Garry Gross (1937-2010)

(More photos here.)

His name was well-known, even if it is whispered with muted distaste in photography and copyrights circles. His body of work is unknown, eclipsed by a single pictorial he undertook for American socialite Teri Shields. In 1975, Garry Gross scribbled his name into a dubious footnote in the history of photography by taking pictures a nude 10-year-old Brooke Shields. The photos of bejeweled soon-to-be-child-actress, in thick makeup and in a steaming, ornate bathtub, however, wouldn’t become known outside the arts community for another three years.

After seeing the photos Louis Malle cast Brooke Shields as a child prostitute in Pretty Baby, his acclaimed movie set during the last months of legal prostitution in New Orleans. The rest was history — and a rancorous one as that. Some two decades after New York’s highest court ruled that the photos are not “sexually suggestive, provocative or pornographic” and are distributable as long as they are not included in pornographic publications, the public remains as divided as ever before on the issue. On this blog, the post of Brooke Shields which detailed the controversy remains the most visited entry, and comments there represent a veritable cross-section of pluralistic viewpoints and range from informed to inane.

As for Garry Gross, he didn’t share the spotlight created by the controversy. His name was mentioned sporadically as the Brooke Shields controversy raged on, as when the famed appropriationist Richard Prince, who photographs other people’s photographs and exhibits them.

Richard Prince remembers later about this book, Spiritual America (1983):

“I went back to my apartment on E.12th St. and hurriedly opened the envelope. The small publication was in fact called ‘Little Women’. And in it, contained several images of young girls made up to look older. (All of the girls were around nine, ten and dressed and styled to look around eighteen). Some of them looked like tarts. I didn’t really have much of a reaction paging through the book. I didn’t understand why Gross would think that these kinds of images would help promote his business. (Then again I didn’t know what business Gross was promoting).

I turned the pages and there it was on the second to the last page. There was Brooke standing in a tub completely naked with her arms outstretched like she was Jesus on the cross? her boy body oiled and shiny, with just the tinniest bit of make-up on her cheeks and rouge on her lips. The image hit me. It was alive. Where did it come from? Who was its maker? It wasn’t born. It was fully formed. There was no history to the image, no future. Independent and on its own free from any and all authorship. It was as if the look on Brooke’s face knew secrets I would never begin to understand. She knew. What did she know? It didn’t matter. It was enough to know that this photograph knew everything.

“The photo has been infamous from the day I took it and I intended it to be…. she was supposed to look like a sexy woman,” Gross admitted to the Daily Telegraph then. But apart from occasional interview, Gross remained in semi-retirement. He was shunned by the society and rejected by galleries which were hesitant to court controversy by staging Gross exhibits. Never returning to celebrity photography, Garry Gross worked and died as a humble dog photographer and trainer. He is 73.

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64 thoughts on “Garry Gross (1937-2010)

  1. I did 5yrs in prison because I downloaded actual child porn. There were photos used in evidence against me that weren’t nearly as provocative as these yet they were considered pornographic. I had no idea these shots of Brook Shields existed until now. I just did a google search for “Brook Shields Nude” and these came up among others. Nearly gave me a heart attack. Take it from me, folks. I Know What I’m Talking About. These pics are child porn and should be illegal. I don’t care what any court or judge says.

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