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Hamptons Life

Dec 5, 2017 1:10 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Michael Halsband's Portraits Fill The Southampton Arts Center

Michael Halsband sits in front of some his work on display at the Southampton Arts Center.  DANA SHAW
Dec 5, 2017 1:21 PM

Michael Halsband is just on the cusp of marking four decades as a professional photographer, which he’s been able to call himself since even before he graduated from the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan.

The New York City-native was still a student when his work was noticed in 1978 and he began shooting portraits for magazines. He photographed the likes of Andy Warhol and David Byrne then, and after graduating in 1980 he was working assignments for magazines such as Rolling Stone and Mr. Warhol’s Interview. A cover shoot of Keith Richards for Rolling Stone led to being hired as the Stones’ “Tattoo You” tour photographer in 1981, and his star just kept rising.

In 1985, he shot some of his best known portraits at the same Manhattan photography studio that he maintains today. They were photographs of Mr. Warhol and his artistic collaborator Jean-Michel Basquiat in boxing gloves.

Mr. Halsband, speaking Friday at the Southampton Arts Center in Southampton Village—where his solo exhibition “Halsband Portraits” is on view until the end of the year—shared that he first met Mr. Basquiat at a dinner Mr. Warhol was throwing. When Mr. Basquiat told him he was a fan, he didn’t believe him at first. But then Mr. Basquiat told Mr. Halsband he admired Mr. Halsband’s portrait of singer and Downtown icon Klaus Nomi from five years earlier, which had been part of Mr. Halsband’s School of Visual Arts senior thesis.

Not only did their shared admiration lead to Mr. Halsband shooting the famous boxing photographs, Mr. Basquiat invited Mr. Halsband to Paris for several months. It was just one of many stories of meeting influential creative people and seeing the world that Mr. Halsband has.

He continued to work with visual artists, musicians and pop icons in a variety of ways in the ensuing years, from shooting album covers and behind-the-scenes portraits to directing music videos and short documentaries.

But “Halsband Portraits” is about much more than the celebrities that Mr. Halsband has been afforded the opportunity to work with. It’s a retrospective of a varied career by a photographer who continues to reach new heights in his craft and who cannot be pigeonholed.

Among his latter works on display are selections from his “8 x 10” series. He shoots the black-and-white headshots of expressionless people on 8-by-10-inch film and prints them at the same size.

Like most of the prints in the show, a black border is visible around the image—that’s the edge of the negative. He retains the border because he does not trim his prints, and he doesn’t crop his images in the darkroom either, regardless of what size film he is using. Rather, he composes his images exactly how he wants them when he looks through his camera lens.

The “8 x 10” series is an ongoing project with no signs of stopping.

“I’ve been working on that project for 12 years and … I’m just getting started,” Mr. Halsband said.

He explained that he is narrowing his focus to his immediate world. He is not seeking out celebrities to photograph.

“A lot of times they’re just people with a lot of soul or spirit,” he said, explaining that if any of them are celebrities, that is just coincidence.

Among the subjects of the photographs at the Southampton Arts Center are his stepfather, Alex Rosenberg, shaman Tony McQuay and Dave Ortiz, a fellow artist.

Everything, from the choice of camera to setting and people, “it’s all mine and sometimes that freaks me out,” Mr. Halsband said. “But I’m learning a lot about myself through that.”

“Halsband Portraits” is a reprise and expansion of an exhibition of the same name that Mr. Halsband had at the National Arts Club in New York in 2015. Both the earlier show and the current show were curated by Andrea Grover, who at the time was the curator of special projects at the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill, where Mr. Halsband was one of the Parrish’s “Creative Collaborators” advisers.

“I met Andrea when she first came to the Parrish and we just hit it off,” Mr. Halsband recalled. “I was very friendly with the Parrish to begin with, and participated in whatever I could.”

He admitted that he was not initially enthusiastic about putting on the 2015 show, but Ms. Grover’s involvement changed that.

“I wasn’t super excited to do it just to do it, but when Andrea Grover offered to curate it, I said, ‘If you’re serious, I’m in,’” he said of the 2015 exhibition. “Just to work with her was enough for me.”

In 2016, Ms. Grover became the executive director of Guild Hall in East Hampton. Mr. Halsband, acknowledging she’d be busy during the transition, said he offered to make curating the Southampton show easy for her. He made a model of the art center floor plan and to-scale miniatures of his prints, so she could lay out the exhibition.

“Andrea did an amazing job,” Mr. Halsband said of the Southamption edition of the exhibition. “She knew the area, she knew the audience, she knew the space and she really curated it with all that in mind. So it wasn’t just about me. It was about how to introduce me to this community in this way that was much more expanded and than the show in New York City, and it’s more friendly in a certain way.”

While that show was isolated to “the hits,” the Southampton exhibition has 125 works.

“This is definitely the best show I’ve ever had,” Ms. Halsband said.

“Halsband Portraits” is on view at the Southampton Arts Center, 25 Jobs Lane, Southampton Village, through December 31. Hours are noon to 6 p.m., Thursday through Sunday. Admission is free. Michael Halsband and Andrea Grover will offer a free gallery tour on Sunday, December 10, at 11:45 a.m. For more information, visit southamptonartscenter.org.

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