It's a snap

From Streisand to DiCaprio and Michael Jackson, Greg Gorman photographs the world's most interesting people

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Photo by © Greg Gorman
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For more than 40 years, Greg Gorman has taken photos of the world's most interesting people. More than 125 of them are showcased In Greg Gorman: A Distinct Vision 1970-2010, on display at the Decorative Center Houston through June 3. Recently, the Los Angeles-based photographer picked out some of his favorite images in the exhibit and talked about how they came about.

Michael Jackson, 1987

"Michael was a perfectionist beyond your wildest imagination. Every time we would shoot, he would call me and we'd have a two-hour conversation to discuss what it was we were going to do and how we were going to go about it. He had pet tarantulas; they actually shed their skin. This is the casing of the tarantula that he brought with him.

"He never traveled with a big entourage. He was very genuine and really loved photography. I dearly miss him. He was a tragic individual but an amazing human being."

Sophia Loren, 1994

"Sophia was always one of my heroes. From when I was a little kid, the three people I always wanted to photograph were Sophia Loren, Bridget Bardot and Gina Lollobrigida.  I shot Sophia in Rome for Detour magazine. She drove herself to the shoot. Did her own makeup and hair....She said to me one point at lunch. 'You know Greg, I'm really not 60, I'm three times 20.' "

Jimmy James, 1990

"I was shooting Jimmy for an LA Eyeworks ad as Marilyn Monroe. He was in the midst of transition from male to female. I saw this isolation, lonliness and uncertainty that was very touching. To me, that moment was much more telling that the pictures of him made up in drag."

Leonardo Di Caprio, 1994

"Leo was one of the most relaxed, most comfortable human beings inside his skin of anyone I ever photographed. That makes for a great subject, when they're really open and accessible and willing to go for it. Look at that contact sheet and you really can see so many different looks throughout the images."

"Leo always looked really young. When I shot that, he was probably 18 or 19."

Grace Jones, 1995

"Grace has been a lifetime very dear friend of mine. She's probably one of the most misunderstood and fun people I know. Everybody thinks she's this giant, but she's not that tall. She's extraordinary looking. She probably has one of the greatest senses of style and taste and design of anyone I know. At the same time, she's one of the most down-to-earth, funny, candid, quirky individuals I have ever met. She's one of the great dinner guests because she's super-down-to-earth, very funny and doesn't take herself too seriously. I can show you 1,000 great pictures of Grace Jones. She always has the best clothes, the best styling, just the greatest taste. She can pull it off."

Barbara and Timothy Leary, 1990

"Tim was a big supporter and fan of mine as I was of his. He came to a lot of my exhibitions. This is the two of them sitting in an electric chair that I have as a piece of art in my home. I though it was an eclectic piece of art that suited Tim and Barbara. I just thought it was something different to shoot of them rather than just a straight portrait. They're both pretty eccentric people. Barbara's quite eccentric and Tim was, too, in his own understated way."

Reggie Bibbs, 1995

"Twenty years ago I came down to Houston for an exhibition and I sat next to Carolyn Farb at a dinner. She told me about neurofibromatosis and Reggie. Long story short, I met him and we became friends.  He has been in several of my books and I flew him out to LA for a couple of my exhibitions.

"He is just an extraordinary human being. Reggie is a person we can all learn from in life. The guy has got the wildest, funniest, darkest sense of humor. He's so quick and so focused. He's just been a real inspiration to me throughout my life. Having the opportunity to have time with him while I was in Houston on this trip meant so much to me."

"I think Reggie is certainly a celebrity in his own right. I felt that he deserved to be in the show for everything he has done and what he stands for."

David Bowie, 1984

"I started working with him about the time of Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps). We just tried a whole myriad of different things. David was very creative and we did a lot of pictures together in the late '80s and early '90s."

Iman, 1988

"She and I were friends and it was during the late '80s when I was shooting a lot of male and female nudes and I just asked her about it. She wasn't hesitant at all. Nobody was hesitant about doing nudes in the '80s and '90s. It wasn't until the onset of the Internet basically castrated the concept of shooting male and female nudes that really brought it to a shocking halt.

"There's been lots of positive things about the Internet, but that's certainly not one of them. Now people can steal your images and post them. It's very difficult to get the kind of openness and candidness in a lot of photography being done today because of the Internet."

David Michelak, 1987

"I photographed him and he then became a muse of Herb Ritts for quite a while and now he shoots and he shoots very, very well. He has an great eye and has done some really cool work."

