Guy Gillette (photographer)
Guy Gillette (October 22, 1922 – August 19, 2013) was a photographer of the second half of the 20th century whose work attracted national attention beginning with the 1955 exhibit The Family of Man at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
Gillette's prints appeared in such magazines as Life, Fortune, and Harper's Bazaar and The New York Times. He photographed such celebrities as Elvis Presley, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth II, Agnes de Mille, Sarah Vaughan, Marian Anderson, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
Gillette[n 1] was born in Minneapolis, and traveled about as a youth because of his father's occupation. While working at a restaurant in New York City, Gillette met Doris Porter of Lovelady in Houston County, Texas, not to be confused with the city of Houston, Texas. She was the daughter of V. H. "Hoyt" and Lucy Porter and was in New York City to study fashion design.
"In a good photograph, something happens,” Gillette said in describing his understanding of his craft. He photographed the ailing author Jacqueline Susann in a limousine and U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower being patted on his bald head. He once took a picture of the photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson as the two both sought to photograph a nun at a St. Patrick's Day parade. Cartier-Bresson told Gillette, "Photographers NEVER photograph photographers."
In 2013, Andy Wilkinson of Lubbock, Texas, published through the University of Oklahoma Press a coffee-table book, A Family of the Land: The Texas Photography of Guy Gillette, a photo-account of Gillette's career. Gillette saw an advanced copy of the book but died before publication. This book is based on pictures that Gillette took dating back to the 1940s at the Porter Place, the ranch of his father-in-law located near Crockett in East Texas. The ranch is situated in the westernmost part of the Deep South as the land begins a slow transformation into the more rugged West Texas terrain. The pictures document ranching, family, and small-town life, including downtown activities on Saturdays: the café, drug store, barbershop, city streets, and marching band and Sunday church matters: homecoming, dinner on the ground, and Bible school.
These early photographs provided Gillette with an opening in New York, where he had been an aspiring actor, having studied under Michael Chekhov, a Russian-American theatre practitioner. Gillette was in several Broadway plays while the family lived in the borough of Staten Island and also in Yonkers. Instead he became a well-known photojournalist who recorded on camera some now old-time celebrities as well as the civil rights movement and the leftist activists opposing the Vietnam War. He took the view that "a true photograph tells a true story".
Though he had to borrow the money to buy a good camera, his work soon found its way into the national arena. Several photographs in the volume stand out, such as five pictures of a wounded cow-dog named "Red" and a successful trip to the veterinarian. Wilkinson stresses how ranchers became necessarily attached to such multipurpose animals. Gillette's older son, Guy Porter Gillette, who was born in Crockett and spent his later years there, is shown stroking Red's head as they await medical care. This particular print was said to have been the only photograph to "move to tears" Edward Steichen, curator of the Museum of Modern Art.
Many of the photographs show mundane activities of daily living. Folklorist J. Frank Dobie said of Gillette, "You are in the photographic business and a master of it". Of note are the prints of Guy Porter Gillette's cowboy wedding to the former Cathi Stas of Wheeler County, Texas, and his young cowboy family. There is one photograph of Gillette himself taken by Doris in 1955. The photographs overall make the East Texas ranch seem interchangeable with a typical West Texas counterpart.
Gillette's photography has been exhibited through the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers and the Monroe Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The book demonstrates an understanding of rural America.
- Though he was often called Guy Gillette, Sr., his son was Guy Porter Gillette, with the maiden name of his mother and not Guy, Jr., as he was sometimes called.
- Sarah Pegues (August 2013). "Pip Gillette Remembers Late Father, Guy Sr". The Messenger. Houston County, Texas. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved June 30, 2015.
- Joe Holley (February 15, 2014). "Rancher keeps blues music, Crockett thumping at café". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved June 30, 2015.
- "Guy Gillette 1922 - 2013: In a good photograph, something happens". monroegallery.blogspot.com. August 24, 2013. Retrieved June 30, 2015.
- Billy Hathorn, Review of A Family of the Land: The Texas Photography of Guy Gillette by Andy Wilkinson (Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 2013, 131 pp.) in West Texas Historical Review, Vol. 90 (2014), pp. 156-157.
- Dana Joseph (April 2014). "Guy Gillette: A new book of the photographs of Guy Gillette captures decades of ranch life in small-town East Texas". Cowboys and Indians: The Premier Magazine of the West. Retrieved June 30, 2015.
- A Family of the Land, p. 91.
- A Family of the Land, pp. 44-45.
- A Family of the Land, p. 119.