A woman with short, rigid, platinum hair boldly sports her cat-eye sunglasses, ruby lipstick, retro triangular earrings and a pair of white latex gloves. She cups the chin of an elderly woman wearing pink oversized eyeglasses and a homely purple blouse. The juxtaposition entrenches a space, a time—a moment.
In another shot, two men sit on the curb of a street. In the background, the lights of Broadway beam off the glossy surface of poster encasements. The man in a tan leather jacket offers a cigarette with his right hand and places his left hand on the shoulder of the other man in a blue pullover. Their demeanors are blatantly tepid. But there exists a brotherly relationship. The photograph proves that strangers and camaraderie are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the photograph shows that strangers are the seed of camaraderie.
In another shot, a woman sits on the edge of her chair, spreads her legs out just enough to stretch her indigo dress taut, and facially expresses great apprehension. The shot is symmetrical, a bit too symmetrical–a bit too perfect. The edgy pose and the taut dress culminates into an apprehensive force of power. The photographic stasis carries tension.
Acclaimed photographer and filmmaker Josef Astor captures just that–a moment of innocence and self-possession. Currently part of the School of Visual Arts’ faculty in New York City, Astor will be giving the Claflin Lecture on his photographic project, “Displaced Persons”, at Vassar College next week. “Displaced Persons” is a solo exhibition of photographs by Astor.
Longtime friend of Astor and curator of “Displaced Persons” Antony wrote, “The portraits selected for ‘Displaced Persons’ are multifaceted, unnerving, and surreal. Staging and photographing his peers and muses, Astor intuitively documented key players from intersecting pre-millennial and pre-Internet dance and late-night performance subcultures, assembling a constellation of artists and hybrids who took it upon themselves to reflect a largely oblivious world back onto itself with venomous innocence and shocking self-possession. Astor, in all his subtlety, is one of those hybrids.”
Though the event revolves around Astor’s “Displaced Persons,” the lecture navigates the art of photography as a whole. When asked about her thoughts on Astor, Grace Sparapani ’16 wrote, “A lot of photography focuses on a hierarchical relationship between the photographer and the subject — either the model is used as a site for the photographer’s work or the photographer is used merely as a vehicle for bringing the subject to the viewer. Josef Astor’s work challenges this. There’s a relationship between him and his models in ‘displaced persons’ — mostly performers and artists themselves, friends of Astor’s. This relationship mirrors his subject matter, with Astor relating to the model as they relate to their body and the viewer.”
The exhibition features 24 works of unpublished photographs of subversively unique artists of the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. The displacement is attributed to the deviant products of these very artists. In his photographs, Astor puts together seemingly dichotomous subjects to convey the capture and illustrate the construct of dual existence. In other words, Astor escapes the bounds of categorization and conventions. Astor breaks these boundaries, technically, aesthetically and conceptually.
The exhibition reflects Astor’s numerous influences. Irving Penn influenced Astor to deviate from classicism. Angus McBean mused the tableaux style. Octavia Pemberton St. Laurent and Pearl standardized studio portraiture. Color shift, a technical photographic element in relation to color, is attributed to Paul Outerbridge. The exhibition also features collaborations with Charles Atlas and Johanna Constantine for the magazine “Dance Ink.”
Just as the muses of Astor have influenced him and culminated in a captivating photographic exhibition, the Claflin lecture will seek to inspire the Vassar community. Professor of Art Judy Linn wrote, “The significance of the lecture is to see how someone manifests the creative desire we all have.”
In 1985, Astor incepted his career in a studio above Carnegie Hall in New York City. Astor’s subjects primarily include art, architecture, music, theater and dance. His works have made appearances in “Vanity Fair,” “The New York Times,” “The New Yorker,” “Newsweek” and “The Rolling Stones.”
In 1989, his first exhibition received striking attention. Works from the show were included in both the Vanity Fair Portraits exhibition, the National Portrait Gallery in London and the Digital Darkroom at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles.
Astor is not only a photographer but also a filmmaker. His first documentary, “Lost Bohemia,” premiered in 2010 and subsequently won a Special Jury Prize at the DOC-NYC Festival. Astor was also awarded the Infinity Award from the International Center of Photography. Astor’s clients include AT&T, IBM, Hitachi, Phillip Morris, Geoffrey Beene, Bergdorf Goodman, Absolut Vodka and Ralph Pucci.
The Claflin lecture will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015 at 6 p.m. at Taylor Hall, Room 203.
As the arts community at the college continues to grow, students are captivated by Astor’s photographic collection. Lucy Li ’19 wrote, “I feel like it is interesting that the photographer uses photography to subvert the stereotype of the icons, as photographs might be the cause of those stereotypes. Photography is highly subjective; it’s like subverting a stereotype with another stereotype.”
Linn wrote, “The premise of the lecture is [h]ow and why Josef Astor has been making photographs for over 40 years. Josef was chosen by the Studio Art faculty because of the excellence of his work. I hope the audience will be inspired to love art making and to have a new perspective on all the possibilities in their own lives.”