Fred W. McDarrah Keeps Artists in the Frame at Parrish Art Museum

Fred W. McDarrah photo of Alfonso Ossorio and de Kooning's "Rocks and Trees"
Fred W. McDarrah photo of Alfonso Ossorio and de Kooning's "Rocks and Trees," Courtesy Parrish Art Museum

Photographer Fred W. McDarrah, who died in 2007, is remembered for his work in The Village Voice, as well as his iconic series focusing on the art world. Some of these amazing shots of artists in their studios, taken from 1959 to 1975, are currently on display at the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill and will be discussed in a talk led by the Parrish’s Chief Curator Alicia Longwell on January 11.

McDarrah worked for The Village Voice as its first staff photographer and picture editor, and during that time took photographs exploring previously taboo or little-known topics, like gay rights, avant-garde theater, anti-war movements and more. He did all this while working on Madison Avenue! “Fred never left home without a camera. He had a day job in the sort of ‘Mad Men, Madison Avenue’ time, but he was very engaged with the culture and downtown, when Greenwich Village was [considered] downtown,” Longwell explains. “He had this habit of taking his 35mm Nikon wherever he went, and he was always able to, lucky for us, take a picture.”

Accompanying McDarrah’s portraits of artists are some works on paper by the artists he photographed, including pieces by Robert Motherwell and Norman Bluhm. “I looked specifically at artists we have in our collection. It’s been a very good response,” Longwell says.

“The McDarrah estate thought that the Parrish would be a great locale [for the photos],” she continues. “We have a growing collection of photographs of artists in their studios. They’re a terrific complement to having [artists’] works on view.” Longwell believes McDarrah’s work humanizes the often-mythic vision of “the artist,” showing them in various states of work. “Sometimes you think of artists, and you’re not sure what they do all day. Any time you can see a picture of someone in their studio with family and friends, it makes a very nice complement to seeing the works on view themselves. When we had this wonderful opportunity, I looked at who we had in our collection,” she says.

McDarrah also lived in Springs and had many close friends in the art world, and many of those artists were East Enders themselves. “Also as a young man, he was hanging out at The Club on 8th Street—everyone you’ve ever heard of passed through those doors at some point. He was very much part of that scene. He was a real presence, part of the community. He lived in New York, he worked in New York…he really had a finger on the pulse.”

Those interested in learning more about Fred McDarrah should head to the Parrish Art Museum, 279 Montauk Highway, Water Mill, on January 11 at 6 p.m., when Longwell will go in-depth about the artist. For tickets, visit

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