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The Day The Stars Stood Still

by Carsten Heidböhmer

For this man, the most beautiful and sought-after stars of entertainment once came to rest - Hollywood celebrity photographer Matthew Rolston has worked with the biggest names in music, film and television since the 1980’s. A new volume of photographs, Hollywood Royale: Out of the School of Los Angeles, and a concurrent exhibition, presents a retrospective of the artist’s finest portraits from that decade.  

Artist Andy Warhol “discovered” Rolston in 1977 and gave him his first assignment - for Warhol’s celebrity magazine, Interview. In the decade that followed Rolston also worked for magazines such as Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair and Harper’s Bazaar. The American artist rose to become one of the great magazine photographers of his generation alongside contemporaries Herb Ritts, Bruce Weber, and Annie Leibovitz.

Rolston photographed many of the biggest stars of the period. Hollywood Royale presents more than 100 impressive portraits from the late 1970s through the early 1990s - among them, a young Brigitte Nielsen. Drew Barrymore, Cyndi Lauper and many others all sat for him at the height of their fame.

"Hollywood Royale: Out of the School of Los Angeles" by Matthew Rolston has been  published by teNeues. Celebrating that publication, more than 50 of Rolston’s  photographs are on view in a exhibition from 21 October to 2 December at Camera Work Photogalerie in Berlin.

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Actress Cybill Shepherd started her career as a model at age 16. In 1971, at the age 21, director Peter Bogdanovich gave her her start in movies, casting Shepherd as Jacy Farrow, the leading role in his landmark film, The Last Picture Show - he even left his wife for the young blonde. Shepherd acted in many more Hollywood productions, including Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976), but soon after, her career began to falter. Alongside Bruce Willis, she enjoyed a significant comeback in 1985 with the television series Moonlighting. Rolston photographed the actress in 1986 at the height of the second phase of her long career. 

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Hearing the name “Brigitte Nielsen” today, most people conjure an image of cosmetic surgery done in front of a camera, or of a television reality show that accompanied Nielsen through alcohol rehab and survival camp. But in 1986 when this photo was made, the actress was one of the most talked about women in the entertainment universe. Shortly before Rolston’s portrait, Nielsen starred alongside Sylvester Stallone in the hit film Rocky 4: The Fight of The Century - and soon married him. Here Nielsen looks with a wary optimism into the camera, not knowing at that time how far she might fall from grace.

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When Matthew Rolston pressed the “trigger” on this portrait, the facial features of Isabella Rossellini were quite soft, almost peaceful. Nothing indicated that the then 36-year-old had had a turbulent childhood as the daughter of the Swedish film actress and Hollywood great Ingrid Bergman and the Italian director Roberto Rossellini. The parents soon separated, and Rossellini grew up with a succession of nannies. Her marriages with famed American director Martin Scorsese, and later the model Jonathan Wiedemann, were largely unsuccessful. At the time this portrait was made, Rossellini was at the height of her beauty and fame - she had just finished shooting the film Blue Velvet with the director David Lynch and was privately, happily involved with him. This photograph captures that mood perfectly.

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In 1986, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun singer Cyndi Lauper was 33 and at the height of her fame. She had just released her second album, True Colors, and the unforgettable single of the same name stood at the top at the US charts - a success that was hard to beat - although the enduring star would go on to author an original score for the Broadway smash-hit Kinky Boots in 2013, handily winning Broadway’s top honor, a Tony Award, along the way. 

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It was unclear at the moment this photo was created in 1991 where exactly Drew Barrymore’s career might lead. Her time as a child star was coming to an end - amongst other roles, she had famously acted in Steven Spielberg’s ET.  Her professional transition from girl to young woman was just beginning to take place. Ever the contrarian, Matthew Rolston here toys with this professional uncertainty, presenting the young star in male drag as a boy.

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Tom Waits was and always will be one cool cat. In 1986 Rolston staged this desert-setting portrait of Waits as if a wandering tinker / troubadour - complete with pots and pans strapped to a donkey - playing off the image the singer, poet and musician cultivated at this time. In Rolston’s staging, a bird is perched on Waits’ worn bowler hat. The perfect Hollywood moment. 

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Today he is one of the most successful Hollywood directors of all time, his wealth estimated at nearly 3.6 billion dollars. But when Matthew Rolston got him in front of his camera Steven Spielberg was a comparative unknown: despite a huge success with Jaws, Spielberg was still considered a movie brat - one of a generation of young film nerds who were on their way to conquer cinema. At the time this photograph was created, Spielberg was just about to release Close Encounters of the Third Kind - clearly referenced by Rolston’s lighting plan - it appears as if the ‘mothership’ is hovering just above the frame. 

