David Attie’s Champions

“… at a time when you could claim notoriety for posting videos of kitten climbing out of cardboard boxes, my father and his work had all but vanished.”

On July 20th, a new exhibit opens at Brooklyn Historical Society that highlights the 1950’s Brooklyn street photography of the late fine art and commercial photographer David Attie.

Despite a successful and wide-ranging career – which included frequent covers and spreads for Vogue, Time, Newsweek, Playboy, and Harper’s, portraits of everyone from Bobby Fischer to Lorraine Hansberry to Leiber & Stoller, and his own book of photographs, 1977’s Russian Self-Portraits (Harper & Row)– Attie’s work had largely faded from public view until a few years ago. That’s when one of Attie’s sons, Eli Attie, got the idea of reviving his father’s giant archive.

As Eli tells it in his afterword to last year’s collection of Attie’s Brooklyn work, Brooklyn: A Personal Memoir by Truman Capote, With the Lost Photographs of David Attie (The Little Bookroom, 2015), his father passed away in the 80’s, “nearly a decade before the Internet, which turned out to be a uniquely modern curse. Because, at a time when you could claim notoriety for posting videos of kitten climbing out of cardboard boxes, my father and his work had all but vanished.”

David Attie, Truman Capote

Truman Capote. Photograph by David Attie.

… [Eli] made an astounding discovery: hundreds of unseen negatives of a young Truman Capote… which hinted at an early professional relationship between the two young artists.

Together with his brother Oliver and their mother Dotty Attie (a successful and highly acclaimed painter in her own right), Eli started rummaging through the long-untouched boxes of negatives in the Manhattan brownstone where he grew up and where his mother still lives. There, in 2014, he made an astounding discovery: hundreds of unseen negatives of a young Truman Capote and his then-neighborhood of Brooklyn Heights, which hinted at an early professional relationship between the two young artists.

As Eli eventually discovered, his father first came to work with Capote in the late 1950s through his teacher and mentor, Alexey Brodovitch, the famed Harper’s Bazaar art director (and mentor to Richard Avedon and Irving Penn). Brodovitch gave Attie his first-ever professional assignment: creating a series of photo montages to illustrate the first publication of the novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s. (This was originally intended for Bazaar, but ultimately appeared in Esquire.)

“I live in Brooklyn. By choice.”

Soon after a successful collaboration with Attie on Tiffany’s, Capote was commissioned to write an essay for Holiday magazine about his life in Brooklyn Heights. The essay, which famously begins, “I live in Brooklyn. By choice,” describes a neighborhood that bears little resemblance to the Heights of today. Presumably, Capote wanted to work once again with the young photographer who had illustrated Tiffany’s, and Attie was hired for the job.

Hence, on a spring day in 1958, after taking series of portraits in Capote’s Willow Street home, the two men wandered the streets of Brooklyn Heights and down to the waterfront, Attie with Rolleiflex camera in hand as they documented Capote’s favorite local haunts and characters. Attie took additional photos on his own, on subsequent days (including portraits of Heights resident W.E.B. Du Bois in his home and garden). The result is remarkable, both as art and as a historic time capsule: Capote at a chain-link fence at Fulton Ferry landing; dockworkers laboring on the waterfront; children jumping rope on the sidewalk and doing homework on their stoops. Only four photos ended up in the original Holiday spread (and none of the still-emerging Capote himself), of roughly 800 that were taken.

Jump Rope, by David Attie

Jump Rope. Photograph by David Attie.

These are the images displayed in BHS’s exhibit (some, but not all, of which were included in last year’s stunning coffee-table book). They tell the tale of a Brooklyn long past. But they also underscore a story of numerous David Attie champions, separated by nearly six decades, without whom we would not be seeing this extraordinary work.

The exhibit Truman Capote’s Brooklyn: The Lost Photographs of David Attie opens on July 20th and runs till July 2017. On display are 40 prints — 18 printed by Attie himself, the remainder archival ink-jet prints from Attie’s original negatives. Also on view are an assortment of Attie’s contact sheets with his original grease-pencil markings, and two signed letters from Truman Capote that discuss Attie and his work.

Three Dogs, by David Attie

Three Dogs. Photograph by David Attie.

Learn more about this and other exhibitions on our website.

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7 Responses to David Attie’s Champions

  1. If that seems odd to you, well, it’s odd to me, too. A portrait of Truman Capote in 1958, by David Attie. The photographer’s son, Eli Attie, introduces his father and the newly uncovered images from. A photo taken by David Attie in 1958. The road. All of these portraits and more were taken in 1958 by the commercial and fine-art photographer David Attie while he was on assignment for . Les titres qui passent la nuit sont frappes d’amnesie lunaire ou on peut encore mettre la . The board they played on is up for auction. He was the first black person to become a champion in a sport and held seven world records by the time he . His instructor was Alexey . David Attie was still a student in his first ever photography course at the New School when he got his big break. Brooklyn Heights and Dumbo featured. Brooklyn photography of David Attie, a favorite of Brooklyn Heights resident Truman Capote. Truman Capote played. Iconic Black Trailblazers Who Represent Every State In America. Writer and producer Eli Attie discusses an exhibition of his late father David Attie’s photography. Another photograph of Brooklyn from 1958 by David Attie. One of David Attie’s montages for a cover of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s. In the spring of 1958, Truman Capote took the photographer David Attie on a tour of Brooklyn Heights. David Attie via Getty Images. K Will Buy You the Chessboard From 1972 s Match of the. Fischer beat Spassky on, autographed. World Chess Championship—the chessboard Fischer beat Spassky on, autographed . Retrieved 29 July 2016. Les titres qui passent la nuit sont frappes d amnesie lunaire ou on peut encore mettre. Jump up ^ “David Attie’s Champions”. Retrieved 7 May 2016. David Attie’s Champions. And, oh yeah, the brilliant work of David Attie. When David Attie’s son discovered negatives from one of his first assignments, they revealed the surprising role Truman Capote played in . Retrieved 8 February 2016. Jump up ^ “2016 Indie Book Awards”. Eli Attie, introduces his father and the newly uncovered images from. Wilhelm Steinitz, a naturalized . Here are 43 facts you might not know about him and the “Match of the Century” that made him famous. Largely indifferent to chess, the.S. Indie Book Awards.

  2. Rudi Wolff says:

    Dear Eli Attie,
    I knew and worked with David for many years as an Art Director for a medical advertising agency in the 60s-70s. I admired him very much. He was too modest… so much unappreciated talent. We became friends. David was a highly creative artist and we did much experimental work together. I think I remember you coming to his studio as a little kid or perhaps it was your sister. I remember David and his suitcase, going to Queens to buy near eastern food which he loved. I have many ads we did together. Perhaps we can have a cup of coffee if you are in town. I’m in the same building as your cousin I believe, Ilana Attie. Enjoyed your WNYC interview.
    all best, Rudi Wolff

  3. Ellie says:

    What a fascinating exhibition and person. I wish I was in town to see it.

  4. Pingback: New David Attie Photo Exhibit Featuring Truman Capote Opens at Brooklyn Historical Society | Untapped Cities

  5. Marc Tull says:

    Thank you, Eli for the remarkable book and remembrance.

  6. Andrew Porter says:

    I’m forwarding the link to The Eagle, Brooklyn Heights Blog, Brownstoner, and others in the Heights, publicizing the exhibit.

  7. Rich Hansen says:

    A father’s day gift, born and raised in Brooklyn in the 1950’s, the photographs are as I remember my childhood…thank you Eli, for your words regarding your Dad were beautifully written…thank you for sharing his work that we all may remember.

    best regards, Rich Hansen

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