With a career spanning decades, photographer Ormond Gigli accrued an impressive resume that most people could only dream of matching. He contributed his editorial work to the likes of Time and The Saturday Evening Post. He made portraits of the biggest celebrities of the 50s, 60s, and 70s; everyone from Marcel Duchamp to Judy Garland to President John F. Kennedy sat in front of his camera. But at 93 years old, reflecting on the hundreds and thousands of exposures that he’s made, he feels he has one signature piece that trumps the rest. It isn’t of some famous face, and it wasn’t commissioned by a popular publisher. He feels his completely self assigned shot of 43 women, a car, and a crumbling brownstone best encompasses the brand of style and creativity he’s cultivated over the years:
As hard it is to imagine, this striking photograph was made entirely in-camera well before the days of Photoshop. Back in 1960, Gigli found himself working out of a studio on East 58th Street in the heart of Manhattan. Across the street stood a series of townhouses, set for demolition. Intent on capturing the beauty of the buildings before it was gone for good, the artist set to work on crafting the perfect image to memorialize the neighborhood he had come to love so well.
The day before the brownstones were set to be destroyed, Ormund gathered 43 women clad in their best formal wear and carefully posed them in the window frames. No two figures looked exactly alike; the posture and outfit each woman assumed alludes to what her personality might be like outside the confines of the photograph. Perched from the fire escape of his studio, he was able to capture action happening across five floors. The final product proved to be something surreal, reducing the living, breathing women to brightly colored toys in a doll house.
Nearly 60 years later, the image has stood the test of time. Immortalizing the time and place, the photograph achieves exactly what Gigli intended and preserves the spirit of the city perfectly in a brief, beautiful vignette.
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