The death of female photographer Roxanne Lowit on September 13 surprised many in the fashion world. Maybe it’s because the shows and parties haven’t been in full swing for the past three years, but it’s more likely because the once famous Mrs. Lowit – who was 80 years old at the time of her death from a stroke – had been missing for a while.
Technically, Ms. Lowit photographed parties for a living, but she was never really a party photographer. Nor can she appropriately be described as part of the paparazzi wing, a job that often involves standing out from the events that separate the world from the world’s sexiest people. She is an insider and an accomplice in the art of making myths.
“The heat of New York, that’s her magic,” said Simon Doonan, former Barneys creative director. “She can grasp society, she can grab the pull bars, she can take anything and give it an amazing sense of fun and fun and the glamor of New York. without ever being silly. It always has an edge. “
Ms. Lowit made no secret of people asking if she was okay. For the past seven years, she has suffered from the debilitating effects of Parkinson’s disease, a particularly irritating illness for someone whose livelihood and way of dealing with the world depend entirely on the steadiness of her hands. .
But she doesn’t broadcast it either, says her friend, photographer Jesse Frohman, “She’s too optimistic for that.”
One of Mrs Lowit’s best known photographs, from 1990, shows Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelista and Naomi Campbell, sipping champagne in the bathtub of the Windsor Suite at the Ritz hotel in Paris, decorated in color black Versace, right after the couture show.
“Versace hosts a party after party in the room that sometimes spills out into the garden,” Ms. Turlington said this week. “This is a fairly routine activity, but for some reason we all find ourselves on this occasion in a large bathroom in the suite, with Roxanne pursuing the ‘scene’. She made us sit in the empty tub and of course we obliged and completed the shot. When I hear the lyrics in songs about ‘party like a supermodel’, this is the image that comes to mind. What more does one need to fuel their imaginations more than a bathtub full of ‘supermodels’ with glasses of champagne, dressed in Versace? Roxanne understands that better than anyone else in our presence.”
What helps Ms. Lowit get cooperation from her subjects is that they know she can be trusted to make them look good.
Ron Galella, Renowned photographer following Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, got her best shots through the art of surprise attack. Designer Tom Ford said she got her shot by speaking straight and taking a photo “often candid and poseless” but that somehow makes everyone look great. “She did what she did in a non-intrusive way,” he said.
Blaine Trump, who was married to the younger brother of former president Donald Trump, said: “You always feel comfortable with her around. “You know she won’t take a picture of you in the middle of dinner with a fork in her mouth.”
“She has a real insight and connection, something really special as an arbiter of what is going on socially and culturally, and she translates that into beautiful picture,” says performer Sandra Bernhard. “I wouldn’t say I went out with Roxanne, but I’ve always felt a connection to her.”
And it helped that in the 1970s and 1980s, Mrs. Lowit seemed to be everywhere. Designer Marc Jacobs said: “If there was a party that was great and I found my way to it, Roxanne was there.
Like many famous New Yorkers who are not superstars, Ms. Lowit’s career took place neither by accident nor by master plan.
She grew up mostly in the Bronx, on Britton Street.
Her mother, Rebecca Lowit, was a Juilliard-trained pianist who taught. Her father, Lester Lowit, had multiple jobs and no clear career path.
Born in Latvia, Mr. Lowit traveled by banana boat to Cuba in the 1920s and worked there as a janitor in a luxury hotel with a casino. In 1929, he emigrated to the United States, where he became “a carrier and courier,” according to Vanessa Contessa Salle, Lowit’s daughter.
During a period of depression, Mr. Lowit went to work at a pharmacy. Then he drove a taxi. Ms. Salle said: “He was a man of all kinds.
When Miss Lowit was 15, the family moved to Babylon, but that was not for her, according to her daughter.
After high school, Ms. Lowit returned to the city and enrolled at the Fashion Institute of Technology, where she received a degree in textile design in 1963. She began working on collections for Anne Klein, Scott Barry. and Clovis Ruffin, whose home on Fire Island she was staying in in the summer of 1975, when she met John Granito, who became her life partner.
He was across from Halston’s decorator, Angelo Donghia. “I’m his contractor,” Granito said in an interview this week.
Mr. Granito and Mrs. Lowit, newly single after divorcing artist Jacques Salle, dated briefly, then moved together in a second-floor loft on Bethune Street, in the West Village.
