“I think there was a warmer relationship between the models and the designers and even the business people involved. It was not so cut-throat and not so corporate. And I think today it’s just big business and big money, and I don’t think the human relationship is there as much. I think it’s very changed.” – Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

Photographer and filmmaker

On Photography: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, 1952-present
Timothy Greenfield-Sanders self portrait

Timothy Greenfield-Sanders is both a documentary filmmaker and a renowned portrait photographer. His initial interest lay in filmmaking as he majored in art history at Columbia University in New York City.

He moved to Los Angeles to study film at the American Film Institute. Many notables of film — directors and actors — were often at the school who was looking for a student to shoot portraits of them. Greenfield-Sanders indulged a whim to become the school’s photographer. He learned portraiture photographing these masters of the cinema. “Because of AFI, I got tips from celebrities as well as access to them,” he says. Hitchcock once remarked, “Young man, your lights are all wrong,” while Bette Davis criticized him harshly for “shooting from below.” (“She had some great swear words,” he laughs.)

This access allowed Greenfield-Sanders to amass an impressive portfolio of notables. It also boosted his reputation as a celebrity portraitist. He began taking photos for Interview and People magazines. He said, “I began loving portrait photography more than making films.”

Portraying artists

Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’ father-in-law is Joop Sanders who is a founder of the abstract expressionist movement. Joop Sanders introduced his son-in-law to many of his contemporaries. Painters Willem de Kooning and Robert Rauschenberg sat in front of Greenfield-Sanders’ camera. For 20 years, he made portraits of hundreds of artists, art dealers, gallery owners and art critics. This body of work was shown in 1999 at the Mary Boone Gallery. A book called “Art World” was published along with the exhibit.

Greenfield-Sanders showings were a result of a session where he photographed the poet Mark Strand for Avenue magazine. Strand asked him where he was showing his portraits. Greenfield-Sanders replied that he wasn’t showing them anywhere. Strand connected him with a prominent art dealer, Marcuse Pfeiffer who set up his first New York exhibits in galleries.


By 1989, Timothy Greenfield-Sanders was photographing fashion for major magazines like Mirabella. “But I’m not a fashion photographer. I’m a portrait artist who shoots fashion,” Greenfield-Sanders says of himself. Over the years he has done advertising work for Charles Schwab, Alcoa, Eileen Fisher, Time Warner and Palm Pilot.

The “List” photos

Greenfield-Sanders has made a series of films including The Boomer List, The Out List and the Women’s List. While making the films he also makes large-format portraits of the subjects in his home and studio in New York City. He uses an 11-by-14 inch Deardorf camera and takes only 6-8 frames of each one. “I try to combine my portrait work with my filmmaking — the List films are my portraits come to life,” he says in an excerpt of the PBS series American Master in the video below.

Opening photo clockwise from top left: Fashion designers Jil Sander and Yves Saint Laurent; injured soldiers Mike Jernigan and Sue Downs; Black activist: Angela Davis; actor Helen Mirren; artist Damien Hirst; actor Bill Murray; model Cheryl Tiegs; musician David Bowie.

Sources: Shutterbug, Public Broadcasting, Timothy Greenfield-Sanders