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Christy Turlington was one of the original 1990’s ‘Supermodels’, helping to define a new era of beauty, along with glamour girls Claudia Schiffer, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell and Linda Evangelista.

But when Matthew Rolston photographed the 18-year-old Turlington in 1987 she was perhaps best known to pop music fans, having prominently appeared the year before in a video for “Notorious”, the hit single from British pop band Duran Duran.  

Here Rolston presents Turlington as if an exotic sea creature, modeling an unusual headpiece created for New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology’s groundbreaking 1987 exhibition Fashion and Surrealism.

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Rolston’s 1987 portrait of the model Anitta is heavily influenced by surrealist artists such as Salvator Dali and filmmaker Luis Buñuel. This photograph, clearly referencing Dali’s 1931 masterpiece The Persistence of Memory, is a part of the series The Surreal Thing, created for FIT’s exhibition Fashion and Surrealism

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An impressive volume of photographs "Hollywood Royale: Out of the School of Los Angeles" by photographer Matthew Rolston has been published by teNeues, Germany.

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The LA Photographer Who Redefined Glamour for the 1980s

By Miss Rosen

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The magical grandeur of Hollywood glamour first came into vogue when Josef von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich fled their native Germany in the 1930s and brought the aesthetics of the Weimar Republic stateside. Together they made six films at Paramount Studios, and introduced an innovative look using the spotlight on the face to create a luminous mask that stood in sharp contrast to the dark shadows it cast, emulating the aesthetic of 1920s Berlin. 

By the early 1960s, the look had run its course and faded away, until Andy Warhol and Helmut Newton resurrected it in the late 1970s. Los Angeles native Matthew Rolston got his start at this time, shooting for Interview before rising to the heights of celebrity photography as a new Golden Age of Hollywood photography took shape. Working for Vogue, Vanity Fair, and Esquire, Rolston embraced the aesthetics of George Hurrell and Irving Penn, creating timeless portraits of the era’s greatest icons from Prince, Michael Jackson, and Madonna to Christian Lacroix, Yohji Yamamoto, and Mikhail Baryshnikov.

In celebration, Hollywood Royale: Out of the School of Los Angeles opens tomorrow at Fahey/Klein Gallery, Los Angeles, in conjunction with the recent publication of a magnificent monograph by the same name from teNeues featuring works made between 1977 and 1993. Here, Rolston speaks with us about the timeless allure of the glamour photo.

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On the revival of Hollywood glamour photography…

“Fashion is reactionary. People need novelty and they need different-ness. It’s hard to predict what the cycle will bring but it will be in marked contrast. In the 70s, pop culture photography reflected the disco era. Disco was chrome, metal, and shiny black plastic with an Afrocentric feeling; it couldn’t be more different than the Hollywood glamour look. 

“Andy Warhol and Helmut Newton were the architects of the postmodern revival of Hollywood glamour. Both brought George Hurrell back into play. That led to the reanimation of glamour in the late-70s and the next wave of photographers including myself, Herb Ritts, Greg Gorman, Annie Leibovitz, and Bruce Weber.”

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On the influence of gender fluidity…

“There were a host of new pop stars who had a very different point of view and a big part of that was the display of gender fluidity – just like the cross-dressing of the Weimar Republic. We had artists like Annie Lennox wearing a man’s suit; Boy George wearing full women’s make-up with male and female clothes; Madonna with her ever-changing persona; Prince on stage wearing women’s lingerie and singing about sexuality in a new way. The supposed decadence couldn’t have been more appropriate for time.”

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On the power of large-format photography...

“These are very considered, set up photographs. It’s hard to be extremely spontaneous when you’re shooting with an 8x10 view camera or a 4x5, which a lot of these images were made with. Even though my shots have a lot of visual richness, the progression of each sitting is a reductive process where I honed in on the relationship between the subject, the environment, and my impulses.”

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On the relationship between the subject and the self…

“For me, every portrait is a self-portrait. I am identifying something in the subject that is part of me. Whether they are a man or a woman, a different racial type, or a different age didn’t matter. There is something in that person’s essence and that’s the guiding principle between not only the shoot but the editing process afterwards where you say, ‘That’s the one.’ And you know it’s the one because it resonates inside.”

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Hollywood Royale: Out of the School of Los Angeles is at Fahey/Klein Gallery, Los Angeles, until April 21.

