The Unscripted Inspiration of Richard Corman

This Saturday, photographer Richard Corman will sign copies of his new photography book Madonna NYC 83 in Milk Gallery’s Madonna NYC83 exhibition. Both the book and exhibition time travel back to 1983 when Madonna was a young singer on the path to stardom. You can read more about the pair’s legendary photo sessions through Manhattan’s Lower East Side here, but we were lucky enough to meet up with Corman recently to hear more of his story. And of course, the first thing we had to ask was why he waited 30 years to share his trove of Madonna photos.

“I’m somebody who for better or for worse takes pictures and then archives them,” he explained. “In this case, they’ve always been in the back of my mind because I knew they were important to me for a number of reasons. I never felt a need to bring them out, but now everything about the pictures feels modern — the way she’s dressed the way she’s styled from her makeup to her hair to her fashion to her attitude.”

Corman’s Manhattan studio is filled with iconic photos taken throughout his career. Madonna prints fill the space, of course, as do portraits of Al Pacino and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote. From the office window is a spectacular view of the Hudson river.

“I’ve heard musicians and artists saying [the creative climate] is not what it was, but I think it is, because I think Madonna and all those kids had this ferocity, this determination, that there was nothing that was creatively going to get in their way,” Corman said. “I continue to photograph young artists because that’s my inspiration.”

Right now his current muses are Charlie and Margot, two musicians he met performing on a street corner. One is a violinist and the other a violist, and Corman said it was a combination of their music and clothes — he calls them a “walking fashion anomaly” — that drew his attention.

“I saw Charlie at the train station playing,” he recalled. “She had pink hair and she was smiling and playing and it stopped me. We began to talk, she brought Margot and we met here. We’ve been literally doing a tour of New York City virtually all summer so we’ve had about five or six shoots where I just meet them in Bed Stuy, Chinatown, Time Square, Central Park — different parts of the city that move all of us.

“They show up wearing what they put together a la Madonna. I never told her what to wear. How can you? You know, with people that original, that unique, you just go with the flow and both of these women are just special that way. There’s a real place for them in the entertainment industry, I think.”

From its start in Richard Avedon’s studio, Corman’s career has placed his camera in front of the most recognizable of faces — on one apartment wall hangs a recent collaboration with artist Alec Monopoly of Corman’s photo of Nelson Mandela — but Corman said it’s these improvised shoots that offer him the most creative fufillment.

“I much prefer these shoots because there’s no formula, there’s nobody looking over my shoulder, there’s nobody telling us what their expectations are,” he said. “In that time as an artist, you try and push the envelope. It can be simple things. Maybe having someone stand on their head; a different light scenario; a different scenery; a different part of the city and different time of day; and pushing them to be a little outrageous.”

RSVP here for Richard Corman’s book signing at Milk Gallery on December 7 from 4-6pm. Madonna NYC83 is open now through December 21.

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