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NEW YORK — Even if Jerry Schatzberg’s forthcoming photography book wasn’t laced with cinematic photographs, the title alone, “Paris, 1962,” sounds like a story waiting to happen.
In fact, there are two — the early collections of Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Dior. But instead of featuring predictable images of statuesque models posing in full regalia, Schatzberg has compiled a behind-the-scenes play-by-play of that influential period. On assignment for Esquire, the Bronx-born lensman watched from the wings as Saint Laurent unveiled his first solo collection and saw its success insured when French Vogue’s former editor, Françoise de Langlade, kissed the young designer in front of the well-turned-out crowd. For the magazine’s “The Silken Jungle” photo spread, Schatzberg also turned his camera on what went into presenting Marc Bohan’s finery at Christian Dior.
This was not Schatzberg’s inaugural trip to the salons of haute couture, but he was even more at ease shooting celebrity portraits — something he continued to do in the years that followed before switching mediums to film. Bob Dylan, Jane Fonda, Robert Redford, Sharon Tate, The Rolling Stones and Fidel Castro are among the notables he has photographed, but he does not name-drop. In fact, during an interview in his Upper West Side apartment, what he doesn’t say is at times as telling as what he does.
Empire Editions is publishing 500 first-edition autographed copies of “Paris, 1962,” which come with a signed original print and an embossed clamshell box. Schatzberg will give a lecture tonight at The National Arts Club. Launch parties are planned for Nov. 15 at Colette in Paris and Nov. 26 at the Yves Saint Laurent store on East 57th Street. Rizzoli will publish an expanded version with some color photos next year.
“Paris, 1962″ shows the comings and goings beyond the runway — Saint Laurent’s model Victoire inspecting an enormous floral display, empty velvet seats and settees in the Dior salon, Helmut Newton sizing up a set, Norman Parkinson’s clasped hands behind his back and model Monique Dutto resting seated atop a ladder. Other images — Saint Laurent peering down from the balcony, a man nuzzling a masked woman on a couch and Victoire, head in hands on a Parkinson set — leave one wondering what remains to be seen or heard.
“I have always found that no one is going to say to you, ‘That really sucked.’ They will say, ‘It was really quite interesting,’ or something like that. But the designers don’t know until the magazines come out and lay it out on the line,” Schatzberg said. “But everyone has their job, and criticism has been there for everybody right from the beginning of art.”
Schatzberg wasn’t about to be blinded by high fashion’s glitz and leaned in closer to his subjects to take aim. “My work is what I always think about: real people,” he said.
Testimony to that is his favorite photo in the book — a shot of a dwarf staring at an ornate window display at Christian Dior’s Paris store. “That wasn’t something I could ever set up. That was something that just happened. If you are a photographer, you wait and wait and wait and every once in a while it just happens,” Schatzberg said.
The waiting required for fashion shoots was a major Achilles in what could be a 22- or 23-hour day. Then, fashion shows could feature 200 outfits and last for two hours. Once the morning runway shows wound down, afternoons were set aside for client fittings, and then editors were allowed to sift through the collection for their respective shoots. The clothes were then whisked away by the house to several photo studios and returned to the designer by early the next morning, he said. In this assistant-free scene, everyone pulled their own oar, whether it be the models taking care of their own hair, makeup, shoes and undergarments; Newton fixing the fans on his set, or Schatzberg building his own lighting.
“I hope it gets across what went on and what goes on other than models walking down a runway….For people who look at these things and analyze them — because where would we be without the intellectuals? — a lot of these photos are funny, ironical, beautiful and touching, and some have a tinge of sadness. What I like is when people say, ‘This could have been done yesterday.'”
Though he owned his first camera at the age of nine, Schatzberg didn’t get serious about photography until he was 27. In fact, his career path had a pit stop — in his family’s fur business. Uninspired, he would often wander a few blocks east and get lost examining the equipment at haunts in the photography district. “I really like fashion — I like that world. But I hated working in the fur business. I wasn’t really creating anything — I was just stretching skins, cutting the paws off them and getting them ready so my uncle could lengthen them,” he said.
He eventually landed a job with Bill Helburn, followed by a freelance career with such magazines as Vogue, McCall’s, Esquire, Glamour, Town & Country and Life. His fashion know-how resurfaced in his film director debut in 1970, “Puzzle of a Downfall Child.” Faye Dunaway, to whom Schatzberg was once engaged, starred in the flick about a fallen top model.
Today’s catwalkers are not so multidimensional, Schatzberg said. “I find fashion today very young and almost immature. Then it was very elegant,” he said. “You look at models today and they all seem to be 13 or 14. If they can walk funny, they can get a job showing clothes.”