Shari Belafonte.

Shari Belafonte is best known as an actress, but she’s also done modeling and singing—and now she’s focusing on photography.

On Saturday, Sept. 20, she’ll be celebrating her 60th birthday at Gallery 446 in Palm Springs as part of the Face Off Exhibition. The evening will serve as a benefit for the Lili Claire Foundation, a charity that helps children living with neurogenetic conditions.

The daughter of singer-songwriter and actor Harry Belafonte, Shari explained how she was first exposed to photography.

“It’s something I’ve always done,” Belafonte said about photography during a recent phone interview. “My grandmother gave me my first camera when I was 4 years old. I was an attention deficit hyperactive child, and we didn’t know that’s what the term was, given that was 55 years ago.

“I’ve been taking pictures for about 55 years now. Most of my high school years were spent in the dark room, and even when I came out to California, I anticipated being behind the camera. I went to Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, and my background is in production, not acting. Acting was something I did on the side. I’ve been behind the camera again in recent years, shooting photos for friends and stills for movies.”

She said being behind the camera was therapy for her.

“I could be focused and still,” she explained. “There’s that process of having to be still when you’re trying to capture that brief moment, and it kind of kept me in my seat. I could definitely stay and be focused, which is the be-all, end-all for people with ADHD. Staying focused is clearly the battle that we have.”

While she’s primarily known for shooting landscapes, the moon and solar eclipses, Shari is currently putting together a book of photographs showing both recognizable and not-so-recognizable people making less-than-flattering faces. One goal of Gimme Your Goofy-ist is to encourage people to refrain from judging others with physical and emotional conditions beyond their control.

“I’ve had a number of gallery shows through the years in New York and in Palm Springs,” Belafonte said. “Mostly when I shoot, I shoot either crazy stuff or landscapes. Most of my work is landscapes, given I take trips to Cuba and the Grand Canyon, so that’s usually been the theme of my shows. … My gallery guys in New York said, ‘So for your next show, we’d love for you to do faces.’ Dimitri Halkidis, who owns Gallery 446 in Palm Springs, also told me, ‘You’re such a great photographer. Why don’t you shoot faces?’ I never thought of myself as a portrait photographer.”

She said her father and a famous friend gave her some inspiration a while back.

“A number of years ago, I shot a picture of my dad and Gregory Peck, and they gave me the goofiest, funny faces you could possibly imagine,” Belafonte said. “The few people I showed that photo to, including my dad and Gregory, thought it was hysterical. That sort of became the springboard for this project. The only way I could get away with having people give me goofy faces is if I give the proceeds to a charity that’s near and dear to my heart.”

Shari is a board member of the Lili Claire Foundation.

“The Lili Claire Foundation is a foundation for children with neurogenetic conditions like autism, Williams syndrome and Down syndrome,” Belafonte said. “They do diagnostics; they do treatments and a lot of programs that are not just for children that have any of these symptoms, but also for the families. Often times, in a family with two or three kids, and one kid with a neurogenetic condition, there’s so much focus drawn and taken away from the other kids. So we try to do some programs for them, and we also treat people for free, and not just people in the United States, but we fly people in from Europe, Africa, Asia or wherever to do treatments for them.”

Shari Belafonte’s 60th Birthday Party, which coincides with the Face Off Exhibition, takes place from 6 to 10 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 20, at Gallery 446, located at 444 S. Indian Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. For more information, call (760) 459-3142, or visit gallery446.com

Brian Blueskye

A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Brian Blueskye moved to the Coachella Valley in 2005. He was the assistant editor and staff writer for the Coachella Valley Independent from 2013 to 2019. He is currently the...