Greg Gorman's "Private Works" on public display

LENOX — Even when he's photographing nude people, Greg Gorman attempts to leave something to the imagination.

"I try to capture more the essence of who the person is but not necessarily answer all the questions," Gorman said during a telephone interview.

If that answer sounds a bit cryptic, a trip to the Sohn Fine Art Gallery may prove revelatory. In addition to some earlier images, male nudes and portraits from Gorman's latest book, "Private Works: 2000-2015," are on display at the gallery through Aug. 13. The photographs depict men in various states of repose, the interplay of highlights and shadows aiming to inspire mystique even as the subjects often bare all.

"I think a lot of the work that's in the newer project is a lot more free-form, a little bit more...editorial in style than my more predictable, very staid sculptural nudes," said Gorman, who will be appearing on Saturday for a book signing and lecture. (He will also run a four-day intensive workshop, "Photographing Portraits and Nudes," at the Sohn Monday through Aug. 10 as part of the gallery's Master Artist Series Program.)

The photographs are primarily in color, another departure for Gorman. Though he began his career producing commercial work in color, "Private Works" is the first of his 11 monographs to substantially venture beyond black and white. Gorman, who received the Professional Photographers of America's Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013, has been known for his black and white compositions since the 1980s. One of them, a 1986 portrait of Andy Warhol wearing sunglasses for an L.A. Eyeworks advertisement, is currently being shown at the Sohn along with several other classic works.

"It was kind of the relationship between my strong highlights and hard shadows and very little in between [that gained acclaim], so I've always really favored shooting black and white," he said.

Gorman decided, however, that his shift to a more relaxed, environmental portraiture could use some color.

"I thought it was a perfect time," he said.

Gorman shot many of the photographs while teaching workshops around the world, a vocation that continues to occupy much of his time. (Gorman recently returned from a 10-week teaching stint in Europe, he said). Though his subjects were seemingly exposed to him, Gorman felt their identities were often shrouded. "As I got to know some of the young men who posed for me, I began to see someone different than the person they originally presented in front of my lens. This was the biggest challenge for me in determining which of the masks needed to be shed and which ones needed to be exposed," Gorman says of the project in an information panel at the exhibition.

Gallery owner Cassandra Sohn notices this flexibility in the men's expressions. "You can see in the subjects' faces whether they're interacting with Greg or not," Sohn said during an interview at her gallery.

Sohn offers a unique perspective on Gorman's relationship to his subjects. She modeled for Gorman about 20 years ago when the photographer was leading a figure study workshop in Sohn's native Santa Fe, N.M. Sohn had never posed nude before the workshop.

"I decided to just kind of go for it," she said.

Her decision led to a close friendship with the photographer in the shoot's immediate aftermath. They didn't see each other as much as time passed, but Sohn was convinced they would work together again some day.

"I always knew that I was going to have a gallery, and I always knew that I wanted to show his work," she said. His lighting and subjects — Gorman has also worked with Michael Jackson and Meryl Streep, among others — particularly drew her attention. "I always looked up to that as a photographer myself," she said.

Gorman moved to New York City before landing in the Berkshires. After opening the gallery in 2011, Sohn began representing Gorman's work about four years ago. The photographer has made a few stops at the gallery since that time; this exhibit is the first showing of Gorman's new work in the U.S. While some visitors have been "stunned" by the nudes, Sohn noted that most people who regularly attend the Sohn's contemporary photography exhibits expect to see nudity, especially male nudes, which have traditionally been underrepresented in the marketplace.

"I like showing male nudity in addition to female nudity because these are different times that we're in now, and I want to be part of that," Sohn said.

Gorman is less convinced that the art community is buying more male nudes. "People say they accept everything, but in reality they're telling you that because that's the politically correct answer rather than what they really believe," he said.


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