Karl Bissinger
Karl Bissinger was an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 photographer best known for his portraits of notable figures in the world of art following World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...


Early years

Karl Bissinger was born in Cincinnati, Ohio
Cincinnati, Ohio
Cincinnati is a city in the U.S. state of Ohio. Cincinnati is the county seat of Hamilton County. Settled in 1788, the city is located to north of the Ohio River at the Ohio-Kentucky border, near Indiana. The population within city limits is 296,943 according to the 2010 census, making it Ohio's...

 in 1914. He studied art at the Cincinnati Art Museum
Cincinnati Art Museum
The Cincinnati Art Museum is one of the oldest art museums in the United States. Founded in 1881, it was the first purpose-built art museum west of the Alleghenies. Its collection of over 60,000 works make it one of the most comprehensive collections in the Midwest.Museum founders debated locating...

 as a high school and moved to Manhattan
Manhattan is the oldest and the most densely populated of the five boroughs of New York City. Located primarily on the island of Manhattan at the mouth of the Hudson River, the boundaries of the borough are identical to those of New York County, an original county of the state of New York...

, where he studied painting at the Art Students League of New York
Art Students League of New York
The Art Students League of New York is an art school located on West 57th Street in New York City. The League has historically been known for its broad appeal to both amateurs and professional artists, and has maintained for over 130 years a tradition of offering reasonably priced classes on a...



Bissinger's first connection to photography was when he was a stylist for the studios of Condé Nast Publications
Condé Nast Publications
Condé Nast, a division of Advance Publications, is a magazine publisher. In the U.S., it produces 18 consumer magazines, including Architectural Digest, Bon Appétit, GQ, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and Vogue, as well as four business-to-business publications, 27 websites, and more than 50 apps...

, where he developed relationships with some of the portrait
Portrait photography
Portrait photography or portraiture is the capture by means of photography of the likeness of a person or a small group of people , in which the face and expression is predominant. The objective is to display the likeness, personality, and even the mood of the subject...

 and fashion photographers
Fashion photography
Fashion photography is a genre of photography devoted to displaying clothing and other fashion items. Fashion photography is most often conducted for advertisements or fashion magazines such as Vogue, Vanity Fair, or Elle...

 on staff, which included Cecil Beaton
Cecil Beaton
Sir Cecil Walter Hardy Beaton, CBE was an English fashion and portrait photographer, diarist, painter, interior designer and an Academy Award-winning stage and costume designer for films and the theatre...

, George Hoyningen-Huene
George Hoyningen-Huene
Baron George Hoyningen-Huene was a seminal fashion photographer of the 1920s and 1930s. He was born in Russia to Baltic German and American parents and spent his working life in France, England and the United States.-Europe:...

, Irving Penn
Irving Penn
Irving Penn was an American photographer known for his portraiture and fashion photography.-Early career:Irving Penn studied under Alexey Brodovitch at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art from which he was graduated in 1938. Penn's drawings were published by Harper's Bazaar and he...

 and John Rawlings
John Rawlings
John Rawlings was a Condé Nast Publications fashion photographer from the 1930s through the 1960s. Rawlings left a significant body of work, including 200 Vogue magazine and Glamour magazine covers to his credit and 30,000 photos in archive, maintained by curator Kohle Yohannan.Rawlings was in the...

. He was part of group that shared a residence on Fire Island with Richard Avedon
Richard Avedon
Richard Avedon was an American photographer. An obituary published in The New York Times said that "his fashion and portrait photographs helped define America's image of style, beauty and culture for the last half-century."-Photography career:Avedon was born in New York City to a Jewish Russian...

, who lent him a camera and encouraged him to take pictures. His first photographic subjects were Avedon's wife and author James Baldwin
James Baldwin (writer)
James Arthur Baldwin was an American novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic.Baldwin's essays, for instance "Notes of a Native Son" , explore palpable yet unspoken intricacies of racial, sexual, and class distinctions in Western societies, most notably in mid-20th century America,...


His first assignment as a photographer was for Junior Bazaar and he started taking portraits and doing fashion shoots for Harper's Bazaar
Harper's Bazaar
Harper’s Bazaar is an American fashion magazine, first published in 1867. Harper’s Bazaar is published by Hearst and, as a magazine, considers itself to be the style resource for “women who are the first to buy the best, from casual to couture.”...

, Theater Arts, Town & Country
Town & Country (magazine)
Town & Country, formerly the Home Journal and The National Press, is a monthly American lifestyle magazine. It is the oldest continually published general interest magazine in the United States.-Early history:...

and Vogue
Vogue (magazine)
Vogue is a fashion and lifestyle magazine that is published monthly in 18 national and one regional edition by Condé Nast.-History:In 1892 Arthur Turnure founded Vogue as a weekly publication in the United States. When he died in 1909, Condé Montrose Nast picked up the magazine and slowly began...

. He was staff photographer for the 12-issue lifespan of the magazine Flair, edited by Fleur Cowles
Fleur Cowles
Fleur Fenton Cowles was an American writer, editor and artist best known as the creative force behind the short-lived Flair magazine.-Personal:...

, the Duke
Edward VIII of the United Kingdom
Edward VIII was King of the United Kingdom and the Dominions of the British Commonwealth, and Emperor of India, from 20 January to 11 December 1936.Before his accession to the throne, Edward was Prince of Wales and Duke of Cornwall and Rothesay...

 and Duchess of Windsor, Gary Cooper
Gary Cooper
Frank James Cooper, known professionally as Gary Cooper, was an American film actor. He was renowned for his quiet, understated acting style and his stoic, but at times intense screen persona, which was particularly well suited to the many Westerns he made...

