Photographer Steve Schapiro

Photographer Steve Schapiro (Jason Marck, Chicago Tribune / January 11, 2013)

Steve Schapiro wants to photograph President Barack Obama, and there is little doubt that he will one day do so. In his lengthy and star-studded career, he has photographed so many famous and influential people that one can almost believe he has Zelig-like powers. He appears to have been everywhere, shot everybody.

Marlon Brando? Yes, on the set of "The Godfather."

Robert Kennedy? Many times.

Andy Warhol? In the raucous Factory days (and nights).


This piece first ran in Printers Row Journal, delivered to Printers Row members with the Sunday Chicago Tribune and by digital edition via email. Click here to learn about joining Printers Row.


Martin Luther King Jr.? You bet.

Chevy Chase? Schapiro, 78, and his wife are the godparents of the actor's daughter.

David Bowie? The rock star used a Schapiro photo for his latest album cover.

The list goes on, a gathering so eclectic as to be almost surreal: Jerry Garcia, Barbra Streisand, Woody Allen, Orson Welles, Johnny Depp, Mae West, Satchel Paige, Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, Ringo Starr, Ike and Tina Turner (together), Buster Keaton, Richard Pryor, Sophia Loren — is that enough?

Those are just some of the people in Schapiro's latest book, "Steve Schapiro: Then and Now," published in November. But not all of the photos in it are of the celebrated; most have been published before. Some of the most captivating are of children, whether in India in 2005 or on Halloween 1960 in Brooklyn Heights.

For five decades, Schapiro, a globe-trotter of the most inexhaustible sort, lived for a quarter of a century in Los Angeles before moving to Chicago six years ago.

"My wife, Maura, is from Chicago and has 33 first cousins, and they all live here," he says. "This is a great city, a much easier place to live than New York or Los Angeles."

There are a number of Chicago photos in "Then and Now," including a haunting shot of some former St. Patrick's Day Parade queens atop a float waiting for the parade to begin.

Schapiro was born and raised in New York City and first picked up a camera when he was attending a summer camp. "I was 9 years old and I loved clouds and took pictures of them, and then, watching the photos come to life in the dark room, found that there was magic in photography," he says.

He kept at it during his teenage years, discovering Henri Cartier-Bresson and studying with W. Eugene Smith, a legendarily uncompromising photojournalist. He attended Amherst College and graduated from Bard College before embarking on a freelance career in the 1960s.

Shooting for LIFE, Time, Look, Newsweek, Rolling Stone and other publications during the ensuing decades — what he calls "the golden age of photojournalism" — he captured migrant workers in Arkansas and Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1963 march in Selma. He was there in 1967 as the "Summer of Love" colorfully overwhelmed the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood in San Francisco.

"There was such an emotional flow to these events that it gave me the chance to do pictures that captured the spirit of an event or a person," Schapiro says. "Emotions are what really interests me."

If you have been a reader of magazines, you have seen dozens, if not hundreds of Schapiro's photos over the years. His shot of Mia Farrow was the cover of the first People magazine. Still, Schapiro remains relatively unknown outside photography circles.

That's because in conversation he is not at all self-promoting. Diminutive and soft-spoken, he has a quick smile, sparkling eyes and a lot of energy, but it is easy to imagine how inconspicuously he was able to fit onto movie sets or into protest marches.