Steve Schapiro Biography

American photographer Steve Schapiro (1934-present) was born and raised in New York City and discovered photography at age 9. The photojournalist is often celebrated for his work documenting the American Civil Rights Movement and the Selma to Montgomery march. LIFE Magazine called Steve Schapiro to Memphis to document the tragedy unfolding after Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination. Although typically associated with civil justice documentary work, Steve Schapiro created some iconic portraits of figures like James Baldwin, Samuel Beckett, Ray Charles, and more, all of which appear in his book Heroes (2007); the collection won an Art Directors Club Cube Award. Steve Schapiro also produced images from films like The Godfather and Taxi Driver working as set photographer throughout production. The influential group exhibition Harlem on my Mind opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1969 and featured many of his pictures. Steve Schapiro has had works on public display across the United States, including the High Museum of Art's traveling exhibition, Road to Freedom. 

After stepping into photography at summer camp as a child, Steve Schapiro returned to New York with vigor to take to the streets like his new idol, French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. The young artist began a formal education under photojournalist W. Eugene Smith, who greatly shaped Schapiro's identity as a photographer, especially his interest in social documentary. In each of Schapiro's images, his compassion for his subjects is evident. He started working as a freelance photojournalist in 1961, smack-dab in the so-called golden era of the form. In addition to documenting social justice unfolding across the United States, Steve Schapiro is also considered an activist. 

The documentarian's photo-essays have been published internationally in titles like LIFE, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, Newsweek and more. Published work runs the gamut, from the harrowing images of narcotic addicts in Harlem to Robert F. Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign. The New York Times Magazine re-published his 1961 Jubilee project documenting migrant workers' challenging work and living conditions in Arkansas. The publication summoned positive change and the workers' camps got electricity installed. Steve Schapiro’s photography has been published in books including The Godfather Family Album (Taschen, 2008), American Edge (Arena Editions, 2000), and The Movie Poster Book (Putnam, 1979).

Steve Schapiro’s photography has been on display across the United States and overseas, including collections in establishments like the Smithsonian Institute, Musée des Beaux-art de Montreal and The High Museum of Art. His images appeared in a 2009 group show with Helen Levitt and in 2015 in the solo exhibition Selma, at Jackson Fine Art.