, John Ford
John Ford
John Ford was an American film director. He was famous for both his westerns such as Stagecoach, The Searchers, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and adaptations of such classic 20th-century American novels as The Grapes of Wrath...

, Katharine Hepburn
Katharine Hepburn
Katharine Houghton Hepburn was an American actress of film, stage, and television. In a career that spanned 62 years as a leading lady, she was best known for playing strong-willed, sophisticated women in both dramas and comedies...

 and John Wayne
John Wayne
Marion Mitchell Morrison , better known by his stage name John Wayne, was an American film actor, director and producer. He epitomized rugged masculinity and became an enduring American icon. He is famous for his distinctive calm voice, walk, and height...


Bissinger developed an interest in the arts scene, photographing Truman Capote
Truman Capote
Truman Streckfus Persons , known as Truman Capote , was an American author, many of whose short stories, novels, plays, and nonfiction are recognized literary classics, including the novella Breakfast at Tiffany's and the true crime novel In Cold Blood , which he labeled a "nonfiction novel." At...

 on the set of a film in Paris and Marlon Brando
Marlon Brando
Marlon Brando, Jr. was an American movie star and political activist. "Unchallenged as the most important actor in modern American Cinema" according to the St...

 in front of a window in his New York City apartment. A 1949 photograph taken at a table in the garden of Manhattan's Café Nicholson of the up-and-coming in the arts world included artist Buffie Johnson, ballerina Tanaquil LeClerq
Tanaquil LeClerq
Tanaquil Le Clercq was a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, but her dancing career was ended when she was stricken with polio and paralyzed from the waist down....

, author Gore Vidal
Gore Vidal
Gore Vidal is an American author, playwright, essayist, screenwriter, and political activist. His third novel, The City and the Pillar , outraged mainstream critics as one of the first major American novels to feature unambiguous homosexuality...

, playwright Tennessee Williams
Tennessee Williams
Thomas Lanier "Tennessee" Williams III was an American writer who worked principally as a playwright in the American theater. He also wrote short stories, novels, poetry, essays, screenplays and a volume of memoirs...

 and novelist Donald Windham
Donald Windham
Donald Windham was an American novelist and memoirist. He is perhaps best known for his close friendships with Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams. Born in Atlanta, Georgia, Windham moved with his then-boyfriend Fred Melton, an artist, to New York City in 1939. Windham collaborated with Williams...

, in what The New York Times
The New York Times
The New York Times is an American daily newspaper founded and continuously published in New York City since 1851. The New York Times has won 106 Pulitzer Prizes, the most of any news organization...

described as "a class picture of the young and the talented in the American arts, more than ready for their close-ups". Café Nicholson, which he created with Johnny Nicholson, who had worked with him as a window-dresser at Lord & Taylor
Lord & Taylor
Lord & Taylor, colloquially known as L&T, or LT, based in New York City, is the oldest upscale, specialty-retail department store chain in the United States. Concentrated in the eastern U.S., the retailer operated independently for nearly a century prior to joining American Dry Goods...

 earlier in his career, was the frequent setting of his photographs.

Later years

Bissinger left photography as a profession in the 1950s and developed a focus on political issues, becoming involved in a number of peace organizations. He met Julian Beck
Julian Beck
Julian Beck was an American actor, director, poet, and painter.-Early life:Beck was born in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan in New York City, the son of Mabel Lucille , a teacher, and Irving Beck, a businessman. He briefly attended Yale University, but dropped out to pursue writing and...

 and Judith Malina
Judith Malina
Judith Malina is an American theater and film actress, writer, and director, who was one of the founders of The Living Theatre.-Early life:...

, founders of The Living Theatre
The Living Theatre
The Living Theatre is an American theatre company founded in 1947 and based in New York City. It is the oldest experimental theatre group still existing in the U.S...

, at a demonstration in the early 1960s and would take photos of the company's performances. He became a draft counselor during the Vietnam War
Vietnam War
The Vietnam War was a Cold War-era military conflict that occurred in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from 1 November 1955 to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. This war followed the First Indochina War and was fought between North Vietnam, supported by its communist allies, and the government of...

, working full time at the Greenwich Village Peace Center, providing guidance on avoiding being drafted for military service. He became an active member of the War Resisters League
War Resisters League
The War Resisters League was formed in 1923 by men and women who had opposed World War I. It is a section of the London-based War Resisters' International.Many of the founders had been jailed during World War I for refusing military service...

, advocating for nuclear disarmament
Nuclear disarmament
Nuclear disarmament refers to both the act of reducing or eliminating nuclear weapons and to the end state of a nuclear-free world, in which nuclear weapons are completely eliminated....


Death and legacy

Bissinger died at age 94 on November 19, 2008 in his Manhattan
Manhattan is the oldest and the most densely populated of the five boroughs of New York City. Located primarily on the island of Manhattan at the mouth of the Hudson River, the boundaries of the borough are identical to those of New York County, an original county of the state of New York...

 home at Westbeth Artists Community
Westbeth Artists Community
Westbeth Artists Housing, located at 463 West Street in the West Village neighborhood of the New York City borough of Manhattan, is the largest such community in the world. This low- to middle-income rental housing project was developed with the assistance of the J.M...

. A cause of death was not immediately disclosed.


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