While cataloguing photographs found at the estate of the late photographer Roy Schatt following Schatt’s death in 2002, Ron Cayen found a plenitude of images of James Dean, some of which had never before surfaced publicly.
Cayen had the idea for an art exhibition of the photographs that would commemorate what would have been Dean’s 75th year had he lived. Dean died in a high speed car accident while driving his silver Porsche 55 Spyder through Cholame, California.
Lowe Gallery took on the task of making the Dean exhibit a reality and organized shows in both its Santa Monica and Atlanta locations. Schatt was one of a small number of photographers that Dean allowed into his reclusive world, on the condition that Schatt teach him about the art of photography. The Lowe Gallery is currently exhibiting Schatt’s photos of Dean and also photos taken by Dean after his training from Schatt.
James Dean and Roy Schatt: The Mirrored Psyche, a collection of about 70 images, is on display until Wednesday, March 8th, at the Lowe Gallery, 2034 Broadway, Santa Monica. Admission is free.
The exhibit has been well-received by the entertainment community, says Laura Clemons, director at the Lowe Gallery in Santa Monica.
“It’s a part of the entertainment industry’s history,” says Clemons.
Celebrity visitors have included Elton John to the Atlanta exhibit and David Caruso to the Santa Monica show.
Coincidentally, Santa Monica was an old college stomping ground of Dean’s, which Lowe Gallery found out while organizing the exhibit. Dean attended Santa Monica City College (now known as Santa Monica College) in 1949 and 1950 before transferring to UCLA. While a student, he was a member of the basketball team.
In December 1954, Dean was the subject of a Life magazine photo essay shot by Roy Schatt.
Although Dean rarely granted interviews or allowed himself to be photographed and was considered reclusive and antisocial by media of the day, Schatt was able to befriend Dean and at Dean’s request gave him lessons in photography. Schatt remained friends with Dean and continued to photograph him for the last year-and-a-half of Dean’s life. Schatt’s most famous shots of Dean feature the actor in a torn sweater. Other popular photos show Dean on the streets of New York City.
Schatt was a photojournalist and a theatrical photographer, specializing in portfolio prints of performers who sought to convince casting directors of the wide range of human emotions they could mimic. Marilyn Monroe, Paul Newman and Grace Kelly all had photo shoots with Schatt.
Schatt hung with Dean in casual settings for about a year and photographed him playing bongos, smoking and gazing into the distance.
Some of the photos were long thought lost, according to Lowe Gallery, and were never expected to make it into the public view.
Clemons says that Lowe Gallery, which typically exhibits non-photographic fine art, recognized the artistic merits of Schatt’s iconic photojournalistic images and chose the pieces for their strong esthetic imagery.
“All artists capture a moment in time, and in this case, it’s a piece of history as well.
“At the time, Schatt may not have foreseen the broad spectrum of appeal and importance that his work would have, as most artists don’t fully realize the value of their work at the time of it’s creation,” Clemons says.
The exhibit includes both prints made in the darkroom and modern large-scale digital iris reprints.
Dean catapulted to movie stardom and became a legendary and tragic figure — a poster boy for rebellious, alienated youths — after making only three films: East of Eden, Rebel Without A Cause and Giant. He died at the age of 24 and was nominated posthumously for two Academy Awards for East of Eden and Giant.
Aside from his passion for acting, Dean pursued race car driving, an interest that led to his untimely and tragic death.
He was speeding along a stretch of Highway 466 (now called Highway 46) on September 30th, 1955, on his way to compete in a race in Salinas when the fatal accident occurred. Personifying the rebellious live fast, die young attitude of the roles he played in his films, Dean is said to have been driving about 100 miles per hour at the time of the fatal collision. Dean’s mechanic, Rolf W¸therich, was in the passenger seat at the time of the collision and was seriously injured, but survived.
Dean also made many television and stage appearances in his short career.
The ambitious young star seemed to live by his words, “Dream as if you’ll live forever, live as if you’ll die today.”
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