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Lecture / Discussion  |  Book Signing : Jeff Simon Interviews William Coupon & Anthony Bannon

Thursday, September 26, 2019, 6:30–8 pm

Peter and Elizabeth C. Tower Auditorium  


I am a formal portrait and street photographer currently working out of Santa Fe, New Mexico.  I was born in New York, and raised in the Washington, D. C., and the suburban San Francisco area. In fact, I was raised where Apple Computer now has its headquarters in Cupertino ~ although I was 13 then and more likely working the orchards of the areas within Santa Clara County than on any computer at the time. I was always inspired by travel, by culture, by faces. And for some reason, I have always been drawn to formal portraits and their relationship with painting. The chiaroscuro lighting is prevalent in my working style when it comes to the formal studio portraits.  I am also somewhat of a “street” photographer, and that work gives a sense of place to the studio portraits when done in the same environment.  In other words, I do both.

My first thought was to photograph everyone in the world in formal portraits, on my backdrop. Although I got off to a pretty good start, these days I realize it would take a lot longer than originally expected.

My first true photographs were photographs that talked – called “audiographs” – which were photographs that had looped cassettes behind a framed image, and photographs that moved – called “kinetographs” – which were photographs that were attached to moving motors. The “kinetographs” were commissioned for window displays at Bloomingdale’s in the late l970’s ~ advertising Sonya Rykiel swimwear in their large corner window. I photographed a documentary on Studio 54, the legendary New York disco, in late summer l978, and they immediately were included in the International Center of Photography exhibition: “Fleeting Gestures: Treasures of Dance Photography.” The show was a huge success, and my work was the last images in a chronological history of dance in photography. I became interested in formal studio portraits in 1979 while observing it’s lower Manhattan youth (my peers) and its present counter-culture, and decided early on to use a single-light source and simple mottled backdrop as a studio style. This was then used to document global sub-cultures. Many of the projects ~ referred to as “Social Studies” ~ became documents of indigenous people. These include projects on Haiti, Australian Aboriginals, Native Americans, Scandinavian Laplanders, Israeli Druzim, Moroccan Berbers, Alaskan Yupik, Spanish Gypsies, Turkish Kurds, Philippine T’Boli, Central African Pygmy, and Panamanian Cuna and Chocoe. These projects also included Death Row Inmates, Drag Queens, and Cowboys. Stylistically, they were always photographed formally and contextually, or environmentally, with 2 1/4 Rolleiflex black and white images, which were meant to be companions to the studio portraits.

In 1992, I was invited to photograph the world’s tribal leaders during Earth Summit, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I was asked by the United Nations and the United States Congress to exhibit this work in the United States Senate Rotunda, as part of the UN’s Year of the Indigenous People. These were exhibited in large archival IRIS and/or Inkjet prints.

In addition to this personal work, I have worked extensively in commercial photography and film. I have photographed 20 Time Magazine covers – including portraits of all the Presidents since Richard Nixon. These include the Clinton and Bush Person of the Year covers. Newsweek covers include Michael Ovitz and Jerry Garcia. Rolling Stone Magazine covers include Mick Jagger, George Harrison, Jerry Garcia, and Neil Young. The New York Times Sunday Magazine covers include Secretary of State Shultz and Elie Wiesel an award-wining photo series on the Turkish Kurds living on the Iraqi border. I have photographed some of the world’s leaders including Benazir Bhutto, Yasser Arafat, Kofi Annan, and Prince Phillip, and have won several awards through assignments for Esquire, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, People, Details, The Economist, Texas Monthly, Playboy, Forbes, Fortune, and virtually every major international publication. I have completed major advertising campaigns for Nike, FedEx, Transamerica, Ford, Japan Airlines, Amgen, Searle, Blue/Cross/BlueShield, Apple Computer (an assignment hand selected by Steve Jobs), Maxell Audio, and the global corporate ad campaign for HP through Goodby, Silverstein and Partners and a recent Titleist Golf campaign for Arnold Communications ~ completed after 9 years. I have done major corporate campaigns for Merrill/Lynch, The Washington Post Company, Morgan Stanley, Harvard University, Jamie Dimon of J. P. Morgan/Chase Bank, The Harvard Business School, The New York Times Company, McDonnell Douglas, and the Johns Hopkins University Hospital.

I have directed television commercials for Danone Yogurt for the European market, and documented my ethnographic series on digital video. I worked for nearly a decade (1985-1994) working closely with Issey Miyake, the Japanese fashion designer, doing men’s wear for the Japanese market and photographed numerous album covers including Bette Midler, Ron Carter, Stanley Turrentine, Isaac Hayes, Essa Pekka Salonen, Chou Liang Lin, Midori, Daryl Hall, Foreigner, Wynton Marsalis, and Yo-Yo-Ma, and recently Aztec Two-Step.

A website is up and devoted to the work in its entirety: I have an extensive doll collection and through their graciousness, have been allowed to photograph their image with 4x5 digital equipment as well as the large 20x24” format Polaroids. Many of the ethnographic portraits were also taken with SX-70 film ~ a wonderful collection of Rembrandt/Holbein-like images that look like miniature paintings. Other projects include a still life series: “Life Stills” and a large format Polaroid series of nudes.  A book of the celebrities, politicians, sports figures as well as some of the best of the ethnographic work is being published in the Fall of 2018:   William Coupon “The Portraits.” Future books include, one on the New York City punk scene entitled, ‘The Punks of New York,” and “Social Studies,” a collection of the 30 projects around the world of specific ethnographies, in both formal portraits and street documentation.

I had the major exhibition in the summer of l995 at the Gerald Peters Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico entitled: “Ethnographic Pictures.” Before then there were various group shows, for instance at the NYU Grey Art Gallery or at the early Foto Gallery in Soho.  The collected work has been exhibited internationally, in Amsterdam, Holland at “Gallery Art and Commerce” as well as the Kurdish portraits from “Social Studies Sixteen” at the Hotel de’ Ville in Paris, France as part of a Kurdish graphic history curated by Susan Meiselas, the photojournalist with Magnum. The exhibit “Democracy in America”, taking place at the Arizona State University Art Museum, in Tempe, Arizona, includes the Presidential images shot originally for Time Magazine. In 2007, I had a one-man show at the Govinda Gallery in Washington D. C., and since have continued to do commercial assignments and continuing to produce additionalethnographic work, most recently in Guatemala in 2009 of the T’Zutuhil people and in Mindanao,Philippines in April of 2010 of the T’Boli tribe. In February of 2013 I had the exhibition “Musicians and Artists” went on display at the Auditorio Nacional, in Mexico City. Also, in November of 2013, I had an exhibition of my selection of portraits of the artist Jean Michel Basquiat, at Melet Mercantile, in Soho, New York City. In early 2014, I will be showing a series “Dolls” at InRomance Gallery in Tribeca, as well as an exhibition of my ethnographic portrait series in the Cultural Minister’s Office in the Government of Guatemala, in Guatemala City in 2015.  In 2016 I had a one-man show at the SGR Gallery in Bogota, Colombia, featuring my early punk portraits along with images of Andy Warhol, Miles Davis, and the best of the Studio 54 images.