John Waters, 1994

"John Waters is so unmistakably recognizable for that pencil-thin mustache.....Some people think it kind of looks like a vagina, but that's the flip side of John Waters."

Philip Johnson, 2000

"I was fortunate enough to photograph Philip for the cover of his book and then I later photographed him in the Lipstick Building, which is where these pictures were taken, actually in his office. I loved his glasses. I loved his style. I loved him sitting in that Eames chair. We just threw a backdrop up in his office and shot that.

"I stayed at the Derek Hotel when I was down in Houston and I could see the (Johnson-designed) Williams building from my hotel room. It blew my mind. I walked around it a couple of times. It's an exceptional example of functional architecture."

Heath Ledger, 2004

"This picture was taken in Venice, Italy for the movie Casanova. Heath was the perfect example of a person not crazy about doing a lot of photography. It was put off until the third or fourth day that I was in Venice, the last day. We found out, through doing a little research, that he was a big fan of wine. So we got Heath a bunch of great wine. We shot a lot of pictures, but as soon as the wine was gone, he was gone. But we did get the pictures. And for the time that Heath was there he was certainly a beautiful man to photograph and great in front of the camera."

Djimon Hounsou, 1991

"He has perfect features, perfect teeth. Just a great specimen of a human being not to mention one of the nicest guys on the planet. When I was finishing my third book, Inside Life, which was a book on personality portraits, I didn't want to put an actor on the cover, because it would put me in a bind, (other actors asking) 'Why didn't get on the cover?'  I thought I'll put Djimon on the cover. He's a great model and it's an interesting picture. When we had a dinner after the very first book signing, he had just landed his first major film role. He went on, as you know, to become a great actor."

Barbra Streisand, 1981


"This is a picture taken after work one day on the set of a little movie she did, All Night Long. Barbara was a total professional. She was very set in her ways and how she wanted to be photographed but never difficult in time and focus. It's never the big stars that are difficult in any way. It's the young, up-and-coming stars who have made one mediocre movie that have gotten great praise and think they're the greatest thing since chopped liver. The big ones know what it's taken to get to where they are and they're never difficult.

"Barbara definitely favors the side you see in that picture. It was funny because when we were working on that movie we discussed  shooting the other side of her face because she was getting ready to do Yentel as as the boy character. Bette Midler is also the same way; she also favors one side of her face."

Atherton twins, 2003

"They were in Los Angeles doing Varekai, one of the Cirque du Soleil shows, as the boys who fly in the air with straps and ropes. They came into the studio and I shot the video (as part of an ad campaign for Epson) and that became one of my most popular pieces. To this day they are two of my dearest friends. They just moved to L.A. to star in a fixed (Cirque du Soleil) show at the Kodak Theater that opens in July."

Andy Warhol, 1986

"If there was any magazine responsible for launching my career, it was Interview. I shot probably 20 covers for Andy in the early '80s. I did a campaign with LA Eyeworks called 'Every Face is like a Work of Art: It deserves a Great Frame.' One day Andy called me up and, in his inimitable way, he always had kind of a stutter, he asked me in so many words did I think that LA Eyeworks would be interested in photographing him for their ad. I told him I thought that could probably be worked out.  Andy came out and it just happened. That became one of my most famous images."

Tom Waits, 1980

"I threw this picture in to show how the face of celebrity photography has really changed. Tom was living at the Tropicana Hotel Los Angeles and I picked him up very early at the morning and we would shoot until 9 and 10 at night. We did it for three days. No one was there. My assistant and I picked Tom up and we went out and shot. Cut to modern times: A few years ago, I was asked to shoot Tom for the London Sunday Times and I was given 30 minutes for a seven-page layout.

"Today so many people are involved in the decision-making process, from makeup artists to stylists  to hairdressers to agents to managers to publicists to people from the record company. The interference from all these outside forces involved with the celebrity makes it less challenging and much less interesting."

Alex Pettyfer, 2008

"This is one of my most recent portraits and I thought it showed a little bit of a modern transition in my work. It's bold and upfront.  It's one of the last portraits I shot for my latest book, Inner Youth. Alex is a current young star who's going to make a splash. I think the photo captures the essence of his soul through his eyes."

See Greg Gorman: A Distinct Vision 1970-2010, at the Decorative Center Houston, 10 a.m. - 3 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, through June 3. Closed Memorial Day.