Behind the Lens with Noted Photographer Steve Pyke


New York-based British photographer Steve Pyke — an artist known for his dramatic take on portraiture — has been on staff at The New Yorker since 2004. While his roots are in the late ’70s music scene, by 1980 Pyke had abandoned rock ‘n roll for the visual arts. His early work was featured in publications like The Face and NME, and his reputation grew thanks to a number of interesting personal projects, specifically a series called Philosophers. His photographs are included in many permanent collections, including the National Portrait Gallery, the Imperial War Museum, the V&A in London, and the New York Public Library.

Sophia Loren, Florence 1999

I shot Sophia Loren in my hotel room in the Excelsior in Florence behind lace curtains. Earlier in the day I had witnessed a crowd spontaneously burst into applause when she entered the hotel lobby. When I asked her if this happened all the time she replied, “Of course darling, I am the Queen of Italy.”

Bruce Nauman, New York 2009

I shot the great American artist in two locations… my studio downtown and my favorite bar, Milanos. It was a shoot for The New Yorker, and the combination of neon, sixties iconography, and the flag made it a wonderful location.

Ghostface Killah, New York 2006

We went to a side street after shooting at my studio. I had noticed this piece of graffiti many times around New York, and I knew there would be a right time to work with it. Ghostface loved the reference.

Bobby Seale, New York 2006

I had tried for a long time to photograph Bobby; he seemed to me such a pivotal ’60s civil rights figure. The photographer Steve Shames, who had documented the Black Panthers, introduced us. The shoot took place just inside the entrance to the Cooper Union building. Five minutes, one roll of b/w, and this image. If I’d had five hours, I’m sure I wouldn’t have caught anything stronger.

Delia Graff Fara, London 2004

I photographed Delia for my Philosophers series in the upstairs rooms of a North London pub. It remains one of my favorites because of the sense of life in her.

Kristin Scott Thomas, London 1988

She was photographed in a hotel room in central London in 1988. She had just completed the movie A Handful of Dust, and there was a flurry of stylists and hair/make up people there. It was relaxed though, and I remember pots of tea being consumed.

Michael J. Fox, New York 2007

I photographed him for Esquire here in New York at the National Parkinson Foundation. This image has raised a lot of attention over the past year, and was recently shown at my National Portrait Gallery show in DC.

Nancy Pelosi, Washington DC 2006

I was shooting Nancy for Time magazine in DC just minutes before she heard the news she had made Speaker of the House. I think she already knew and was really enjoying the moment.

Norman Mailer, Provincetown 2007

I photographed Mailer three times in the last year of his life. This portrait was made at his home in Provincetown toward the end. He had weakened in body, but his mind was razor sharp. The portrait is of him gazing out to sea.

Sir Ian McKellan, Stratford-Upon-Avon 2007

The session took place in Stratford-Upon-Avon whilst he was performing King Lear. I photographed him for The New Yorker. Ian stepped off set a fraction and the contrast in background with the weight of presence works perfectly.

Spike Lee, New York 2008

I photographed the great director at the New York Public Library recently, just before a talk he was giving there.

Woody Allen, London 2004

Woody Allen and I met at the same time I joined The New Yorker. Woody writes for the magazine regularly and hilariously. We had spoken by phone earlier and I said to him that the shoot would be fun. After the first frame he put his hands up to stop me and asked “So when does the fun begin?”

Zadie Smith, New York 2009

The British writer sat incredibly still throughout the session. We had friends in common, and spoke of them, and she told me her father had been a photographer years before. She seems to have really arrested time in this portrait.

Martin Scorsese, London 1985

He is seen here holding the original shooting script to the film Red Shoes. The veteran film directors Powell and Pressburger had just given it to him onstage at the London Film Festival and he was overwhelmed. The movie is one of Scorsese’s favorites.