Steve Schapiro was born in New York in 1934. His interest in photography started as a teenager when he began capturing people in human situations. At that time, he felt the most a young photographer could aspire to was to work for Life Magazine.
In 1961 Schapiro studied with W. Eugene Smith at his loft in New York. Besides black and white printing, Smith gave Steve a very strong sense of humanitarian values, as did Dorothea Lange.
After that, Steve set about to do his own self-projects. He went to Arkansas and spent time photographing at a migrant worker’s camp. Jubilee, a small Catholic magazine, published his photos as an eight-page picture story. The New York Times picked up one of the photos and used it as the cover for the New York Times Magazine section. That was his first real break.
Schapiro continued showing his pictures to Life while doing essays on “Narcotic Addiction in East Harlem”, “The Apollo Theatre”, “Women of New York”, and “Jazz Sessions for Riverside Records”.
Finally Life gave him an assignment which worked out and he began freelancing for Life and other magazines such as Time, Newsweek, Sports Illustrated and Paris Match.
In late 1962, he read James Baldwin’s essay in the New Yorker which became part of the book The Fire Next Time. Schapiro asked Life if he could do a photo essay on Baldwin. They agreed and the next Smonth Steve started traveling with Baldwin to Harlem, North Carolina, Mississippi, and New Orleans. He met many leaders of the non-violent Civil Rights Movement and saw real segregation for the first time. Schapiro’s friendship with Baldwin and his relationship with New York magazines gave him access to some critical events in the Civil Rights Movement.
Steve went on to travel with Robert Kennedy on his presidential campaign and did Kennedy’s campaign posters. He did a long series of photos with Andy Warhol and well-known portraits of Magritte, Samuel Beckett and David Bowie. Sports Illustrated had him spend time with Muhammad Ali, (then Cassius Clay), in his hometown of Louisville. He also did the images for an award-winning documentary on the Oglala Sioux Indians in South Dakota. When Life and Look magazines folded,
Steve went to Hollywood and worked on films such as The Godfather, Taxi Driver and Chinatown.
Schapiro has continued to focus on diverse subjects. One of his most recent projects was Bliss which was published in 2015 and is a study in the changes of the hippie movement from a heavy drug culture to one of meditation, organic raw food, and ecstatic dancing.
Recently, he has focused on Misericordia, a 31-acre campus in North Chicago for people with developmental disabilities. Misericordia is a joyous place where the 600 residents start early in the morning doing work projects, arts, yoga, dancing, and work on computers. Their lives have virtually turned around and their unique personalities flourish.
His latest interest now is in doing a book on Chicago’s South Side and a charismatic leader there, Father Michael Pfleger.