Capturing the Spirit of America in the 60s and Beyond
Lawrence Schiller is a versatile artist who has produced an impressive body of photography. He has been involved in a rich array of projects that preserved unrepeatable moments from the 1960s and had a grasp on the pulse of the times. He documented stories for some of the world’s most famous magazines like Life, TIME, and Newsweek and captured the iconic faces of their eras, whether Marilyn Monroe, Buster Keaton, Muhammad Ali, Paul Newman, or even Lee Harvey Oswald. Adventurous and inventive, Lawrence Schiller has left a photographic legacy that records the spirit of America in the 60s and beyond.
The Early Years
Lawrence Schiller was born in Brooklyn in 1936 and grew up in San Diego, California. Although he suffered an accident in childhood that partly damaged his vision, he pursued photography passionately. From his start as a photographer, his pictures appeared in major magazines like Life, Playboy, Glamour, Paris Match, Stern, and The Saturday Evening Post. Undoubtedly, Schiller was always looking for creative ways of capturing a photograph and adding visual strength to the narrative of any story. Consequently, Lawrence Schiller’s work would become popular and sought after.
“I started as a young photojournalist. My father gave me a camera, I think when I was 12 years old, and by the time I was 13, I was going door to door taking snapshots and then going back and selling the pictures to the people.” – Lawrence Schiller.
Lawrence Schiller Worldwide
Lawrence Schiller’s skill and originality as a photographer led to a growing market, which allowed him to make pictures that began to be circulated worldwide. After the assassination of JFK, he flew to Dallas and photographed Lee Harvey Oswald. He helped produce the long-term photo-essay by W. Eugene Smith, Minamata, in 1975, showing the suffering caused by chemical pollution in Japan. Schiller later moved to motion pictures, working in different capacities as a stills director, film director, and producer of motion pictures.
“It was a wild, wild period, an uncontrolled period. I don’t think you had any sense of perspective in the ’60s. You had to wait and look back at it because it was a period in which things were happening that had no rhyme or reason to it. But by the end of the 60s, I had covered so many stories, had so many magazine covers, I had somehow become part of that decade’s history. And I already had my eye on the future.” – Lawrence Schiller.
Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid
In 1968, Lawrence Schiller becomes director of still photography for Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford. Butch Cassidy was a box office smash and helped launch the career of Redford. Schiller had previously struck a friendship with Newman on the set of Cool Hand Luke and developed a close relationship with the actor. Flying down to Mexico to photograph the cast while they filmed scenes for the movie, Schiller would capture Paul Newman, Robert Redford, and director George Roy Hill as they played ping pong.
“I read the screenplay, and I went down to Mexico where some of the scenes were being shot. The cinematographer was Conrad Hall, who I had met on Cool Hand Luke, who always kept the company waiting. I mean, he would wait for the light. “I want to shoot into the light. I want cross-light.” And sometimes, the studio would sit for half a day waiting for Connie to say, “This is it. The light is right.” And what would the guys do? They go play ping pong. They listen to music. So, Newman and Redford were always playing ping pong with George Roy Hill or somebody else. And I would photograph them, and this is one of the frames on one roll of film.” – Lawrence Schiller.
Paul Newman & Robert Redford
Photographers who have been involved in film production, like Schiller, have access to their subjects on and off-set. Before the advent of social media and instant captures with smartphones, pictures such as Paul Newman and Robert Redford (playing ping pong) gave us unique access to the human moments of celebrity figures. The on-set images generally became promotional stills and were used as marketing tools. The off-set, unpredictable moments could often lead to pictures that seem more natural, telling, and resonate more with the viewer. The photograph, Paul Newman and Robert Redford, both demystifies two of the 60’s generation biggest stars, and in a candid moment, gives us, the viewer, a glimpse of unforced fun and joy.