Greg Gorman: Prints of Darkness

Greg Gorman's moody portraits of Ryder, Beatty, Dillon, Basinger, and Rourke capture the mixed blessings of beauty.

Hollywood is surely the wellspring of the American notion of glamour, and the task of defining and interpreting Hollywood glamour has, over the years, been the province of a few influential celebrity photographers. Members of this rarified echelon had (and have) distinctive styles that hold sway for a decade or two, revealing through their images contemporary attitudes about what constitutes beauty. The oppositions of artifice and naturalism, theatricality and realism, openness and mystery, are all played out in the photographs of each era's icons.

Clarence Sinclair Bull's chiaroscuro compositions (of Garbo, especially) embodied "it" in the '20s and '30s. George Hurrell's vividly dreamy portraits reflected the classic decades of studio supremacy, the '30s and '40s. With the '50s came the beginning of glamour "realism" via Richard Avedon. David Bailey (inspiration for the David Hemmings character in Antonioni's Blow-Up) put his stamp on the '60s with his patented vision of "swinging London." Francesco Scavullo helped manufacture plasticized '70s sexiness, on and off Cosmo covers.

As the cult of celebrity overtook the '80s, photographers themselves achieved celebrity status: Douglas Kirkland, Terry O'Neill, Annie Leibovitz, Herb Ritts, and Matthew Rolston. Firmly ensconced at the top is master celebrity portraitist Greg Gorman, whose new book, Greg Gorman, Volume 1, is filled with dramatic, evocative stars studies that are psychologically revealing as well as beautiful. "I think the great stars bring glamour with them," the photographer says. "It's not in the clothes, it's what they project. Glamour comes from being relaxed, secure, knowing yourself, from having humor and an appeal that transcends all barriers--that is, appealing to both sexes, transcending comedy or drama, and loving the camera."

Gorman acknowledges that the concept of glamour has certainly evolved over the years; now it includes "a down-to-earth style, more natural lighting, greater eye contact, a more 'human' (and less god or goddess-like) look and a feeling of greater accessibility." But some things, Gorman emphasizes, never change: "You'd be surprised at the amount of retouching that goes on."

Warren Beatty (Los Angeles, 1988). "This was part of a series done as tests for Dick Tracy, for a possible logo. Beatty is very down-to-earth, and these were done at his home. We have some mutual friends, and Warren was a bit embarrassed--which was very flattering to me--that I'd come to his home to do the shots, rather than have him come to my studio. It was a quick session, about an hour." Warren on Gorman: "Everyone should try it once."

Kim Basinger (Los Angeles, 1988). "Well, what can I say? The camera loves Kim, and Kim loves the camera. Though it's tough to get her before the camera--she doesn't like photo sessions, or even to see her pictures. She's not at all vain. But before the camera, she has tremendous sensuality. As for the hair over the face, spontaneity may catch a certain moment, and when you see the picture, you know it's the one you're going to use." Kim on Gorman: "Always has been, always will be, way, way ahead of his time."

Winona Ryder (Los Angeles, 1988). "This was done for the Tatler, in my studio, and that round prop is the back of a chair. The picture has more props than usual... She's wearing an Armani evening gown; it took convincing for her to wear it. She first felt it might be out of her range. Winona has real glamour, with fragility and vulnerability. And about the gown, I usually avoid something on a subject where the person looking at the photo will then say, 'Wasn't that a great dress?' You want the focus on the individual, not on what they're wearing, or on a prop." Winona on Gorman: "Greg knows how to make you look your best, and feel you look great. He does glamour, and he's terrific at it."

Matt Dillon (New York City, 1983). "This was done for Interview. He's posed with a mirror, and again it's inner-reflective. Matt was cooperative, he's certainly talented--I think he's starting to come into his own now, was very good in Drugstore Cowboy. Then, as now, he was very sought after, had sex appeal in his movies, and I think he's a better subject now, because as younger stars age, they become more aware of themselves and what they're all about." Matt on Gorman: "Only Greg Gorman could've gotten me to pose in front of that thing. He's great, really."

Mickey Rourke (Los Angeles, 1985). "Well, he's one of my good buddies. And he's one of the most misunderstood stars. He has an image of being difficult, macho, tough, irascible, but he's one of the most sensitive and gentle people. The outside crust is a defense mechanism. He's a very loyal friend and one of the great guys. He's a terrific photographic subject and genuinely loves to have his picture taken. But he's a bit of a wild animal, and doesn't like to be cornered. He has a short fuse, but also a great sense of humor--I can't say enough good about him. One side of him is glamorous, and he's very sexy, but he's also like a little kid." Mickey on Gorman: "I like working with Greg because he's not phony or pretentious, and at the end of the day he throws great dinner parties."