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Hollywood Royale: Out of the School of Los Angeles

By Patricia Lanza

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Hollywood photographer Matthew Rolston has published several books of his work over the last few years. Now comes his latest production, Hollywood Royale: Out of the School of Los Angeles. This beautifully-produced 270-page coffee table book, from teNeues of Germany, is a retrospective of this influential artist’s work and centers on his editorial photography from the 1980s.

Rolston is a member of an elite group of American photographers that emerged from the 1980s magazine scene, a group that includes such well-known photographers as Greg Gorman, Annie Leibovitz, Steven Meisel, Herb Ritts, and Bruce Weber, among others.

One of the common traits between these diverse artists was a profound desire to idealize their celebrity subjects, and to use, in a postmodern sense, imagery and iconography of the past in order to comment on the present, the “present” being, of course, the celebrity-obsessed culture of the 1980s. It is, in fact, this very obsession which has led to the celebrity and glamour-drenched culture with which we live today.

Hollywood Royale includes Rolston’s portraits of some of the era’s most prominent pop stars, models, and icons, including Michael Jackson, Madonna, Prince, Cyndi Lauper, George Michael, Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington – the list goes on. One of the hallmarks of Rolston’s work in this period was a desire to break the norms of gender presentation and to represent, sometimes with a tongue-in - cheek approach, the so-called Golden Age of Hollywood. The images are redolent with a perfume of the glamorous past.

There are three fascinating essays that open the book that go a long way towards placing Rolston’s contributions to photography in an art historical context. The first essay is by Pat Hackett, Andy Warhol’s longtime collaborator and the editor of The Andy Warhol Diaries. The second was written by noted photographic historian, and expert on the works of legendary American photographer Irving Penn, Colin Westerbeck. The third essay was written by Charles Churchward, the former design director of both American Vogue and Vanity Fair magazines and a man who is more than familiar with Matthew Rolston and the other photographers mentioned above, having commissioned and worked closely with every one of them for both of those magazines for quite a number of years.

The final affect of these essays is nothing less than to explain the origin story of Hollywood Glamour, how it became debased and discarded by the mid-1970s, only to be revived, again with postmodern style, at the hands of Andy Warhol, Helmut Newton, and the great 1930s Hollywood glamour photographer, George Hurrell, who was remarkably able to launch a kind of career “comeback” in the 1980s, thanks to the re-discovery and support of his work by Helmut Newton. The creative gauntlet thrown down by these three men was picked up by the next generation of photographers, notably among them Matthew Rolston.

More than a retrospective book, Hollywood Royale is also a significantly-sized exhibition with more than 50 large-scale prints, digitally remastered from their original negatives. The exhibition of Hollywood Royale: Out of the School of Los Angeles made its worldwide debut at Berlin’s Camera Work Photogalerie on Saturday, October 21st, and will make its U.S. debut in Los Angeles at the Fahey/Klein gallery on Friday, March 2nd, which, appropriately enough (given the book and exhibition’s title) is just two days before the 2018 Academy Awards ceremony.

The Eye of Photography spoke with Mr. Rolston.

How did the Hollywood Royale project come about?

As a photographer, I’ve always been focused on the “now” and perhaps secondarily on the future. I’ve had very little interest in my photographic past. Once it’s done, it’s done, and I move on. I never set out to be an artist, although perhaps I have become one. I set out to be a commercial photographer. I’ve always been very careful to maintain my archive, but it was far from a focus, given what was on my plate on a daily basis.

But there comes a time in everyone’s life to reflect and to look back on one’s achievements, and that time had come for me. That meant that we had to return to the physical archive, really dig through the materials, and organize it in a whole new way.

For the last twenty years or so, I’ve been working in a digital format. All of that work is a click away in our digital archive. But the work from the 1980s, all of it analog, was another story entirely.

This was an exercise in personal archeology. I don’t know what else to call it. And as we went through the materials, including the actual original prints used for the magazines, I began to realize that I had a whole other project in front of me. It was no longer just about maintaining the archive. I now understood that I could create a book, maybe even an exhibition.

I had the opportunity to show some of the images to the director of Camera Work Photogallery in Berlin, Ute Hartjen, while that gallery was exhibiting my very first dedicated fine art project – a series of monumental color portraits of ventriloquist dummies, called Talking Heads: The Vent Haven Portraits – and she expressed interest in mounting a show of the ‘80s work after only seeing a few of the images.

