Photographer Arthur Elgort ’64 is widely known for changing the face of fashion photography. His signature style, adopted when he launched his career after graduating from Hunter, took models out of the studio and into the real world. In the process, he transformed our concept of the “modern woman” representing models as bold, dynamic, and fully engaged with life rather than blank, motionless mannequins.
Elgort has drawn accolades from critics and artists for decades and received a new honor in October, when Hunter President Jennifer J. Raab presented him with an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters. Elgort was joined at the ceremony by his wife, the opera producer Grethe Barrett Holby; his sons, Warren, a filmmaker, and Ansel, a singer and film star; and his daughter, Sophie, a fashion photographer. In his remarks, Elgort shared fond recollections of his days on campus and the many professors who encouraged him. “This is an incredible honor for me,” he said, moved to tears.
A native of Washington Heights, Elgort came to Hunter with a plan to major in painting and art history. Like many of today’s Hunter students, he worked his way through school, waiting tables and ushering performances at Carnegie Hall. He did well in his painting classes, but found his true calling when he purchased his first camera. He soon became the go-to photographer on campus, taking pictures of the fencing team at practice and dancers during class. He was one of just a handful of male students on the Manhattan campus after it first went co-ed, and his photographs caught the spirit of the bright, ambitious young women attending Hunter. That experience undoubtedly influenced his approach to photographing women, as well as his later relationships with female colleagues, several of whom attended the honorary degree ceremony and, in a panel discussion, celebrated Elgort’s support and impact on their careers.