Norman Lerner is one of those classic American artists whose photographs have been acknowledged in exhibits, articles, and museum and private collections around the country since the 1960s. His studio was anchored in NYC for a number of years, always near the major art museums he visited regularly during lunch hours, museums that ultimately exhibited and purchased his work. A venerable statesman for photography as an art form, Mr. Lerner and his wife recently selected Nashville for their retirement destination, because of "the civility of the place and the people," he says.
Since his move to Nashville, he has been actively engaged in organizing the various parts of his photography--from the classic fashion photography of the 1950s, to studies of the body, and the documentary-style photography of urban lives in NYC and compelling landscapes to the innovative figurative abstract series, Transfigurations, created and printed beginning in the late 1960s.
Norman Lerner worked as a fashion and commercial photographer in New York City from the early 50s to the 70s. He maintained an active commercial studio of some 40 employees, their primary work coming from the major magazines in the city. But that was just the beginning for him. He states that, "my photography did not end when the model left the studio. The city and its people were a part of me and I was part of them. Everything about the city fascinated me so it seemed only natural for me as a photographer to record the people and places in which we all lived. When I left the studio the camera was always with me and it because an extension of my being. It was as natural as breathing."
His regular forays into the museums, especially one recurring visit to the Jewish Museum on Fifth Avenue when they presented the sculpture of Yves Klein, led to another path for him as an artist. His response was "I can do that," meaning that as a photographer he could make figurative sculpture work, photographs that would have sculptural texture. He secured a grant fro State University of New York Foundation to create his Transfiguration series. Armed with a large format camera, models, and his fully-equipped professional printing studio, he set out to make black and white sculpture through camera, paper, and chemistry. The results, inspired by what he had learned about texture from Edward Weston, are not quite like anything else. Minor White, one of the 20th-century American masters of photography first discovered and showed this series.
Lerner's photography has been shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. MOMA added selections from his Transfiguration series to their potography collection, as did the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.
His photographs have been published in numerous publications, including Color Magazine, Black and White Magazine, Popular Photography, US Camera, Look, New York Times Magazine, GQ, Glamour, Men's Wear, Photographer's Forum, Boy's Life, 35mm Color, Camera, and Darkroom; it has been highlighted on The Today Show and Casey Allen's WNDT show, "In Focus."
In the 1960s, he was founder and chair of photography for the first fashion degree program in the United States at the Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC. In 1986-1994, he was coordinator of the photography studies program at California Polytechnic State University, and remains connected with them as Professor Emeritus.
Mr. Lerner has been able to sustain his creative side while teaching and owning a demanding commercial studio serving high end clients in the magazine world. In all that he has done, his artistic vision has been primary. As he says it, "I have always kept a little seed of creativity alive. I have never permitted it to go dead." That explains in part why at age 83, he maintains that though he is retired from active business, he simply cannot take time off from his work as an artist, because "I haven't reached retirement age. There is this project that I'm working on..." He continues to work on photographic projects and organizing his lifetime of work.
Nashvillians now have a chance to meet Mr. Lerner personally and see his work at The Arts Company. On February 4, there is a Collectors Art Night with Mr. Lerner as one of the guests. Click www.5thavenueofthearts.com to make a reservation. On February 5 during the First Saturday Art Crawl, he will be in the gallery to talk with guests about his work. Click here to preview some of his work-- www.theartscompany.com.