I am pleased to announce that Planet Shapton has returned from hiatus. It’s been too long. I blame it on the never-ending intergalactic war between Planet Busy and Planet Lazy; I’ve been trying to broker a truce, but so far have met with only moderate success. Enough about that however; this says it better than I ever could.

Anyway, it’s high time to once again stoke the blogfire — and with this post, I’m asking for some help in solving a bit of a photo mystery. But first, the back story.

Years ago, fresh from dropping out of art school, I found myself working in a style best described as “late 90′s overwrought”. I’ve written about it before; my process in essence consisted of densely layering various techniques as a way of hiding the fact that my ideas weren’t very good. The basic approach involved building small sculptures, photographing them using gels and light painting, cross processing the film, printing the shots in a color darkroom, and then torturing the crap out of the prints. Setting them on fire, scraping away the emulsion under boiling water, melting them in microwaves, etc. You name it, I probably tried it.

Quite apart from being messy and time consuming, the resultant final images were so ugly that their usability was pretty limited. I got a few assignments doing spot illustration for editorial clients, but barely enough to live on, and I was frankly getting bored with the whole situation. In particular, I found it kind of lonely; I’d apprenticed with fashion photographer Chris Nicholls before returning to school, and toiling all alone in the dark with a flashlight made me really pine for some chaos and energy. I missed travelling. And sunshine. And conversation.

And then I came across the above photograph. If I remember correctly, I was leafing through an issue of PDN, and the shot was featured in an ad for Hasselblad (I think). I was struck by how self-assured and comfortable the gentleman in the photo seemed, and by the relaxed and natural sensibility of the image. It was a simple, solid, confident shot. I turned the page sideways to read the photo credit and immediately had goosebumps.

What makes an iconic photo? Is “iconic” a cultural currency minted by historians and tastemakers, with value that ultimately derives from widespread, long-term public appreciation? Or is it possible to have uniquely personal iconic images? I would argue the latter. And for me, this portrait is as iconic as they come. Because of this shot, I abruptly ditched my entire working method, scrapped my portfolio, and started working in the straightforward, unadorned manner that has sustained my career for the past twenty years.

The subject? Cary Grant. The date on the image? 1958. I was stunned. I hadn’t immediately recognized Mr. Grant, and was certain that the photographer must be some new, up and coming shooter with a fresh take on natural light portraiture. It had never occurred to me, ankle-deep in the photo-illustrative mire as I was, that a decades-old image could seem so contemporary. My entire body of work up to that point suddenly felt tired and dated.

And who was the photographer? Well, this is where I need some help. I think it was Harry Benson, but I can’t say for sure — my head was spinning from reading the date, and the name quickly departed my addled brain. I’ve scoured the Internet for more information, with no luck, so if you’re able to confirm my hunch, please get in touch. It’s hard to overstate the effect stumbling across this image had on me, and I’d love to know for certain.

UPDATE: Special thanks to reader and Internet search jedi Michael Barker, who has informed me that the image was actually taken by Milton H. Greene! In fact, if anyone cares to purchase a print you can do so here.

I think I might have to buy one…

If this is your first visit to Planet Shapton, please leave a comment, I’d love to hear what you think. You can also subscribe and follow me on Twitter and Tumblr.









4 Responses to Hiatus Interruptus

  1. Don Giannatti says:

    Well… it’s about time.

  2. Jan says:

    I see that you found the answer. A quick search with tineye.com would have also taken you to the answer, a good tool for such cases.

    It’s interesting to hear you conversation about the iconic image. Don and I just spent a day driving through the Arizona and New Mexico desert and had a long conversation about personal iconic images.

  3. There is a amazing timelessness to simple photography. I wonder if people (myself included) who try to recreate the feel of film on their digital cameras are really striving for timelessness and confusing it with emulsion.

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