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DAVID ATTIE

Visual Communication

March – June 2021

01. David Attie, Self-Portrait, c. 1965. Contact sheet with two strips of film against black. The photographer, blurred with motion, stands behind a tripod. A message on the left reads "david attie has moved to larger quarters 334 east 22nd st. new york 10010 tel. 228-7750"

01. David Attie, Self-Portrait, c. 1965

02. David Attie, Lisette Model, ​1972. Portrait of a woman seated on a wicker chair. Double-exposure affect makes the woman appear semi-transparent.

02. David Attie, Lisette Model, 1972

03. David Attie, Brodovitch Design Laboratory, Richard Avedon's Studio, c. 1957. A group of at least ten people sit in a circle on a wooden floor, reviewing prints.

03. David Attie, Brodovitch Design Laboratory, Richard Avedon's Studio, c. 1957

04. David Attie, Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller, n.d. Double-exposure photograph of two men smoking cigarettes, overlaid with sheet music featuring the words "Words and Music by Jerry Leiber / Mike Stoller".

04. David Attie, Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller (Vogue Magazine), 1959

05. David Attie, Lorraine Hansberry at her Bleecker Street apartment, ​1959. Subject poses leaning against a desk with a close-up photograph of herself superimposed on the wall in the background.

05. David Attie, Lorraine Hansberry at her Bleecker Street apartment, 1959

06. David Attie, Leonard Bernstein, rehearsal at Carnegie Hall, ​1959. Multiple-exposure photograph featuring a man with arms raised as if conducting and streaks of light.

06. David Attie, Leonard Bernstein, rehearsal at Carnegie Hall, 1959

07. David Attie, Truman Capote (Holiday Magazine), 1958. Subject is seated on the landing of a winding staircase, looking up at the camera with legs crossed and hands in his lap.

07. David Attie, Truman Capote (Holiday Magazine), 1958

08. David Attie, David Merrick (Vogue Magazine), 1959. Multiple-exposure featuring a portrait of a man with head resting on his hands superimposed with Broadway marquees.

08. David Attie, David Merrick (Vogue Magazine), 1959

09. David Attie, Untitled (Pharmaceuticals), c. 1958. Multiple-exposure photograph of various neon signs, all pharmacy-related.

09. David Attie, Untitled (Pharmaceuticals), c. 1958

10. David Attie, Untitled (Pageant Magazine), ​c. 1970. Composite photograph. The left side of the frame featured a man aiming a rifle down and to the right. His head is surrounded by the word "Why?"

10. David Attie, Untitled (Pageant Magazine), c. 1970

11. David Attie, Untitled, ​n.d. Two composite prints: one positive and one inverted negative of the same image. Side-profile portrait of a man's head with an abstract geometric sculpture superimposed.

11. David Attie, Untitled, n.d.

12. David Attie, Untitled, ​c. 1960. Composite photo of 15 eyes.

12. David Attie, Untitled, c. 1960

13. David Attie, Car & Driver, Las Vegas, ​1967. Composite photo featuring showgirls, marquees, a roulette table, and a racecar.

13. David Attie, Car & Driver, Las Vegas, 1967

14. David Attie, Saloon Society, ​1959. Composite photograph featuring the same figure repeated up a flight of stairs. The figure is a man wearing a hat and sunglasses carrying a guitar.

14. David Attie, Saloon Society, 1959

15. David Attie, Saloon Society, ​1959. Composite photo featuring wisps of smoke and a smiling woman's face.

15. David Attie, Saloon Society, 1959

16. David Attie, Breakfast at Tiffany's, ​1958. A group of cats, blurred with motion, against a white background, surround a guitar and a potted plant.

16. David Attie, Breakfast at Tiffany's, 1958

17. David Attie, Untitled Montage, c. 1965. Composite photo featuring two images of a woman in a leaping pose, fruits, flowers and leaves, an eye, and more.

17. David Attie, Untitled Montage, c. 1965

18. David Attie, Untitled, c. 1965. Composite color photo featuring various shipping labels that read "fragile," "rush," "handle with care," etc.

