Neil Selkirk (b.1947) in London won a British Arts Council award to photograph New York in 1968. Arriving with a Leica and a European apprentice’s craft skills, he embraced everything the city threw at him. During the three weeks of his scheduled trip, Lyndon Johnson withdrew from the presidency, Martin Luther King Jr. was shot, Newark exploded in riot and flames, and Bobby Kennedy announced his presidential bid. Selkirk decided to stay.
As a passionate documentarian with an immigrant’s discerning eye for the wonders and anomalies of his adopted land, his photographs quickly drew assignments for all the major US magazines including Esquire, New York Times Magazine, Interview, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker and the premier issues of Wired, Paper, Colors and Spy.
Despite their virtuosity, Selkirk’s visual explorations of uniquely American rituals and his portraits of their protagonists never lose the credibility of the street. Whether famous or completely unknown, be they heroes, villains, or the otherwise forgotten icons of our time, his subjects offer themselves to the camera with disarming equanimity.
In 2005, Selkirk’s film Who is Marvin Israel? premiered at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The film explores the life and legacy of Marvin Israel, who served as art editor of Harper’s Bazaar from 1961 through 1963, publishing the photographs of his “discoveries” such as Diane Arbus, Richard Avedon and Lee Friedlander. Selkirk is the only person ever authorized to make posthumous prints of the work of Diane Arbus, who he befriended after studying in her master class in 1971.