The Diverse Portfolio Of Photographer Michael Halsband
Having worked with the likes of the Rolling Stones, Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Joel Tudor, NYC-based photographer Michael Halsband has seen it all.
Unlike many young artists in the 90s who tend to be stationary during their early years, the New York-based photographer Michael Halsband sought to leave the confines of ordinary life in search of adventure.
Most people don’t live the extraordinary like Halsband, who has been self-employed his entire life. “Sometimes I envy people who just have this incredible plan, a foresight,” he admits. “I just don’t have it.” It took years for Halsband to feel comfortable telling people that he was a photographer. Perhaps it was the envy etched on people’s faces when he tells them about the time he partied with Mick Jagger or created a movie devoted to the everlasting beauty of surfing and the people who shaped the sport.
Passions and careers don’t mix for everyone, and Halsband realized this very early on, and the difficulties explaining his career might suggest uncertainty with his career path. “Over the years, I started to feel as if I was guilty of something that I wasn’t even aware of,” says Halsband. It’s safe to say Halsband has lived a life like no other and survived to talk about it.
Starting as the tour photographer for the Rolling Stones’ 1981 tour couldn’t have been more of a rush for someone who grew up in the sex, drugs & rock ‘n’ roll era of the 70s. With that gig came a thrilling story that every aspiring photographer could only dream of at twenty-five years old. He spent around five months living and working with the Rolling Stones.
If the band was partying, so was Halsband. And if they were performing, he was on his camera. Like a fly on the wall, he observed, documented and captured moments along the way. Not only did this represent a launching pad for his career, but it was also an immersive learning experience. “They gave me the sense of depth that I could go and push deeper,” he explains. The trouble is the high eventually wears off, and Halsband had to return to ordinary life. “I had to land back on earth and be like everybody else because that’s what I am. I’m not a rockstar.”
Upon his return to New York, Halsband’s career took off. He spent the next few years of his life shooting fashion and portraits for some of the industry’s biggest names, including GQ, Vogue, Glamour, Calvin Klein, and J. Crew. A defining moment of his career came together in 1985 when Halsband was invited to a dinner party by fellow photographer Paige Powell and coincidentally connected with legendary painter Jean-Michael Basquiat. Shortly after, he delivered one of Basquiat’s most iconic images alongside Andy Warhol posing together in boxing gloves.
However, through it all, Halsband remained humble, maintaining the notion that it’s always been about far more than just taking photos of famous people. As the years rolled on, he found another art form to capture: surfing. Unlike the fast-paced rock concerts he previously photographed, surfing was calm. It’s a composed environment for people to connect with themselves. Working alongside fabled surfer Joel Tudor, Halsband immersed himself, and his finances, in the creation of a film of his adoration of the sport.
He put the experience down as something that was made with a driven mindset and also organic and free-flowing. “The project was going to happen, and we were just walking the path,” Halsband explains. Surf Movie, an unedited and spliced movie of surfing spots from around the world and the people that surf them, represents years of work for Halsband, and a crucial part of his career.
In the early 2000s, when Halsband committed himself to portraiture as a career and style choice. His methodology involved reading his subjects’ persona to see how he could gain their trust, allowing them to open up for a picture. “It’s a style that lets me break out of the well-grooved paths that were created by the people before me,” he explains.
The most vulnerable person is the most powerful person.
Halsband considers capturing the portrait of a person to be the highest honour a photographer can receive. His mutual appreciation of the subject must “communicate through the portrait,” he says. After all, “the most vulnerable person is the most powerful person.” When photographing sex workers during his formative years, this was something Halsband observed. Something is mesmerizing about photographing people while they’re at their most vulnerable and intimate. Halsband describes this as “driven imagery,” an honest way to see how people respond to not knowing that there’s a camera pointed towards them.
Fifteen years ago, Halsband decided to use analog cameras exclusively, realizing that digital cameras couldn’t capture the detail that analog cameras could. Today, Halsband has incorporated his smartphone and laptop into his creative processes without losing sight of what he cares about most – his portraiture. “All the artifice is fat burning,” says Halsband. “People will realize you only get so much.”
What he likes most about portraiture is gaining the trust of his subject, allowing them to lower their guard and enabling Halsband to connect and capture their soul. He calls this the flat place, “it’s the idea of allowing people to look straight into someone’s eyes, their face and all the evidence of what they’ve been through in their lives without the distraction of behaviour, action, or performance of any sort,” describes Halsband.
Between travelling to Cuba with Hunter S. Thompson and Johnny Depp, to working with AC/DC, and documenting Al Pacino during the making of his film, Looking for Richard, Halsband has a lifetime’s worth of stories. Whether it’s Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Keith Richards, James Brown, Klaus Nomi or live strippers, it’s hard not to get swept up in his work. The craziest part is that his accomplishments are the perfect blend of risk, hard work and serendipity. “I started unconsciously doing what I felt in my heart,” he explains. “I was following a passion. And it wasn’t a passion for objectivity or preset thoughts. I just went after everything.”