[May 7 2021]
Rephotography Revisited: Brooke Shields by Richard Prince
Photo by Sante D’Orazio — Text by Jeff Rian
In February 1984, at 5 Rivington Street, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Richard Prince opened a space called Spiritual America, and for one night showed a photograph of the same title. He’d lifted the title from a 1923 photograph by Alfred Steiglitz—a close-up of a horse’s haunches and underbelly, an ironic, if not critical comment about the American spirit of commerce. Prince had rephotographed the soft-porn portrait of a naked, ten-year-old Brooke Shields, taken by commercial photographer Garry Gross in 1975, and framed and hung up the picture as his own.
In Gross’s picture Brooke poses like she just stepped out of her bath, ready for the world. Prince thought she looked like a boy made-up to look like a woman. Shields would become famous for her role as the daughter of a prostitute in Louis Malle’s Pretty Baby (1978) where, as prepubescent virgin, she is auctioned to the highest bidder, looking just like the Gross picture.
If there was a woman involved, though, it was Shields’ mother, a classic, ambitious Hollywood mom selling her child for fame. But in Malle’s picture, little Brooke was perceived as much a Hollywood victim as a child actress playing one. Then Shields became a very famous covergirl. By 1982 she was representing Calvin Klein Jeans (later replaced by Kate Moss).
Prince’s one-night show of “Spiritual America,” his rephotograph of the young actress, wildly out-shined the pseudo-gallery Spiritual America where he and then-still-unknown (though hard to imagine now) artists like Jeff Koons, Allan McCollum, Sarah Charlesworth, Louise Lawler and Cindy Sherman intermittently showed works. The gallery has been forgotten, while his rephotograph of Brooke continued to gain renown. Last year one of the edition of ten pictures sold in Basel for nearly $1 million.
Brooke meanwhile graduated from Princeton and became a period celebrity. In 2005 Prince asked babe-meister Sante D’Orazio to shoot her in front of a motorcycle (rephotographs of biker’s girlfriends being themes). A large-scale version of D’Orazio’s picture was shown in the same place on Rivington Street, echoing youth and an earlier time.
The pressures of being the daughter of a Cough Hollywood mom, seem to have softened for the actress (now a mom herself), except one of Prince’s standard maybe in her gym-maven’s body, where the spirit of American commercialism remains a stock- in-trade celebrity asset.