Following that, I met briefly with publisher Hendrik teNeues during Paris Photo in 2016, and he committed on the spot to publishing a monograph of the work.

Now, not even a year later, we have a beautiful publication and two exhibitions opening in the next few months, one of them at CAMERA WORK in Berlin opening October 21st, and the other at Fahey/Klein Gallery in Los Angeles in March of 2018.

How did you choose the images for the project?

The process of selecting the images for the project was rather lengthy and consisted of several iterative stages. First, we had to know what images there were to choose from. So we scanned a selection of the original final publication prints. That was the first step. This gave us a body of work to choose from, so we would know which negatives to digitize. We ended up selecting about twice the number of images that made it into the book. The final count for the publication was 137 images, but we digitized and retouched probably close to 300.

We also returned to the original job files and looked at all of the proof sheets and negatives, checking for outtakes that might have been overlooked, or just trying to find a fresh perspective on the assets.

How long did it take to develop the book and exhibition project, from inception to completion?

It’s been a long and winding road, and it has taken over three years to realize this project.

When and where is the book available to purchase?

Although the book’s European publication date is September 2017, it made its European debut during the exhibition at Camera Work on October 21st. The U.S. publication date is October 15, 2017. It is available through teNeues’s own website and through book-sellers and online retailers around the world.

Are there any special events planned around the book publication and the exhibition?

There will be a number of talks, book signings, interviews, and personal appearances to promote the book, above and beyond the exhibitions already mentioned. These will take place from October 2017 through March 2018.

Knowing that Hollywood Royale is a retrospective centering on your work from the 1980s, what can you tell us about your latest projects?

My latest fine art project is called Art People: The Pageant Portraits. It is a series of enormous high-resolution color prints that are portraits of the volunteer actors in an unusual tableau vivant art pageant that has taken place every summer for the last 85 years at an arts festival in Laguna Beach, California, in which famous works of art are enacted on a stage by live costumed performers. As fate would have it, this exhibition of my very latest work will open in Los Angeles at Ralph Pucci International exactly one week after the retrospective of my earliest work in Berlin, which puts me in the very curious position of presenting an exhibition that includes what is basically my earliest published work (a portrait of a very young Steven Spielberg from 1977) and my very latest work within a one-week span. Talk about a career bookend! But I will say this: the story’s not over, at least not yet...

Interview by Patrizia Lanza

Patricia Lanza is a digital editor for The Annenberg Space for Photography, in Los Angeles, a photo researcher, photo editor and an author in photography. She lives and works in Los Angeles, USA.


Borrowed Time

By Charlotte Steinway

Legendary photographer and Andy Warhol protégé Matthew Rolston’s new book bridges old-world glamour and modern celebrity 

There is no such thing as a lone genius. All creatives plunder past golden ages and draw on personal heroes who may be long dead but continue to exert influence over their work. This is never truer than in the work of legendary photographer Matthew Rolston, who taps into the glory days of the silver screen in his powerful portraits. 

Part of an influential group of photographers born out of the 1980s magazine world, including Annie Leibowitz and Steven Meisel, Los Angeles native and Soho House West Hollywood member Rolston is known for his dazzling portraits of contemporary celebrities that evoke the fantasy attached to classic Hollywood glamour. 

Despite falling into the world of celebrity somewhat accidentally, Rolston was fascinated by the dreamlike allure of Hollywood from a young age. His first exposure to this came from visits to his grandfather’s private medical practice, where the walls were hung with ‘stunning photographs from the MGM portrait gallery, gratefully signed to him by his star patients [from the 1930s and 1940s studio system].’ 

Rolston’s fourth book, Hollywood Royale: Out of the School of Los Angeles, takes a closer look at his portraits from a decade marked by its obsession with fame — the 1980s. See the artist’s exhibition of the same name on view this month at Los Angeles’s Fahey/Klein Gallery through April 21st, and come March 13th, Rolston joins us for a discussion at Soho House West Hollywood, following his talks in New York, Miami and Berlin. 

Here, he remembers some of his most iconic celebrity portraits of the late 80s:

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‘Warhol’s tongue-in-cheek appropriation of celebrity always appealed to me, especially in the colorful “Marilyns” from the late 1960s,’ says Rolston. ‘But a later Warhol that was a direct influence was his silkscreen series of Greta Garbo in a jeweled headdress, based on a publicity still from the 1931 film Mata Hari. It’s called The Star and was created by Warhol in 1981. My portrait of Cyndi Lauper in a jeweled headdress, which became a cover of Interview in 1986, was my own tongue-in-cheek quotation.’

