Art Kane (1925 – 1995) was one of the most influential photographers of the twentieth century. A bold visionary, Kane’s work encompassed fashion, editorial, celebrity portraiture, travel, and nudes with a relentless and innovative eye. Like his contemporaries, Guy Bourdin (1928 – 1991) and Helmut Newton (1924 – 2004), Kane gravitated toward strong color, eroticism and surreal humor.
Of that handful of elite post – WWII photographers, Art Kane was the wild child: unflinching, uncompromising and unsentimental. A pioneer of numerous concepts in modern photography, Kane was only interested in what could happen next, how to evolve, to change, to do it better, and to accept nothing less than brilliance.
After graduating from Cooper Union with honors in 1950 Kane designed page layouts at Esquire and at age 27 was named art director at Seventeen, the youngest art director of a major magazine in New York City. In 1956 he studied with Alexey Brodovitch at The New School, where other students included Richard Avedon, Irving Penn and Diane Arbus. As a disciple of Brodovitch’s Art Kane learned to worship the unknown.
Thirty years before Photoshop and digital imaging, armed only with a light table and a loupe, Kane invented the ‘sandwich’ image; two, four, and more transparencies layered, inverted, reversed, book-matched, painstakingly aligned, and taped together at the edges. In perfecting this technique, Kane pioneered photographic storytelling by investing his images with metaphor and poetry, effectively turning photography into illustration.
In 1958, Kane assembled the greatest legends in jazz and shot what became one of his most famous images, Harlem 1958. In the 1960s and 1970s, he photographed, among others, the Rolling Stones, the Who, Janis Joplin, the Doors, Aretha Franklin and Bob Dylan.
While the battle for civil rights and the Vietnam War raged, Kane was refining a conscientious response to the period with his editorial work, accessible and populist in its ability to communicate to a large audience.
Kane also contributed to the major fashion magazines of his era, including US, United Kingdom and European editions as well as creating startling ad campaigns for the fashion and beauty industry.
In his lifetime Kane was honored by almost every photo-design organization in the United States: American Society of Magazine Photographers, Photographer of the Year, Newspaper Guild of America, Page One Award, Augustus Saint-Gaudens Medal for Distinguished Achievement, Cooper-Union, New York Art Directors Club, (14) Medals and (28) Awards of Distinctive Merit. In 1984 Kane was given the American Society of Magazine Photographers Lifetime Achievement Award and awards from the AlGA, Society of Typographic Arts and Communication Arts Magazine and awards from Philadelphia, San Francisco, Chicago and Detroit art directors clubs.
Art Kane’s contributions to the medium of photography continue to resonate throughout the industry today. His work remains unmatched.