This portfolio is just a sampling of Tom Palumbo's work. It's not just a chronicle of
intriguing faces and settings-- the images in part reflect the photography of the 1950s and
60s when content, space and scale coalesced the result could be quite mythic.
This is a personal odyssey as well. There's a sun-drenched street in Molfetta, Italy, where
Tom Palumbo was born; there's a poignant blurred image of his wife and baby son Leo;
there are studies of places he traveled to over the years- Rome, Port-au-Prince and Naples.
Then there's the photograph of a stable in Athens, Georgia. This was one of the pictures
that intrigued Edward Steichen who had just become the director of photography at the
Museum of Modern Art in New York. He sent it, along with others, to art director Alexey
Brodovitch at Harper's Bazaar.
Brotovitch hired Palumbo almost immediately and he stayed at the magazine for three
years shooting everything from beauty features to movie stars and haute couture. Then he
left for Vogue where he remained until 1962 shooting covers and traveling on assignment
around the world.
Magazine editors enjoyed working with him because something always seemed about to
happen in his photographs. Why does Mia Farrow appear imprisoned behind a screen door?
Why is the tough guy in dark glasses clutching a sinister oversize plastic doll?
There are no answers of course, only suggestions of stories. Stories, secrets and drama.
Palumbo invariably plotted every layout like a play. Note the baby Lolita type from Junior
Bazaar. Note the elegant brunette gazing intently at her reflection in the water below while
a couple of nude sunbathers ignore above on the rocks.
Even when he composed that off-beat bathing suit portrait, Palumbo was more obsessed
with theater-- as obsessed as he was with photography-- maybe more. He recalls that be-
tween assignments at Bazaar, he'd rush off to take acting classes with Lee Strasberg. And,
he'd try to attend every show on and off-Broadway. Sometimes when he was watching a
Martha Graham concert and as the dancers moved triumphantly across the stage, he'd get
an idea for a new photograph-- the image would start forming in his mind.
Before he died on October 13, 2008, Tom Palumbo was experimenting with photo collages. But he spent most of his time directing plays off-Broadway and on the road. In his last years he directed workshops at the Actors Studio, as well as Joyce Carol Oates' play about Marilyn Monroe. He believed his highest point as a director came when he directed and produced An Evening of Proust at Lincoln Center which featured Zoe Caldwell, Nadine Gordimer and Ned Roram in 1999.
Throughout his career he would organize play readings in his cluttered, brick-walled studio for himself and friends. One of the most memorable was an updated version of Chekhov's The Seagull.Twenty people crowded in past lighting equipment and drop paper to watch Laura Linney play Nina.The following morning Palumbo was busy snapping pictures ofconstruction workers tearing down a building in Hell's Kitchen.
To him, there was not much difference between the photographs he took and the plays he directed because both contain drama-- both contain paradox and revelation. Both energized Tom Palumbo's life.
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