Picture Perfect

The Iconic Michael Childers

By Dominic Silva

For the past several decades, photographer Michael Childers has captured the essence of Hollywood’s most famous faces. The roster of artists featured in his iconic portraits is a virtual who’s who’s of the Hollywood elite: Julie Christie, Catherine Deneuve, Clint Eastwood, Richard Gere, Dennis Hopper, Rock Hudson, Grace Jones, Shirley MacLaine, Groucho Marx, Demi Moore, Paul Newman, Laurence Olivier, Michelle Pfeiffer, Isabella Rosellini, John Travolta, Andy Warhol, Mae West, and Natalie Wood to name a few.

Childers also shot on-set still photography during the production of countless films over the years. He captured the making of such films as Midnight Cowboy (1969), The Day of the Locust (1975), Marathon Man (1976), Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980), The Year of Living Dangerously (1983), The Terminator (1984) and Torch Song Trilogy (1988) among others.

A new exhibit featuring the works of Michael Childers and Gordon Clark opened in December at Joshua Tree Gallery of Contemporary Art to critical acclaim. For the new exhibition, “Emergence”, the Michael Childers’ exhibited works include his stunning newest body of work, Nude Fusions (2021), his provocative and never-before- exhibited White Party (2002) collection, fantastic selections from his LA Drag Ball (1974) that was previously exhibited at the Palm Springs Art Museum, and several of his famous portraits of Hollywood celebrities.

In addition to the exhibit, Childers will be honored at the CV Rep Luminary Luncheon on February 17. We sat down with him to discuss the stories behind his iconic images, his latest show, and highlights over the course of his career.

Thank you Michael for taking the time to sit with us, let’s get started.

Have you always wanted to be a photographer? And when did you realize this would be the career path you would take?

Michael:  My interest in photography in high school for the newspaper and the annual and then when I went to UCLA I studied photography and many of my fellow classmates were actors and musicians who needed head shots. I was working my way through college doing headshots and then I would do book jackets, one for Ray Bradbury then I did TV Guide for Kaye Ballard and that’s where it all began…quite early on.

What was you first paying job as a photographer?

Michael:  My first great paying job was the book jackets for Ray Bradbury, author, and screenwriter. One of the most celebrated 20th- century American writers.

Many artists rely on a muse for inspiration, did you, and if so, who?

Michael:  I had my idols, the God’s of photography like Richard Avedon, Horst P. Horst, and Irving Penn his simplicity of black and white. That shaped my work.

Who were your favorite and least favorite celebrities you have photographed?

Michael: I like to deal with my favorites. There were people who were wonderful. Natalie Wood was amazing in front of a camera. Every angle was good. Henry Rollins the rock star. I loved Ringo Starr he was full of great ideas, and he is a photographer. Anyone who brought something to the table, where we could mutually build a great photo session.

Is there anyone you haven’t photographed that you wished you had?

Michael:  There are some great young artists and singers and actors, Jason Stuart. I saw “Tick, Tick, Boom” recently and loved Andrew Garfield, so much in that. So, many young, exciting, talented artists, actors and musicians coming up. I am very happy where I am at now, I am doing landscape, and I am doing a show at the Joshua Tree Gallery of Contemporary Art. It’s a beautiful show; it is one of the greatest shows I have ever done as it’s so beautifully installed. Which open in January.

What has been the most outrageous thing that happened during a photography session?

Michael:  When we went to photograph my friend Carrie Fisher for Rolling Stone and we were told to arrive at 10:00a.m. and she was just getting up and having a Coca-Cola and a piece of cake for breakfast. She said, “You wouldn’t mind if I had a quick bath” and she started to go into a bubble bath. My young straight assistant was there, and she said, “You’re cute, would you like to have a bath with me?” That’s one way to start a photo session. 

What advice would you give to a young person who wants to make a career in photography?

Michael:  It’s not about the gimmick or the machine. It’s about the ways of seeing that are unique. It doesn’t matter if it is on a phone or on a big camera. I can tell right away if someone has an eye, instantly. Seek out what is great visually and is unusual and what amazes people.

Most people know you as a great photographer, but you are also known for your philanthropic work. What are some of the charities you support?

Michael:  It started in 18 years ago in Santa Fe, in what is “One Night Only.” I produced it 3 years there. I had such people as Carol Burnett, Lauren Bacall, Ally McGraw, I had Margaret Cho. I had amazing people in the show, and it just build over the years.

I was so lucky; my first show in Palm Springs was with Lily Tomlin. She is my good luck charm, and she came back 16 years later and opened my show.

It is a magnet for talent. All of the people in New York want to come to Palm Springs. It is not that hard to get great talent now as the show has such a great reputation.