Philip Gefter is an American author and photography critic. His biography of Sam Wagstaff, Wagstaff: Before and After Mapplethorpe was published by Liveright/W. W. Norton & Company in 2014. He was on staff at The New York Times for over fifteen years, notably as the Page One Picture Editor and as a Senior Picture Editor for Culture. He wrote about photography for the paper between 2003-2008 and continues to write about the subject for Aperture, The Daily Beast and other publications. His essays are collected in the book, Photography After Frank (Aperture, 2009).
In 2011, he and Richard Press (who were married in 2008) released their feature-length documentary entitled Bill Cunningham New York, about The New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham. The film received nominations for Best Documentary from The Directors' Guild of America; the Producers' Guild of America; and The Independent Spirit Awards. In 2013, it was acquired by the Film Department of The Museum of Modern Art for its permanent collection.
In 2011, Gefter received a Museum Scholar residency at the Getty Research Institute, The Getty Center, in Los Angeles, to work on a biography of Sam Wagstaff, the curator, collector, and patron of Robert Mapplethorpe, for the publisher W. W. Norton/Liveright, a project he began in 2009.
In 2002, he and Richard Press commissioned the architect, Michael Bell, to build a house for them in New York State's Hudson Valley. The Gefter-Press House, completed in 2007, is included in the book, American Masterworks: Houses of the Twentieth and Twenty First Centuries (Rizzoli), by the architectural historian, Kenneth Frampton
Gefter received a fine arts degree from the Pratt Institute in painting and photography. Upon graduation, he took a job as a picture researcher in the Time-Life Picture Collection, which gave him first-hand exposure to the photographs of Walker Evans, Margaret Bourke-White, Robert Capa, W. Eugene Smith, and Alfred Eisenstaedt, among a roster of other photographers who had set a standard for photojournalism in the twentieth century. Following that, he took a job at Aperture Foundation, where, as assistant editor, he worked on the Aperture History of Photography series and on publications such as Edward Weston: Nudes; America and Lewis Hine; and the re-publication of Robert Frank’s The Americans.
In 1982, Henry Geldzahler, then commissioner of cultural affairs for the city of New York, appointed him photography advisor to the Department of Cultural Affairs, where he put together a program of public exhibitions.
Beginning in the early ’70s, he was active in the gay rights movement, in the "Gay Activists Alliance;" Gay Academic Union;" and "Gay Media Coalition." He coauthored and was a subject of a book about his same-sex relationship, Lovers: The Story of Two Men (Avon Books, 1979). In 1981, he was a founding member of the Gay Men's Health Crisis, formed in Larry Kramer’s living room when the earliest cases of AIDS (still then yet to be named) were reported. In 1991, he was a founding member of the New York chapter of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, serving as chapter president from 1993 to 1995.
Selected Published Articles
The New York Times:
- “On Robert Frank: Snapshots From The American Road,” The New York Times, Dec 14, 2008
- “Lee Friedlander’s Retrospective at The Museum of Modern Art,” The New York Times, May 29, 2005
- “Defining Beauty Through Avedon, The New York Times, Sept 18, 2005
- “Travels With Stephen Shore,” The New York Times, Jul 4, 2004
- “Icons As Fact, Fiction, and Metaphor,” The New York Times, Jul 23, 2007
- “Wagstaff and Mapplethorpe: The Aristocrat and the Photographer, The New York Times, Apr 25, 2007
- “On Ryan McGinley," The New York Times, May 6, 2007
- “Henry Wessel: Capturing the Image, Transcending the Subject,” The New York Times, May 21, 2006
- “Katy Grannan: Model American,” The New York Times, Aug 21, 2008
- “Why Photography Has Overtaken the Wall,” The New York Times, Apr 18, 2004
- "Photographers On the Other Side of the Lens," The New York Times, March 2, 2008
- “Philip-Lorca DiCorcia’s Day In Court," The New York Times, March 19, 2006
- “Mike Disfarmer: A Portrait of America,” The New York Times, Aug 22, 2005
- “A Thousand Words? How About $450,000?" The New York Times, March 13, 2005
- “On Marilyn Monroe Being Photographed,” The New York Times, Oct 03, 2004
The Daily Beast:
- “Allen Ginsberg’s Beat Memories,” The Daily Beast, Apr 29, 2010
- “Cartier-Bresson: The Father of Photojournalism,” The Daily Beast, Apr 8, 2010
- “Man Ray Revealed,” The Daily Beast, Nov 12, 2009
- “Zwelethu Mthethwa: Breaking Barriers in African Photography,” The Daily Beast, Aug 4, 2010
- "Elegy for Larry Sultan," The Daily Beast, Dec 17, 2009
- "On China’s Photography Boom," The Daily Beast, Jan 20, 2011
- "Women Photographers at The Museum of Modern Art," The Daily Beast, May 6, 2010
- "On The Voyeuristic Photograph," The Daily Beast, May 27, 2010
- “The Kings of Kodachrome,” The Daily Beast, Feb 18, 2010
- “Dreaming of Paris,” The Daily Beast, Jan 28, 2010
- "The Provoke Era in Japan," The Daily Beast, Oct 15, 2009
- “Bruce Davidson’s True Grit,” The Daily Beast, Nov 5, 2009
- “On Neil Winokur’s 1980s,” The Daily Beast, Oct 29, 2009
Art & Auction:
- “Keeping It Real: Photorealism,” Art & Auction, Jan 9, 2008
- “On Pier 24 in San Francisco,” Aperture, No 203: p 18
- “Two Robert Mapplethorpe Symposia,” Aperture, No 197: pp 82-85
- “Vince Aletti’s Magazine Collection,” Aperture, No 178: pp 58-69
- “Reading Newspaper Pictures,” Aperture, No 167: pp 2-9
- Photography After Frank (Aperture, 2009)
- Lovers: The Story of Two Men (Avon Books, 1979)
- Reports From The Holocaust, by Larry Kramer, (1994, St. Martin's Press)
- The Gay Metropolis, by Charles Kaiser, (1997, Houghton Mifflin)
- Aperture, Winter 2001: "Interview with Philip Gefter, Page One Picture Editor of The New York Times"