Literate flair, acute visual intuition, love of mischief and spontaneity, and global wanderlust: These are among the hallmarks of the work of Jonathan Becker, whose photography spans four decades and includes iconic portraits (often for Vanity Fair) of a multiplicity of subjects, including Robert Mapplethorpe, Martha Graham, Madonna, Elia Kazan, Prince Charles, Eudora Welty, and Jack Kevorkian.
Becker—whose work was first published in Interview in 1973—was born in 1954 and raised in New York City. In the mid-1970s, he moved for a year to Paris, where he was mentored by his hero, Brassaï. Upon his return to New York, he drove a cab, toting his camera wherever he went, including the restaurant Elaine’s, the storied hangout on the Upper East Side. A 1981 exhibition of Becker’s work at New York’s Rentschler Gallery (which included a series of arresting images taken inside the kitchen at Elaine’s) brought him to the attention of Frank Zachary, editor-in-chief of Town & Country. Zachary invited Becker to shoot for the magazine, where the young photographer further developed his passion for journalistic portraiture alongside Slim Aarons, who, after Brassaï, became Becker’s guiding light. Becker was then invited by art director Bea Feitler to contribute portraits to the prototype of Vanity Fair’s 1983 relaunch. His participation led to a highly prolific association with the magazine (including being named contributing photographer in 1990) that has, under Graydon Carter’s editorship, continued to this day. Becker has also contributed portraits and reportage to The New Yorker, Vogue, W, The Paris Review, and many other publications.
Four books comprised uniquely of Becker’s photographs have been published: Bright Young Things and Bright Young Things: London (Assouline; 2002); Studios by the Sea: Artists of Long Island’s East End, with Bob Colacello (Abrams; 2002); and a monograph entitled Jonathan Becker: 30 Years at Vanity Fair (Assouline; 2012). A Fashionable Mind, which catalogues Becker’s 2015 retrospective exhibition at the Savannah College of Art and Design (curated by André Leon Talley), was published in 2016.
A December 2016 retrospective of Becker’s work entitled ‘Vanity and Time’ at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Madrid focused on Spanish subjects including the Duchess of Alba and King Juan-Carlos to complement the Academy's permanent collection of Goyas.
Becker’s prints reside in private and public collections around the world, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, in New York.