Portraits Under Stress

Scottsdale Library showcases photos taken under stressful conditions by Harrison Hurwitz

The subject matter varies, but a common theme among the works found in the new exhibition “Harrison Hurwitz: Photographer, Working” is photos made under stressful conditions. The exhibition opens Jan. 8 at the Gallery @ Appaloosa Library in Scottsdale, and runs through Feb. 28.

Photo by Harrison Hurwitz

“I believe the common theme would be ‘portraits done under stress,’” Hurwitz says. “To get the ballet photo, I had to climb and move onto flimsy scaffolding. For my photos of famous people, all of them told me I had five or 10 minutes to do it. I have always loved being challenged, and I have done much of my best work that way.”

Hurwitz is a quick thinker – with adaptability, agility, cunning and charm – and works to take the perfect public relations headshot, “candid” pictures for magazines or a photo story for a ballet company. Hours of planning are needed for a five-minute shoot with the successful, busy and famous. With each image in the exhibition, Hurwitz gives us his behind-the-scenes thoughts from the moment.

“The creative process is free-flowing for me,” Hurwitz says. “I work a lot by intuition and look to find or make the best possible light. My subjects are not professional actors, so I need to be part director, part location scout and part psychologist. Before my photography career, I was a working psychologist for eight years, so that helps.”

Following his time as a psychologist, Hurwitz spent 10 years shooting high fashion and celebrities in New York City. His insightful perspective provides a unique understanding and respect for the human condition.

“Wings From Above” by Harrison Hurwitz

Among his influences are fashion photographers Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Paolo Roversi and Herb Ritts, as well as street photographer Weegee, painter Rufino Tamayo, cubist Pablo Picasso and, more recently, guerilla street artist Banksy.

“I also love the structure of hard bop jazz, where you start with a collaborative chorus, then each member does a solo, and back to the chorus again,” Hurwitz says. “That mix of teamwork and personal expression is what goes into each of my photo sessions.”

Posing a challenge to Hurwitz’s art was a battle with rheumatoid arthritis in his 30s. He had to downsize his equipment because the weight was too painful for his joints. For a time, he only worked with a single light, creating highly directional illumination with strong shadows.

Yet using minimal gear became an advantage when he began photographing jazz artists during recording sessions. Because studio time is expensive, Hurwitz had to work quickly during breaks to capture his images.

Scottsdale Public Art, a branch of Scottsdale Arts, operates the Gallery @ Appaloosa Library for the City of Scottsdale.


Harrison Hurwitz: Photographer, Working

Jan. 8 – Feb. 28.

Gallery @ Appaloosa Library, 7377 E. Silverstone Drive, Scottsdale

To see more of Hurwitz’s work, visit hurwitzphotography.com.

For information about the exhibition, visit scottsdalepublicart.org.

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