18. David Attie, Untitled, c. 1965

19. David Attie, Untitled, c. 1970. Composite color photo of three portraits in profile, featuring shapes formed by various numbers and letters, a globe, a butterfly, and more.

19. David Attie, Untitled, c. 1970

20. David Attie, Untitled, ​c. 1968. Color photo featuring separate color exposures (cyan, magenta, and yellow) of a woman in side profile in various positions operating a view camera.

20. David Attie, Untitled, c. 1968

21. David Attie, Untitled (Argosy Magazine), c. 1965. Various sea vessels and aircraft surrounded by water and bubbles against a white background.

21. David Attie, Untitled (Argosy Magazine), c. 1965

22. David Attie, Untitled (Pharmaceutical Montage), ​c. 1970. Composite color photo featuring a model skeleton, various pills, adults and children, wisps of smoke, gloves, and more.

22. David Attie, Untitled (Pharmaceutical Montage), c. 1970

23. David Attie, Untitled, ​c. 1960. Composite photo featuring a swinging pendulum in multiple positions as well as the moon and stars.

23. David Attie, Untitled, c. 1960

24. David Attie, Untitled, ​c. 1970. Composite color photo featuring a globe against a background of sky and clouds. Various human figure silhouettes stand on the globe.

24. David Attie, Untitled, c. 1970

25. David Attie, Times Square, ​c. 1958. Multiple exposures of neon signs and marquees at night.

25. David Attie, Times Square, c. 1958

26. David Attie, Flatiron Building, ​c. 1958. Blurred/distorted photo of a triangular building against a gray sky. Various figures and cars can be seen in the lower third of the print, below a number of birds taking flight.

26. David Attie, Flatiron Building, c. 1958

27. David Attie, Brooklyn Bridge, ​c. 1958. Distorted image of a portion of the Brooklyn Bridge from a low perspective. Most of the frame is filled with distorted, wavy cables.

27. David Attie, Brooklyn Bridge, c. 1958

28. David Attie, Untitled, ​c. 1965. Street scene featuring a traffic light, crosswalk signal that reads "Don't Walk," a sign reading "E 57 St", vehicles, and a number of pedestrians.

28. David Attie, Untitled, c. 1965

29. David Attie, Washington Square Park, Saloon Society, 1959. Blurred/distorted photo of the Washington Arch with birds taking flight in the foreground.

29. David Attie, Washington Square Park, Saloon Society, 1959

30. David Attie, Flatiron Building, ​c. 1958. Night scene facing the Flatiron Building, streetlights, car headlights, and three pigeons taking flight.

30. David Attie, Flatiron Building, c. 1958

31. David Attie, Saloon Society, ​1959. Distorted skyline fills the lower third of the frame with an overcast sky above.

31. David Attie, Saloon Society, 1959

32. David Attie, Times Square, ​c. 1958. Night scene of neon signs and marquees, notably a large, round sign for Pepsi-Cola.

32. David Attie, Times Square, c. 1958

33. David Attie, Penn Station, ​1957. Vertically elongated image of the pillars and skylights of the original Penn Station building. Various commuters can be seen in the lower portion.

33. David Attie, Penn Station, 1957

Press Release

How David Attie invented Photoshop in the 1950s
by Eli Attie

 

Okay, my father didn’t invent Photoshop.

 

But if you look at his stunning photo-montages, from an era long before personal computers -- and even longer before everyone with an iPhone became a poor man’s Ansel Adams -– you’d be forgiven for thinking someone slipped him a prototype.

 

The fact is, David Attie was creating complex, densely-layered compositions with the technological equivalent of a rock and a hammer. Not bad for a guy who completely, irretrievably botched his first photo assignment.

 

By now you’re probably wondering: who was David Attie?

 

After serving in the Army in World War II – during which he painted pinup girls on the noses of combat planes, some of which you’ll find in books – my dad built a respectable career as a commercial illustrator. He drew everything from cigarette ads to magazine spreads to the covers of trashy romance novels.

