Master Photographers by Michael Somoroff

By Peggy Roalf   Monday October 1, 2012

For working photographers who never experienced the world of photography as a province of walled fiefdoms labeled “magazine photography;” “photojournalism;” “advertising photography;” “industrial photography;” “art photography,” each with a “members only” sign, a new book sheds light on how the field has changed since the 1970s.

A Moment: Master Photographers, Portraits by Michael Somoroff (Damiani, 2012) is an tribute to the masters Michael Somoroff met as a youngster hanging out in the studio of his father, Ben Somoroff, which was a mecca for some of the most prominent art directors, designers, writers, and artists of the time.

Privileged to have been mentored by many in his parent’s milieu (his mother, Alice Bruno, was a top fashion model; Henry Wolf was his godfather; and Milton Glaser gave him his first magazine assignment), Michael was a proficient photographer by his early twenties. In 1979 Richard Avedon helped facilitate his first show at the International Center of Photography by asking Cornell Capa to review young Somoroff’s portfolio.


The greatest influence by far in Michael’s career was his father who he assisted for years while also working for a number of his father’s friends. Ben Somoroff had studied photography at the Pennsylvania Museum of Industrial Art (now the University of the Arts) under the legendary Alexey Brodovitch, who was the art director of Harper’s Bazaar from 1938-1958. His illustrious fellow students included Irving Penn, Louis Faurer, Ben Rose, Arnold Newman, Sol Mednick and Isadore Possoff. The group became known as the “Philadelphia School” of photographers. 

In his essay, curator and historian William Ewing, who was a colleague of Somoroff’s at the time, captures a period in photography when the walls became more permeable due to the tireless work of photographers who took badly paid jobs in the field so they could pursue their dreams. During the 1970s and early ‘80s, photography was beginning to receive the recognition it deserved as an art form; institutions such as the International Center for Photography were being formed, galleries devoted to photography were springing up, a market was created, a public was being educated, and photographers were at last able to work in more than one segment of the field. Ewing covers the spirited times, in which battles continued to rage over the spheres of art and commerce, in which Somoroff photographed the masters of photography who passed through his and his father’s studios. Among them are Brassaï, Elliot Erwitt, Andreas Feininger, AndréKertész, Arnold Newman, Helmut Newton, Jacques Henri Lartique, Cornell Capa, Ralph Gibson, and Horst P. Horst.

On Wednesday, October 3 at 6:30 pm, Michael Somoroff will be joined by William Ewing, Ralph Gibson, Mary Ellen Mark, and Duane Michals for a conversation followed by a book launch party at Aperture Gallery and Bookstore. 547 West 27th Street, 4th Floor, NY, NY. 212.505.5555. InformationMore about upcoming events at Aperture Gallery and Bookstore. Photo above:Michael Somoroff, Ralph Gibson, New York City, 1980.

Michael Somoroff studied art and photography at the New School for Social Research as well as assisting his father in his studio on the set, on location and in the darkroom. In 1978, at the age of twenty-one, Somoroff opened his own photography studio and shortly there after began working for virtually every major magazine in New York and Europe. His work is represented in important collections worldwide, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas; and The Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.


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