PORTRAIT OF AN ARTIST
Two Buffalo galleries present the first career retrospective of legendary photographer Ken Heyman
By Colin DabkowskiNEWS ARTS WRITER
Updated: 06/13/07 7:31 AM


The murky intersections between journalism and art are often populated by little-known characters. And few have spent more time at the juncture of those two worlds than Ken Heyman, a photographer who has sacrificed fame by refusing to place himself on either side of that divide.

The 74-year-old Heyman, whose famous photographs include portraits of Marilyn Monroe and Andy Warhol and myriad assignments for Life magazine, will launch his first major retrospective exhibition Friday at CEPA Gallery and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

For CEPA Director Lawrence Brose, who has been planning the exhibition for more than four years, such a show is long past due.

"You know these photos," Brose said. "I find it extraordinary that his work is so powerful and I think he hasn't had the proper representation." As a brand name, Heyman lives in the shadow of giants like Annie Liebovitz and Mary Ellen Mark, whose work carries a more immediate connotation of modern sleekness or sex. But the size and instant recognition of his portfolio including more than 50 books and dozens of other assignments seem to dwarf them all.

After being discharged from the Army in 1954, Heyman attended Columbia University, where he studied with the likes of Margaret Mead, the famed cultural anthropologist, and developed an interest in social work. After he graduated, Heyman traveled with Mead to Bali, where they began work on what eventually became their widely acclaimed book "Family," published in 1965 and nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. A 20-year working relationship with Mead took Heyman to more than 60 countries, where he honed his anthropological photography into what many consider an art form.

One of Heyman's most exhibited photographs came from his second collaboration with Mead, when he returned to Bali many years after his first trip in 1958. It features a group of children staring intensely at off-camera photographs of their parents. The raw emotions captured on their faces range broadly from fear to joy, because none of them had ever seen a photograph in their lives before that moment.

The Albright-Knox exhibition will feature some of Heyman's most recognizable work, that which arose from a single assignment in 1964 to work on what became the first (though not definitive) book about pop art. It featured the now iconic portraits of Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, Roy Lichtenstein and Tom Wesselmann in their studios and in the streets and shops of New York. In addition to the "Pop Portraits" series, the Albright-Knox will be exhibiting the work of the artists Heyman photographed in adjacent galleries.

Heyman had met Andy Warhol years before the artist rose to fame. In an essay in CEPA's exhibition catalog, Heyman writes that he paid the struggling Warhol $400 to paint his bathroom, a task which Warhol went at with relish. "This was a time when I still had the means to help struggling artists," Heyman wrote, implying his eventual eclipse by other artists and photographers whose edgier styles would replace his own anthropological approach.

CEPA, a gallery whose lens normally focuses on the more definitively artistic side of photography, saw Heyman as an opportunity to expand its reach into the community and provide the city with an accessible yet challenging avenue to explore the work of an underrepresented artist.

"The important thing for me in running CEPA is bringing it to a level of not just importance, but of value in the broader community," Brose said, adding that some of Heyman's work in photography might be perceived as "sort of what CEPA was founded to push against."

Though the bulk of Heyman's work comes from the 1960s, CEPA will be the first gallery to feature color photographs from Heyman's book "Hipshots," published in 1988. Resulting from an artistic crisis in the early 80s, the book was composed of color photographs taken by an auto-focus camera positioned at the hip. In this experimental method, which Heyman still uses today, he does not look through the viewfinder producing a kind of roughshod, off-the-cuff style that mimics the gritty New York street scenes it captures.

"The more straightforward photography, like the Life assignment work and the most recognizable [photos] is the portal through which we want to draw people in," Brose said, noting that the color "Hipshot" photographs are the cornerstone of the CEPA exhibition.

For Catherine Schweitzer, executive director of the Baird Foundation, the Heyman exhibition isn't just any show, but an example of the "once-in-ablue- moon opportunity" she thinks is capable of transforming Buffalo into a major international arts destination. The Baird Foundation is a major funder of the Heyman exhibition.

"Here's a world-class exhibition of photography that complements the water, the architecture... and natural resources in this area," Schweitzer said. "It's almost as if the exhibit is capturing all that Buffalo has been and hopes to become."

By that, Schweitzer said, she is referring to the workingclass nature of Heyman's work and the ways it allows the viewer to embrace a gritty social realism while maintaining an essentially positive outlook.

"It all fits Buffalo's scale, its history, its sense of place, sense of self," Scheweitzer said, adding that the range of Heyman's work mirrors that off Buffalo's cultural landscape. "We don't have one story to tell, we have an encyclopedia of stories to tell."

Art Preview

" Ken Heyman: Being Human" and " Ken Heyman: Pop Portraits"

" Pop Portraits" opens with an artist talk by Heyman at 7 p. m. Friday at the Albright- Knox Art Gallery, 1285 Elmwood Ave. " Being Human" opens at 7 p. m. Saturday at CEPA Gallery, 617 Main St. Both exhibitions run through Aug. 26. Admission is free at CEPA, and $ 10 at the Albright- Knox ($ 8 for students and seniors). For more information, call 857- 2717 or www.cepagallery.org

cdabkowski@buffnews.com