It could be one of Ms. Lowit’s old classmates from FIT – fashion illustrator Antonio Lopez – who gave her an Instamatic 110 camera, Mr. Granito said. She started using it at fashion shows to shoot clothes she helped design.
Before long, she was bringing her camera everywhere people were dressed: social proms, SoHo restaurant openings, and especially nightclubs like Studio 54, Footsteps and Infinity.
In 1977, editor Annie Flanders hired Miss Lowit to shoot fashion week for Soho News, a small newspaper with a large footprint. In the mid-1980s, Ms. Lowit photographed couture shows for Vogue and Vanity Fair.
Part of why Miss Lowit was given such great access in her early days is simply that few photographers have clamored to get inside some of the city’s most unique rooms. . In addition, there was less public roaming around to interfere with the stage as the photographers approached.
This includes the 1980 Met Gala, which is one of the places Ms. Lowit photographed Fran Lebowitz.
That evening, Ms Lebowitz donned a black tuxedo and posed with model and jewelry designer Tina Chow.
“No red carpet, OK? There weren’t thousands of people standing outside. I don’t think people even know about it,” Ms. Lebowitz said in an interview. (Shortly after Miss Lowit got the picture, it was reported that John Lennon had been shot. “Tina came to tell me and I think she said John Leonard. John Leonard to be Daily book reviewer for The New York Times. I said, “Who’s going to shoot John Leonard?” “Miss Lebowitz said, also pointing out that back then, the event wasn’t even called the Met Gala.)
Ms. Lowit’s work is sometimes compared with that of Bill Cunningham, a photographer for The New York Times, another close friend of hers. But those things never meant anything to Miss Lebowitz.
“Billy is a completely different kind of person,” Ms. Lebowitz said. “He really cares about clothes. Roxanne enjoyed the scenes. You never see Billy after hours again. He won’t know those places, he won’t care about them. “
Mr. Jacobs was uncertain about the first time he met Ms. Lowit.
Possibly, it was after everyone moved from Studio 54 – around the time of Xenon, Mudd Club or Area. “My memory is a bit foggy,” he said last week.
Even his roommate at the time, jewelry designer Richard Serbin, with whom Mr. Jacobs lived in a two-bedroom, $350-a-month apartment in West 14 St. – can’t say for sure either.
Mr Serbin said: “I was too stoned to remember any of it. “I look great, though.”
Miss Lowit took care of both of them. And when Mr. Jacobs became a famous designer, she was the only photographer walking around the back of the house, capturing the chaotic scene.
“When I said no to the photographers backstage, she was still there,” Mr. Jacobs said. “She is an exception. ‘No one is allowed’ does not include Roxanne. “
That became standard operating procedure at Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, when he was still the designer of his own house, and Dior, while John Galliano was the designer.
In 1995, Thames & Hudson published a coffee table book of Miss Lowit’s behind-the-scenes photographs of Mr. (In 2009, Miss Lowit completed a similar book about her work at Mr. Galliano’s shows.)
Ms. Lebowitz thinks Ms. Lowit has become more interested in people than clothes – it seems strange that she continues to spend a lot of time photographing fashion shows.
But the world has changed. Especially New York.
“Because of the AIDS crisis, a lot of the top people have died,” Ms. Lowit tell WWD in 1990. “The site is not finished. They are young people like Keith Haring. And third-placers will take their place.”
In 1992, Assouline released “Moments” a monograph of Ms. Lowit’s photographs, most of which were taken in locations other than those on display.
Mrs. Lowit dedicated it to her younger brother, Bennett Lowit, who died of complications from AIDS in 1987.
The same fate of many subjects in the following pages of the book: Mr. Lopez, Robert Mapplethorpe, Halston, Tina Chow, Jacques de Bascher, Xavier de Castella, Patrick Kelly, Rudolf Nureyev and Mr. Haring.
Around 2002, Ms. Lowit was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, Mr. Granito said. However, she remained symptom-free until about 2015. After that, she faded from public view.
In early 2022, Mr. Jacobs called to ask if she would photograph his wedding for Char Defrancesco. “She said, ‘I’m so proud and honored and congrats, but I wasn’t in a position to shoot. I just can’t,” Mr Jacobs said. “That’s when I realized how serious her health was.”
However, she worked on her archive until the morning of September 7, when she suffered a major stroke.
Mr Granito said: “I was her carer for seven years and I will tell you there was not a second where Roxanne complained about her condition. “She is still working. People are still asking for pictures and she’s still editing. True until the end. “