Scavullo and the great ones

Openly gay photography legend Francesco Scavullo shot every great celebrity for decades: Grace, Liz, Janis, Liza, Barbra, Brooke, Cindy, Bowie, and on and on and on up to the present day. By the time he died at age 82 on January 6, he was not only a chronicler of the great ones, he had long since become one himself.

BY Michael Matson

January 07 2004 1:00 AM ET

Francesco Scavullo was a living legend. Even if his name didn’t ring a bell in some suburban households, his images certainly would. Remember Madonna’s first ultraglam look on the the cover of Time? The sexy photo of Babs and Kris Kristofferson on the poster for the movie A Star Is Born? Diana Ross looking fierce in jeans and no makeup on her 1980 Diana album cover? Cindy Crawford channeling lesbian supermodel Gia Carangi on the cover of Cosmopolitan? All Scavullo.In any global mecca, mention the name Scavullo and people are likely to know not only the name but its legacy. This was the man who discovered Brooke Shields when she was 11 months old and shot her first professional photos. This was the man who propelled the late model Gia to superstar status and remained her friend when the rest of the fashion world had written her off as a heroin-addicted dyke. This is the man who shot every single Cosmo cover for 30 years! Twiggy. Calvin Klein. Grace Kelly. Mikhail Baryshnikov. Lauren Hutton. Gore Vidal. Elizabeth Taylor. Janis Joplin. Brad Pitt. Liza Minnelli. Naomi Campbell. Mick Jagger. Halston. Cher. He’s had them all in front of his lens.I first became aware of the great Scavullo in 1980 when, at the age of 13, I began to read Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and Interview. Scavullo’s credits were everywhere. I later saw him on the talk-show circuit promoting his 1981 photography and makeover book, Scavullo Women, and learned that a portrait session with him would set one back $10,000. In 1981 a four-door passenger car didn’t cost that much! My best friend, Michele, and I wore Scavullo Women ragged, repeatedly flipping pages and dreaming of the day we would move to New York and be photographed by him. For us, having a Scavullo portrait meant that you had arrived.As my interest in fashion, photography, and pop culture grew, I learned about the fabulous world of Warhol and was not surprised to find Scavullo there as well. His photographs of Warhol Superstars Holly Woodlawn, Jackie Curtis, Joe Dallesandro, and Candy Darling were some of the best ever produced. Even as I later moved into the underground club and music scene, I could not escape Scavullo’s images. His portraits of David Bowie, Debbie Harry, Divine, and Lou Reed adorned the album covers and music magazines I was accumulating. My eventual career as a photo editor would owe much to his influence. His life as a gay man who made the world a more aesthetically pleasing place certainly paved the way for people like Kevyn Aucoin and the Fab 5 to thrive later on down the road.Francesco Scavullo was a living legend. Even if his name didn’t ring a bell in some suburban households, his images certainly would. Remember Madonna’s first ultraglam look on the the cover of Time? The sexy photo of Babs and Kris Kristofferson on the poster for the movie A Star Is Born? Diana Ross looking fierce in jeans and no makeup on her 1980 Diana album cover? Cindy Crawford channeling lesbian supermodel Gia Carangi on the cover of Cosmopolitan? All Scavullo.In any global mecca, mention the name Scavullo and people are likely to know not only the name but its legacy. This was the man who discovered Brooke Shields when she was 11 months old and shot her first professional photos. This was the man who propelled the late model Gia to superstar status and remained her friend when the rest of the fashion world had written her off as a heroin-addicted dyke. This is the man who shot every single Cosmo cover for 30 years! Twiggy. Calvin Klein. Grace Kelly. Mikhail Baryshnikov. Lauren Hutton. Gore Vidal. Elizabeth Taylor. Janis Joplin. Brad Pitt. Liza Minnelli. Naomi Campbell. Mick Jagger. Halston. Cher. He’s had them all in front of his lens.I first became aware of the great Scavullo in 1980 when, at the age of 13, I began to read Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and Interview. Scavullo’s credits were everywhere. I later saw him on the talk-show circuit promoting his 1981 photography and makeover book, Scavullo Women, and learned that a portrait session with him would set one back $10,000. In 1981 a four-door passenger car didn’t cost that much! My best friend, Michele, and I wore Scavullo Women ragged, repeatedly flipping pages and dreaming of the day we would move to New York and be photographed by him. For us, having a Scavullo portrait meant that you had arrived.As my interest in fashion, photography, and pop culture grew, I learned about the fabulous world of Warhol and was not surprised to find Scavullo there as well. His photographs of Warhol Superstars Holly Woodlawn, Jackie Curtis, Joe Dallesandro, and Candy Darling were some of the best ever produced. Even as I later moved into the underground club and music scene, I could not escape Scavullo’s images. His portraits of David Bowie, Debbie Harry, Divine, and Lou Reed adorned the album covers and music