Roy Schatt

1909-2002

Roy Schatt is a New York City born artist who pursued a lifelong, passionate career in the arts. Schatt studied under N.C. Wyeth, painted murals during the WPA, and used his artistic skill while stationed with the Army in India. After the war, he returned to NYC where he worked in a variety of creative positions, taking up advertising, acting, illustration, and photography. Schatt was influenced by renowned photographers Erich Salomon, Edward Weston, Cartier-Bresson, and Ansel Adams. Roy Schatt’s photographs have been exhibited at the International Center of Photography, NY, National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC, Art Institute of Chicago, IL, and included in numerous other national and international exhibitions.

Schatt is best known for his remarkable photographs of James Dean with whom he developed a special friendship. As a fellow actor and with a great interest in photography, Dean formed a special bond with Schatt and wanted to learn about art from him. About the beginning of their relationship, Schatt states, “He was a squinty schlump of a person all bent over. Then Dean suddenly got up and this ugly person became a dream, an Adonis who started to dance around the room. It was a transition I couldn’t believe. (…) During our first meeting Jim asked me if I would shoot him, not as a regular session, but to document his activities. It soon developed that he wanted to shoot me as well, so we began classes.”

During the course of their yearlong friendship cut short by Dean’s tragic death, Schatt captured the iconic Torn Sweater series portraits, as well as other images of Dean in personal moments playing the bongos at a party, pretending to steal candy from a newsstand or practicing the art of photography using Schatt and actor friends as his subjects. Schatt also remembers how the darkroom, which Dean found tedious and boring, offered them the opportunity to speak about a wide range of topics. “Dean and I often talked about art to get him through the session. He was particularly curious about people who were able to communicate their perceptions or idea in a bold or unusual way. We often discussed artists of different disciplines, one time talking about photographers, another time a painter, another a writer.” Roy summarizes their relationship cut short by Dean’s death in these words: “I knew James Dean from February 1954 until he died in September 1955. I knew him as a friend and as a student. He was a disrupter of norms, a bender of rules, a disquieter of calm. Through the following pictures and vignettes, I hope to transmit a glimpse of his most insistent, and perhaps eternal, presence”.

Photographs of James Dean © Roy Schatt CMG

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During the 1950s, Roy Schatt lived in Greenwich Village, the vibrant artistic playground of many influential creative personalities. Because of Schatt’s forte for portrait photography coupled with his sensibility as an actor, he was able to capture the most genuine emotions of his subjects, whether actors or members of the cultural milieu. As such, famed director Lee Strasberg named Schatt the Official Photographer of the Actor’s Studio—recognizing the caliber of his photography. 

Schatt’s estate includes never before seen photographs of members of The Actors Studio during the 1950’s as well as many other images of personalities active in the New York theatrical community, such as Elia Kazan, Lee Strasberg, Paul Newman, Marilyn Monroe, Geraldine Page, Tennessee Williams, Steve McQueen, Rod Steiger, Sidney Poitier, Joanne Woodward, Martin Landau, Arthur Miller, Jerry Stiller, Anne Meara, Ben Gazzara, Maureen Stapleton and many other creative individuals (John Cassavetes, Dorothy Parker, Brendan Behan, Lillian Hellman, Lorne Greene, Andy Griffith, Bud Schulberg, William Saroyan and Marlene Dietrich).

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Schatt’s work has been exhibited at Manhattan’s International Center for Photography, the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, the Chicago Institute of Art, and many other museums. In January 1955, Edward Steichen’s choice for the Museum of Modern Art’s collection was a Roy Schatt photograph.

© The Estate of Roy Schatt

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