"In the late ’50s and early ’60s, attorney Marvin Lazarus (1918-1982) would periodically sneak out of his Manhattan office, cameras hidden under his clothes, to photograph some of the 20th century’s best-known artists (among them Franz Kline, Marcel Duchamp, Louise Nevelson and Alberto Giacometti).
From 1959 to 1962, when he decided to leave the legal profession to try his hand at a full time career in photography, Lazarus also kept detailed notes recounting each of these sittings. His words and images offer sharp insights into the personalities and the social landscape of the postwar New York City art world."
Excerpt from "Known by Sight: Marvin Lazarus, Photographer; Photographs and Journal Excerpts by Marvin Lazarus"
Marvin Lazarus (1918–1982) was a lawyer and Assistant Attorney General of New York State who left his legal practice in 1962 to become a full-time photographer.
His portraits of more than 200 iconic American and European artists and sculptors — including Franz Kline, Marcel Duchamp, Louise Nevelson, Jasper Johns and Alberto Giacometti — are in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art. They were also published during the ’60s and ’70s in many prominent exhibition catalogues, artists’ monographs and art journals.
A selection of his photographs was featured in “Side by Side,” a 2004 featured exhibition at the Neuberger Museum of Art in Westchester County, NY.
NOTES FOR A MANIACAL DISSERTATION ON MY LIFE
Written by Marvin Lazarus
Editor's Note: This biography was written in 1968 by Marvin Lazarus.
BIRTH I was born in Albany, N.Y. on June 1, 1918 in the middle of a trolley strike.
YOUTH I spent all my early years in Albany surrounded by a large circle of friends, all of them books.
EDUCATION I graduated from Public School no. 12. I remember very little about it, except that the day I went to school to be graduated, a very old lady stopped me on the street and told me that just where the school was now situated used to be a horse graveyard, and that I should remember it. I did. Four years later, I graduated from Albany High School, if not with honors, then with relief, as the Albany school system always reminded me of a penal colony.
COLLEGE I entered Union College in Schenectady in 1936. I enjoyed every minute of it. They had a lot of books. I majored in government, was a student assistant to a professor, made Phi Beta Kappa, was a commencement speaker, and stole enough prizes to get started in graduate school. I wanted to get a PhD and teach. I was a damn fool. I didn't.
GRADUATE SCHOOL I was offered scholarships by Harvard, Yale and Columbia Law Schools. Like an idiot, I accepted one of them. I went to Harvard Law School in 1940, graduated in 1943. I passed the bar in May of that year.
WORK Dewey was Governor, and he wanted to compete with the New Deal. So the State Government in Albany began to hire people out of the various law schools instead of the political clubs. I became Assistant Attorney General. During the seven years I spent in the A.G. office, I became a distinguished expert in such practical fields as hydro-electric power litigation, stock transfer taxes and Indian affairs.
I also got stomach trouble.
1945 In February, to escape the cases and the stomach trouble, I went to Lake Placid. There, I met some people by the name of Fast. They had two daughters. One was just the right age for me; the other was much too young. I married Miss much too young.
1947 Bobbie and I were married, and set up shop in Saratoga, where she went to Skidmore, for the next three years. Since she was a very talented artist, and was studying art, I couldn't help being nosy about it all. I began to study it too. That's how I began to do photography. I couldn't paint; so I did the next best thing.
1950 The day my wife graduated from college, I resigned from the Attorney General's office. We moved to White Plains, and I took a law job in N.Y.
1950-1957 During these years I kept doing photography, and became more and more interested in art. Then, one day in '57 or '58, I bought a closeout book which directly resulted in my present dubious state. It was called Modern Art: USA and it told about the struggle of N.Y. artists to get recognition from the Museum of Modern Art. In those days everything was French Art - including my knowledge of art. It never occurred to me there were real live honest to God artists living within arm's reach. For some perverse reason, I decided then and there I would photograph these artists, so people like me would not think of artists as just legendary names living in exotic places like Paris.
1958 In June of 1958, I shot my first artist – Lee Gatch. It took me months to get up the courage to do so. We became very friendly after that. I was impressed that such a famous artist had not thrown me out, and later I learned that he was equally impressed because a lawyer wanted to take his picture!
1958-1962 During this period I stopped taking pictures of anything that wasn't an artist. I would sneak out of my office with cameras hidden in my clothes to keep appointments with artists. I would not go on any vacation where there were no artists to shoot. I would work every night, every Saturday and Sunday in the darkroom. After a time, museums, publishers etc. began to know I was there and to call for photographs. More and more I was pulled away from law toward some kind of career in art. And in 1962, I pulled away completely and became a professional photographer. I thought it would be easy. It wasn't.
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