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Masters of photography pose for portraits

Michael Somoroff grew up around some of the biggest names in photography, including that of his own father, Ben Somoroff, an esteemed still-life photographer.

At 21, the young Somoroff opened his own photography studio. Before shooting portraitures for magazines, he realized, he would need a portfolio of famous people. But without a portfolio of famous people, how would he get access to the big-named stars?

Between his own connections and those through his father’s last name, the doors swung open for Somoroff to photograph the likes of renowned photographers Elliott Erwitt, Andreas Feininger, Alfred Eisenstaedt and Brassaï. From 1977 to 1983, he made portraits of 22 of photography’s biggest 20th-century names. In 2011, he revisited the project, adding three additional photographers.

“It made sense to photograph my heroes,” Somoroff said. It was his first serious body of work.

Using natural light “as a matter of necessity,” the portraits capture the relationship of the photographer with his subjects, he said.

Even as a naive but confident photographer, Somoroff felt the pressures of making a good portrait.

“You don’t want to take a picture of Horst (P. Horst) and him hate it,” he said. The experience was a very important part of Somoroff’s development as a photographer and art-maker. Now he’s a celebrated director and cameraman as well as working with art and installations.

And the portraits were fun, spontaneous and collaborative, he continued. While most of his subjects were certainly more comfortable behind the camera rather than in front, his young age seemed to offset any awkwardness. Instead, an intimacy can be seen in the portraits.

He never had the intention to show them off or print them in a book, he added. They were very personal and innocent portraits for his portfolio. And for decades, except for a brief stint as an exhibition in 1986, they sat in storage. But in October, in collaboration with curator and author William A. Ewing, the historical images will be published by Damiani as a book in “A Moment. Master Photographers, Portraits by Michael Somoroff.”

The book's official launch event will include Somoroff in conversation with some of the photographers in the book on October 3 at Aperture Gallery in New York.

- Elizabeth I. Johnson, CNN

Headshot courtesy Julian Sander, Bonn.

Images copyright Michael Somoroff.