe Of The Brill Building -- Vulture". Vulture. Retrieved 7 December 2014.
  23. ^ "David Attie Rock Paper Photo collection". Retrieved 19 February 2017.
  24. ^ "David Attie Getty Images collection". Retrieved 19 February 2017.
  25. ^ "Brooklyn: A Personal Memoir, With The Lost Photographs of David Attie". Retrieved 15 September 2015.
  26. ^ "Stories of Brooklyn, From Gowanus to the Heights". Retrieved 5 February 2016.
  27. ^ "Patti Smith, Paul Theroux and Others on Places Near and Far". Retrieved 5 February 2016.
  28. ^ "Christmas 2015: The 8 best books in art". Retrieved 8 February 2016.
  29. ^ "2016 Indie Book Awards". Retrieved 7 May 2016.
  30. ^ "David Attie's Champions". Retrieved 29 July 2016.
  31. ^ "David Attie exhibit at Contact Photo LA". Retrieved 16 June 2018.

External links

  • "A Son’s Sleuthing, a Father’s Archive and Capote’s Vanished Brooklyn, " by JOSHUA BARONE, The New York Times, JULY 21, 2016
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