Russian Self Portraits

 

 

Remembering David Attie

When I was thirteen, my father thought I might enjoy spending part of my summer, working as an intern for David Attie, a commercial photographer. Dad was an art director for IBM, and hired David many times for his projects. He loved David’s creativity, both behind the lens and in the dark room and David and his wife Dotty, became close friends of our family.

My father wanted me to experience working in a photo studio, and to work with someone he considered one of the best would be great and perhaps the beginning of a career for me.

As a thirteen year old, I had not formulated what I wanted to do. I liked the arts, and enjoyed sketching, and photography, but I was young and uncertain like many my age.

I remember my time at the Attie’s brownstone, in Chelsea, New York City. Coming from the suburbs of New Jersey, I had trouble sleeping. I was not used to the loud sirens and horns throughout the night. I woke up each morning groggy, and struggled to make it through the days.

During the day, I helped David in the studio. Unfortunately for me, it was a slow period and there was little going on in the studio. I spent most of my time organizing files of slides, contact sheets, and model tear sheets. The studio was not the neatest, with stuff everywhere. I did deliveries to a few nearby clients, then back to the studio. After a long day, we had dinner then to bed, with no TV.

Some work came in, and we did a shoot. Nothing memorable, and all the films were developed in the studio by David. I remember the distinct smell of dektol and photographic paper, always in the air. I worked in the dark room, did some developing, but mostly clean up work.

Work slowed again, and so my time at the studio ended only after about a week.

Little did I realize how much of an impression that brief time spent would have on me today. David had passed away from cancer a dozen-plus years ago and how I wish I could speak with him today. I admired his work in those early days, and over time realized how great his work really was. If he were alive today, I’m convinced without question, his name would be up there with all of the greats. I know there are still people who knew of him that will attest to his genius.

A Legacy
David Attie, along with his corporate, commercial stuff, did work for many major publications of the time, including Vogue, and Esquire. He was published several times in interviews and produced a few books. Most notably, Russian Self Portraits, and Portrait Theory.

Russian self portraits was produced as a cultural exchange program with the Soviet Union. We were at the height of the cold war with Russia, and to go there, I’m sure, must have been dangerous. David traveled to the city of Kiev, no in the Ukraine, for the shoot.

The book was simple. David setup his view camera equipment and invited ordinary Russians to come in snap their own picture. He wanted them to play an active role in their portrait.

They were given an instant Polaroid print, and David retained the negatives. The interesting thing is, he was not permitted to keep the negatives per agreement with the authorities. Perhaps due to disorganization or confusion, he was able to retain the negatives. The book was produced and published in the U.S. in 1977. It’s filled with wonderful, full-length self-portraits by each subject, and a wonderful account of the experience by David.

A snapshot of time in the lives of individual, now indelible in print. The expressions, most of them melancholy, one or two dared to smile, some playful, one or two flirtatious. And my favorite (and David’s), the little girl on the cover who dared to curtsey.

It’s a wonderful, must-have rare book for photographers, long out of publication. But you can find it used on Alibris, or click here

A second book, confirms David’s talent as amongst the best in photography, is a series of essays and photographs on Portrait Theory. Contributing writers/photographers include: David Attie, Chuck Close, Robert Maplethorpe, Jan Groover, Evelyn Hofer, Lottie Jacobi, James Van Der Zee, and Gerard Malanga. The essays and photographs are fascinating and must have for any serious photographer.

Portrait Theory – Click Here

I have fond memories of David Attie, and appreciate his work now more than ever. I wish he were still with us today.

Ivan

6 Responses to “Russian Self Portraits”

  1. Ashley says:

    Hello,

    I recently purchased a David Attie photograph entitled “Self-Portrait of a Young Russian Boy”. I believe it is an original, in addition it also is signed by him. If you could provide any information about the artist or any advice/insight on what to do with the photograph I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you so much for your time.

    Best,
    Ashley Fowler

    • admin says:

      Hi Ashley,

      You own a real treasure. David was ahead of his time, doing creative composites to photos in the darkroom. He was amazing. I wish i could tell you more, but your best bet is to contact his wife Dorothy (Dottie) Attie. Dotty still lives in the brownstone they owned in New York City. You will need to search for her contact info because I no longer have it. Dotty is a highly regarded artist in her own right.

      Thank you for your interest and good luck!
      Ivan

  2. Eli says:

    as David’s son, it was wonderful to be sent a link to this post. if anyone has questions that I can answer, I’m happy to…

    • admin says:

      Hi Eli, Last time I saw you, you were a kid! So Great to see your post here and I hope you and your family are well. Send them my best wishes.
      Ivan

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