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 photographing 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, dug this hoary old chestnut up again in 2007. “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.