Iconic American Photographer and Journalist Steve Schapiro Dies at 87

Widely recognized for his photojournalism work of 20th century America and his iconic celebrity portraits, Steve Schapiro has died from pancreatic cancer. He was 87.

Schapiro is survived by Maura Smith, his wife of 39 years, sons Theophilus Donoghue and Adam Shapiro, and daughters Elle Harvey and Taylor Schapiro.

Early Career Influences

Schapiro, who was born in New York City in 1934, had an interest in photography from an early age, according to a report from Blind. Drawing inspiration from Henri Cartier-Bresson, he went out in the streets and trained himself to capture the “decisive moment.”

Early on in his career, William Eugene Smith, one of the most notable American photographers who focused on photo essays, helped shape the young Schapiro’s outlook on photography. Schapiro then went on to use photography as a tool to shed light on various cultural and political shifts in the country, working for publications like Life, Look, Time, Rolling Stone, and Vanity Fair.

His photo essays covered a wide spectrum of themes, like the Civil Rights Movement, Robert F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign, migrant workers in Arkansas, hippies in Haight-Asbury, Easter celebrations in Harlem, and others.

In his photography, Schapiro believed in the importance of connecting with his subjects which also lead to powerful and emotional photographs.

“Forty percent of the work is taking care of the contact, and then the best thing to be is very casual and very quiet,” Schapiro told journalist Marcus Woeller. “The best opportunities arise when you stay on the sidelines at first and wait for an emotional situation. For a revealing moment that gives you a feeling about who this person is.”

“And then it’s always good not to come off as bombastic and start talking right away. It’s not about you! Instead, it’s about the search for an iconic image that contains a great sense for the person and the situation.”

An Iconic Career

Alongside chronicling America, Schapiro worked with Hollywood film studios and created iconic campaigns of the 1970s and 1980s. Notable examples include still for movies like The Godfather, Midnight Cowboy, Taxi Driver, The Way We Were, and Risky Business.

Schapiro also photographed album covers for Cannonball Adderley, Wes Montgomery, Bill Evans, and Charlie Byrd. This was later followed by collaborations with Barbra Streisand and David Bowie.

With his photography in demand, he also captured other influential icons who changed the world with their vision in one way or another, such as Truman Capote, Andy Warhol, Muhammad Ali, Allen Ginsberg, and Mae West.

Schapiro continued to work well into his 80s, which concluded with his passing due to pancreatic cancer.

“Even though I feel that I’ve shot a lot of good pictures, I still haven’t stopped believing that I can always do something better,” he told Woeller.

Image credits: Header image published under Creative Commons.