A Commitment to the Truth of the Moment

Capturing big personalities on film
“Andy Warhol & Jean-Michel Basquiat #1,” from 1985, is part of a retrospective exhibition of Michael Halsband’s portraits on view at the Southampton Arts Center. ­Michael Halsband Photos

Michael Halsband’s career in photography began when he was 10 years old and learned at school how to make a print from start to finish. While still a teenager, his photographs earned him a place at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, and he began photographing professionally while still a student there.

Over the subsequent four decades, he has produced a body of portraiture in both photography and films that covers a vast range of American culture, from the art and music worlds to surfers, ballet dancers, sex workers, and East End farmers, whom he documented in his film “Growing Farmers,” which premiered at the Hamptons International Film Festival in 2012.

The scope of Mr. Halsband’s work will be on view in “Halsband Portraits” through Dec. 31 at the Southampton Arts Center. Greatly expanded from an exhibition of the same title held two years ago at the National Arts Club in New York City, the show will include approximately 125 works. Like that earlier exhibition, this one was put together by the photographer and Andrea Grover, the curator and writer who became executive director of Guild Hall in 2016.

When Amy Kirwin, the director of programs at the arts center, proposed the exhibition to Mr. Halsband after seeing the show in New York, he again turned to Ms. Grover and said, “ ‘Here’s an opportunity to do it in a bigger place and maybe show more work.’ This time she really raised the bar on the whole show in a lot of ways. She’s more focused on portraiture, so there is a big chunk of the work I did in the ’90s in the music business, with musicians and for record covers. There’s more work from outside the studio and many photographs I haven’t shown before.”

The show will include photographs Mr. Halsband shot as tour photographer for the Rolling Stones’ “Tattoo You” tour in 1981, which have not been exhibited since 1983. The iconic images from the Andy Warhol-Jean-Michel Basquiat boxing gloves series of 1985 will also be on view, as will photographs of Warhol in a jacket and tie taken for the cover of ARTnews magazine in 1980.

Mr. Halsband has often been drawn to eccentric figures from the art and music worlds, among them Klaus Nomi, a visionary, androgynous performer known for his wide vocal range, stylized hairdo, and unusual costumes who was a fixture in the East Village until his death from AIDS in 1983.

“I photographed a lot of people in the music world, from pop musicians to pretty esoteric people. I do have my opinions, and I don’t want to photograph certain people because I don’t necessarily love what they stand for when it comes to music. It’s more exciting when I really like the music.” He cited Frank Black, Charles Thompson, Black Francis from the Pixies, and Ben Harper, but he also toured with, and has become good friends with, AC/DC.

“I’ve worked with so many incredible artists. There’s no way they can not be amazing when they create that kind of work. When that’s happening, it’s as fun as it can be. They’re engaged, I’m engaged, and I’m killing myself to make the best pictures possible.”

In the mid-1980s he undertook a six-year project photographing the School of American Ballet, after which he spent five years on portraits of nudes, strippers, and sex industry workers. In 1999, he traveled to Cuba with Hunter S. Thompson and Johnny Depp to document the trip for Rolling Stone magazine.

No matter the subject, Mr. Halsband approaches every photo sitting the same way. “I’m definitely concentrated on what I need to get, and I think that takes my mind off the potential enormity or gravity of the situation. I take what I do really seriously. The more intensity I bring to it in terms of my engagement, the more I get back from them. Everything is important — composition, lighting, the moment being absolutely true.”

“The job of a portrait photographer is to bring the viewer into as intimate a connection as possible with the person we’re portraying. I’ve realized over the years that photography, especially portrait photography, was a passport into worlds and cultures and people. It’s just so intimate and I’m so curious and so excited to meet people and learn more from them.”

Mr. Halsband, who has had a house in Water Mill for 42 years, feels his approach to portraiture has evolved. “Over the years I’ve figured out how to work with people the way I wanted. To treat them in a more dignified way or with more compassion, and to bring out their grace, to sort of celebrate them rather than just figure out some hoop to make them jump through. There’s a little bit of evidence of that growth in this show that I’m really happy to share with everybody.”

An opening reception will be held on Saturday from 5 to 7 p.m. Mr. Halsband will lead gallery tours at noon on Sunday and on Dec. 3.

In 1982, Mr. Halsband captured Louise Nevelson, the groundbreaking 20th-century sculptor, in SoHo when she was in her 80s.
The Lunachicks, photographed in 1995, are one of several bands he has captured throughout his career.
Keith Richards, Los Angeles, 1981
Olivia and Savannah, 2010
This portrait of Andy Warhol was taken in New York City in 1980. Michael Halsband Photos
Mr. Halsband took this image of Klaus Nomi, a German singer who loved spectacle and theatrics, three years before Nomi died of AIDS in 1983.
On tour with the Rolling Stones in 1981, Michael Halsband got this candid shot of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards backstage in Philadelphia.