“If I’d realized what a wonderful photographer you were, and how nice McCalls was about doing a story — I never would have been the jittery subject I was.” — Jackie Kennedy 1954 (from a letter to Orlando Suero)
The art of visually documenting feelings discovered in great moments is what makes Orlando Suero a great storyteller. His visual representation explores people unplanned or in heartfelt reactions, intentionally capturing the meaningful message in their expressions.
Orlando Suero showed an interest in photography early and started taking pictures in his teens when his father gave him a Kodak Jiffy. A graduate of New York Institute of Photography, his stellar career picked up when he documented newlyweds Jackie and Senator John F. Kennedy for five days at their Georgetown duplex in 1954.
His amicable relationship with his subjects enabled him to render a real person, one that is accessible with an aura of unfeigned delight. His career extended to his 80’s and at 93, he was thrilled to learn that his new book, Orlando/photography had gone to print by Hatje Cantz.
Orlando/Photography is a collection of 200 intimate shots of well-known actors, politicians, musicians, and other celebrities from the 1950s to 1980. It has been gathered by his son Jim and their friend, film producer Rod Hamilton. Sadly as Orlando has suffered a stroke on the day the art publishers gave the nod to publish his artwork, I had the opportunity to interview his son Jim. The latter kindly agreed to elaborate on one of the best photography books that makes a great gift.
Jupilings: How did it happen and what made you decide to publish the Orlando/photography collection-
JS: I had my father’s archives that had been sitting around for years. I really had no idea what to do with them or how to get things going. It was at a mutual friend’s wedding that I was reunited with an old friend Rod Hamilton. Knowing he was a producer in Hollywood I showed him the Instagram account I had started for my father thinking he would like to see vintage photos of Hollywood celebrities. I also explained to him that I had thousands upon thousands of 35mm slides and negatives.
I could tell Rod became immediately interested when I told him about the archives. He implored me, before I do anything, to watch the documentary, “Finding Vivian Maier”. The film documents the discovery of the archives of street photographer Vivian Maier and the massive task of documenting and organising such a collection. Rod said to me, “this is what we have to do”.
So we set forth on scanning, documenting, organising my father’s life’s work not knowing where it would lead us. We first thought of producing an exhibit, which we would still like to do. However, upon receiving some well-respected advice, we were directed to work on getting a book published first. So through hard work and diligence (many kudos to Rod who really made things happen), we were able to connect with German publisher, Hatje Cantz. Also, we are very happy we did. They are marvellous.
Jupilings: What makes this book riveting-
JS: I think one thing that makes it riveting is that many of these photos have never been published or rarely seen. They literally have been boxed up for decades. Additionally, I feel it was my father’s eye for the moment. He always would say, “I think with my eyes”. So, I believe he had a natural intuition to recognise the makings of a great shot and capture it as he envisioned. His style and his knack for getting his subjects to open up to him, to let him in, shows very prominently in his work, especially his close-up portraits. All of this, I feel, keeps one turning the page.
I also want to recognise what a tremendous job that Nadine Barth, Constanze Korb, the rest of the team at Hatje Cantz did to make this happen. Also, the great vision of Art Director Julia Wagner at grafikanstalt. To make a book riveting it takes not only the art (that speaks for itself) but the editing, design and production behind it. We cannot thank all of the individuals enough who worked so hard to make the book what it is.
Jupilings: How would you describe Orlando’s style of photography-
JS: I would describe his style as emotive. Many of his photographs evoke an emotional reaction that hits you right in the chest. There is a certain softness to his photography. You feel his work; you just don’t view it. There are times I am just left amazed at the clarity, at the palpable connection between photographer and subject. I have seen many of these images for decades, and I still get an emotional reaction. There is just a certain beauty in his photography that, and maybe I am biased, sets him apart from the rest.
Jupilings: What are the most emotionally & engaging “catching the moment” images in this collection-
JS: There are many, and I think there will be differing opinions. One of my father’s most recognisable photos in this collection is Jackie lighting the candles. That is one photo of a young Jackie, newlywed to the young and upcoming senator that captures her beauty and grace in such a serene moment as she prepares for a dinner party. It is an iconic shot.
For me personally, there is one photo in this collection, no actually two of Princess Margaret that are side by side on opposite pages that are emotionally engaging. One is of the Princess engaging a boy scout at the Jamaican Independence Ceremony in 1962. Her smile, her eye contact, her connection to the young scout, even though you cannot see his face, is just a very warm and beautiful moment. It’s a photo that I have never seen before, and it really hit me. The opposite photo of her in Los Angeles in 1966, catches the Princess in a quiet moment with a lovely photo bouquet created by Orlando’s talent that evokes a very serene moment. She hasn’t engaged with anyone it is just her. It is just so peaceful and really draws you in and makes you wonder what she is thinking at that time.
One of my favourite, emotionally engaging photographs in the book isn’t necessarily of a famous subject such as Bardot, Wood, Redford or Newman but of actress Jan Watson. I insisted this photo be in the book. It’s just so beautiful. I think it highlights Orlando’s ability to connect with his subject and capture a soft, emotionally engaging photograph. This photo strikes me every time.
Jupilings: How would this collection influence connecting the dots of stories and background of the subjects or unveiling the public misconception of their narratives-
JS: Interesting question. Many of these photos are such a small sample of Orlando’s entire archives. Photo sets of Billy Wilder and Jack Lemmon, Dennis Hopper and Michelle Phillips, Brigitte Bardot, Michael Caine, Jack and Jackie Kennedy, the list goes on. I feel they both unveil misconceptions but also solidify perceptions.
For instance, take the Hopper-Phillips photographs from Taos, New Mexico. Their tumultuous 8-day marriage is well known. However, if you look at many of the photos in the complete set, you would see tender moments of a caring, fun-loving young couple. Where the public may believe there was total chaos their entire relationship, that simply isn’t true based on the photographs.
Whereas the moviemaking duo of Billy Wilder and Jack Lemmon were well-known to work great together and my father’s work really does capture those moments. So this particular photo set from The Fortune Cookie doesn’t unveil misconceptions but bolsters the perception that they were indeed a great movie making duo and worked tremendously well together (and had fun doing it).
Ultimately, I will leave the viewer to make those connections from the book. I think the photos in my father’s monograph do shed some light on misconceptions (and perceptions), but I really feel one has to consider these photos as part of larger collections that in their entirety may unveil misconceptions or make better connections to what is publicly understood regarding the subjects.