 

But by the end of the 1950’s, illustration was dying fast. Magazines and publishing houses were turning to photographs instead of those antiquated, Mad Men-era line drawings.

My father decided to make the switch, and signed up for Alexey Brodovitch’s famed photography course at The New School in New York. Brodovitch, the longtime art director of Harper’s Bazaar, teacher and mentor of Irving Penn and Richard Avedon (in whose studio the course was held), is considered one of the fathers of modern magazine design. He’s credited with inventing the two-page spread—which, let’s face it, is a bit like inventing the sandwich. He was a very big deal. He was also a very tough teacher. If he didn’t like your work, he’d rip you to pieces.

One night, in his makeshift apartment darkroom on 55th Street, my father was developing the film for his very first assignment – photos of the original Penn Station, before its demolition. He realized he’d underexposed every single frame. There wasn’t one usable image. And the class was the next day. In other words, he was toast—and so was his new career. In a desperate panic, he started layering the negatives together, to create usable images – and in the process, created moody, impressionistic montages. His life must’ve been flashing before his eyes -- and at the wrong exposure.

 

Brodovitch loved the montages. He spent the entire class gushing over them. And on the final night of the course, he offered my father his first-ever professional assignment: to illustrate a new work by an emerging young writer, Truman Capote. The work was Breakfast At Tiffany’s. It ran in Esquire, the first full-page occupied by one of my dad’s now-signature montages. Not bad for a first-timer.

With “Tiffany’s” as his calling card and both Brodovitch and Capote in his corner, my dad worked constantly after that.  And he racked up impressive credits: frequent covers and spreads for Vogue, Time, Newsweek, and Bazaar. Portraits of everyone from W.E.B. Du Bois to Bobby Fischer to The Band. Two books of his own work, 1977's Russian Self-Portraits, and 1981's Portrait: Theory (together with Chuck Close, Robert Mapplethorpe and others -- not the shabbiest company).

 

And while his work slowly faded after his passing in the 1980’s, I’m happy to say that it has seen a significant revival. A gorgeous book of his Capote photographs came out about five years ago (Brooklyn: A Personal Memoir, With The Lost Photographs of David Attie, The Little Bookroom, 2015), followed by an eighteen-month show at the Brooklyn Historical Society, and shows in Los Angeles and England too.  Later this year, he’ll have another new book, of his behind-the-scenes photos from the very first season of Sesame Street. His work is being licensed and published widely again, and now there is this wonderful exhibit at Keith de Lellis Gallery in New York. (Keith, I should add, remained a true champion of my father’s work -- even in the years when it was mostly dormant.)

 

My dad’s work was always wide-ranging. His straight portraiture and street photography were fantastic. But more than any other style, the montages became his voice. A way to express things that couldn’t be captured by the naked eye. A way to make photographic paper his canvas. A way to be different.

 

His background in illustration no doubt shaped these montages. In fact, he acknowledged this himself; he would often photograph backgrounds and foregrounds separately, and combine them in the darkroom. A standard illustration technique.

 

But here’s what I find fascinating: his work as an illustrator was good, but in his own words, “never outstanding.” He never tried to experiment. He never tried to invent. He never tried to be different. Until that darkroom accident somehow freed him – to start seeing with his mind’s eye, to embrace the unusual, to use the darkroom not just to develop film, but to develop ideas.

 

My father once wrote, “My first impulse when I started out was to do battle with photography, to produce images that were anti-photographic. I have never made peace with photography in its simplest expression. I feel the need to interfere in some way with the making of a photograph. I don’t seem to have the ability to leave things alone. It only seems to work for me when I complicate the endeavor. The ideal photograph for me is one that cannot be seen in a viewfinder or even in nature.”

 

And yet it took a technical mishap to unlock that impulse. There’s a lesson in it, and I think it applies to anyone doing creative work. Who needs to invent Photoshop? The real task is to invent yourself.