magazines I was accumulating. My eventual career as a photo editor would owe much to his influence. His life as a gay man who made the world a more aesthetically pleasing place certainly paved the way for people like Kevyn Aucoin and the Fab 5 to thrive later on down the road.Over the years, I was fortunate enough to work with great photography and fashion talents such as David LaChapelle and Todd Oldham, but my hopes of ever being on a set with Scavullo began to dim. Any actual connection with him seemed securely resigned to the childhood dreams I shared with Michele.In 2002 something remarkable happened. A fashion shoot was booked in New York for the magazine I was employed by—with Scavullo as the photographer. Unbelievable. Even as he walked into the studio wearing his trademark hat, the fashion editor and I had to look at each other to confirm that we were not hallucinating. I think we even pinched each other’s arms to make certain we were awake. Being consummate professionals, we both forced our screams of excitement to implode internally.Mr. Scavullo arrived a little under the weather and was moving at an unusually slow pace. Although I knew that he was in his 80s, I must admit I had some fear about what might take place. Was he past his prime? I wondered. I had to keep my thoughts from going to the bad place: Scavullo is not up to the task, and how am I going to explain this dismal shoot to my editor in chief? My fears were alleviated the moment he stepped up to the camera. The man seemed to drop 50 years in age and had all the enthusiasm and agility of a young artist. You could feel the magic in the air. It was truly electric.On the second day of the shoot, Scavullo’s partner of 30 years, Sean Byrnes, brought in film from the day before. It was classic Scavullo. That I had ever had any doubts seemed absurd at this point. The man had proved over and over again since the 1940s that he was an infallible talent.The news of Scavullo’s passing on January 6 took me by surprise. Although he clearly lived a long and rich life, it’s still a shock when one of the great ones passes. You know that no one will ever come along to fill those shoes. I believe many people had similar feelings when they heard of the passing of the great Katharine Hepburn.I am still in touch with my childhood friend Michele. Although we live in different cities and she is now the proud mother of two, we both still read Vogue religiously. She misplaced her copy of Scavullo Women many years ago and mentioned to me that she would love to have a copy of that book again. So, for Christmas 2002, I sent her a copy. However, this copy was inscribed, “To Michele, With Love. Francesco Scavullo.”Thank you, Mr. Scavullo, for making our dreams come true. Over the years, I was fortunate enough to work with great photography and fashion talents such as David LaChapelle and Todd Oldham, but my hopes of ever being on a set with Scavullo began to dim. Any actual connection with him seemed securely resigned to the childhood dreams I shared with Michele.In 2002 something remarkable happened. A fashion shoot was booked in New York for the magazine I was employed by—with Scavullo as the photographer. Unbelievable. Even as he walked into the studio wearing his trademark hat, the fashion editor and I had to look at each other to confirm that we were not hallucinating. I think we even pinched each other’s arms to make certain we were awake. Being consummate professionals, we both forced our screams of excitement to implode internally.Mr. Scavullo arrived a little under the weather and was moving at an unusually slow pace. Although I knew that he was in his 80s, I must admit I had some fear about what might take place. Was he past his prime? I wondered. I had to keep my thoughts from going to the bad place: Scavullo is not up to the task, and how am I going to explain this dismal shoot to my editor in chief? My fears were alleviated the moment he stepped up to the camera. The man seemed to drop 50 years in age and had all the enthusiasm and agility of a young artist. You could feel the magic in the air. It was truly electric.On the second day of the shoot, Scavullo’s partner of 30 years, Sean Byrnes, brought in film from the day before. It was classic Scavullo. That I had ever had any doubts seemed absurd at this point. The man had proved over and over again since the 1940s that he was an infallible talent.The news of Scavullo’s passing on January 6 took me by surprise. Although he clearly lived a long and rich life, it’s still a shock when one of the great ones passes. You know that no one will ever come along to fill those shoes. I believe many people had similar feelings when they heard of the passing of the great Katharine Hepburn.I am still in touch with my childhood friend Michele. Although we live in different cities and she is now the proud mother of two, we both still read Vogue religiously. She misplaced her copy of Scavullo Women many years ago and mentioned to me that she would love to have a copy of that book again. So, for Christmas 2002, I sent her a copy. However, this copy was inscribed, “To Michele, With Love. Francesco Scavullo.”Thank you, Mr. Scavullo, for making our dreams come true.

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