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Rolston met Michael Jackson when he shot the singer’s first cover story for Interview. Impressed by Rolston’s work, Jackson later called him with an unusual request. ‘Several years before Michael Jackson called himself the “King of Pop” he called me up and said, “Matthew I want you to photograph me as a king on a throne.” It was total self-creation.’ 


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‘I was the first person to cross-dress Madonna,’ says Rolston. ‘I was playing with the idea of gender display and the so-called “gender bending” movement of the 1980s; trying to identify who Madonna actually was, given her ever-changing persona.’ Rolston was careful to ensure that his portraits of stars such as Madonna put them in a context that more widely explained the individual’s character in that moment.

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Perpetually fascinated by the dark side of glamour, Rolston played with traditional notions of beauty in his work, often swapping them for the surreal or the strange. ‘Essentially, glamour is a yearning for that which does not exist; it’s a beckoning to our imaginations,’ Rolston said. Here, supermodel Christy Turlington is pictured wearing a headdress fashioned out of a manta ray, as part of Rolston’s The Surreal Thing series. 

Hollywood Royale: Out of the School of Los Angeles is out now and available for purchase via 



Behind the Exhibit: Matthew Rolston’s Hollywood Royale

By Samuel Anderson

Hollywood could be considered a kind of real-life Neverland in which half the population suffers from arrested development and wrinkles don’t exist. Celebrity photographer Matthew Rolston spent the first part of his 40-year career capturing that Neverland’s most famous inhabitants—even befriending ultimate Neverland-ian Michael Jackson—and heightening them in stylized, high-gloss portraits.

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But to look at the photos of Rolston’s new exhibit, “Hollywood Royale: Out of the School of Los Angeles,” comprised of portraits taken between the late ’70s and early ’90s for magazines like Interview and Harper’s Bazaar, is to realize that even in tinsel town, time slowly but surely crawls on. While many ran in major fashion magazines, his Old Hollywood-inspired snapshots have the look of forgotten negatives, casting everyone from Jackson to Drew Barrymore in the glow-y, whimsical light of youth.

In explaining his unique style—defined by dramatic chiaroscuro and humorous set-ups—Rolston cites the work of Golden Age studio portraitists like George Hurell and Laszlo Willinger, whom he discovered under rather humorless circumstances: the doctors office run by his grandfather, an internist who catered to the stars. “He was a well-known doctor here in L.A. whose private patients were all Metro Goldwyn Mayer stars in the ’30s, ‘40s and ‘50s,” Rolston explains. “In those days if you had a client like that, they would gift you an elaborate, framed print of themselves. I was fascinated by all these photos of famous people on his walls. You could say my first real introduction to the entertainment world.”

As a student at Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design, Rolston was gimlet-eyed and precocious, juggling schoolwork and professional assignments. His big break came while visiting his brother Dean, the late gallerist behind 56 Bleecker Gallery, in New York. Frequenting spots like Studio 54, Rolston rubbed shoulders with editors of Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine, who asked if he would shoot a young Steven Spielberg last minute upon returning to L.A. “I think I turned that in as an assignment for one of my classes,” recalls Rolston. Shortly after, Rolston quit school to pursue photography full time, fomenting the ‘80s portraiture revival along with then-emerging photogs Annie Liebowitz, Bruce Weber and Steven Meisel.

Distinguishing Rolston’s career are several “firsts.” In 1986, he became the first photographer to cross-dress Madonna, and to compare her to proto-drag king Marlene Dietrich. “It was a sort of groundbreaking photo. And I think she picked up on that when she made the Vogue video with David Fincher,” he says, referring to the singer’s ode to Old Hollywood four years later.

He was also the first to anoint the King of Pop. After the pair became friends at Jackson’s first Interview cover shoot, Jackson asked Rolston to photograph him in full regalia. “This was many years before Elizabeth Taylor called him ‘the King,’” says Rolston. “He just called me up and said, ‘Matthew. I want you to dress me up like a king.’”

As the industry evolved, Rolston pivoted from celebrity subjects to less mainstream actors—namely, the tableaux vivant or “living picture” performers of Laguna Beach’s  Pageant of the Masters, the subject of Rolston’s other current solo exhibition at L.A.’s Ralph Pucci gallery. And while his celebrity photos may evoke nostalgia, Rolston doesn’t wax poetic on his early career. “I came up in the time before Hollywood stylists and publicists,” he says. “[These] moments are small but significant moments and I happened to be in the right place at the right time.”