The inaugural exhibition of the nonprofit Hi-Desert Cultural Center at its Joshua Tree Gallery of Contemporary Art, in collaboration with ARTCO, will feature works by legendary photographer Michael Childers and Gordon Clark through Sunday, March 13.

EMERGENCE features Childers’ newest body of work, Nude Fusions (2021); photos of celebrities Andy Warhol and Grace Jones; and selections from his LA Drag Ball (1974), the famous drag party with costume designers, set decorators, industry professionals, and creative people Childers shot for Italian Vogue. There are also photos of the Palm Springs White Party series (2002) that have never been shown before.

“The photos are moving and stunning,” Anne Sholtz, volunteer CFO at the Hi-Desert Cultural Center.

A photo from Michael Childers’ White Party series.

Childers’ credits include more than 200 magazine covers, including Elle, Vogue, GQ and Esquire, and Elle. He served as a photographer for Andy Warhol’s Interview and After Dark magazines, and has created some of the most renowned portraits of the world’s biggest celebrities.

Childers said during a recent interview that while his brothers and sisters became lawyers and doctors, his life quest was to have a great artistic adventure.

“I got into the UCLA film school; it was pretty heady,” Childers said. Francis Ford Coppola and Jim Morrison of The Doors were among his fellow students.

The show at the Joshua Tree Gallery is a “a time capsule of LGBTQ history, showing wonderful strong portraits of gay life spanning 50 years—a celebration of gay life that I love,” Childers said. “There was an innocence and sweetness of the ’70s. The looks at the LA Drag Ball were very special; it wasn’t just street drag. The show is a slice of LGBTQ history and gay liberation. The gay world is actually much more conservative now than it was in the 1970s and ’80s—having children, etc.—but I love the celebration of gay life and love.”

Childers met his partner of 36 years, movie director John Schlesinger, in the late 1960s. Schlesinger was proud of their relationship, and he insisted that Childers come with him to glamorous Hollywood parties and premieres.

“I was terrified. I was 23, and John was 41,” Childers said. “We got looks of disdain from some of the conservative Hollywood establishment, but things have changed since then. It’s so different today, another world. Gay liberation changed everything.”

Schlesinger’s 1971 movie Sunday Bloody Sunday was at the forefront of gay liberation. “It was the first time gays were portrayed as normal, caring people, not freak shows, or had to commit suicide in the third act,” Childers said. “It brought dignity to gay people,” adding that the younger gay generation has forgotten about the groundbreaking film.

Schlesinger died in 2003, just two years after the couple moved to Palm Springs.

“It was a huge adjustment when John died. It was like having an arm cut off,” Childers said. “But he set me free to fly, and I did that. That’s what he wanted me to do. I came through it. I was released and allowed to be me again. I was a partner to someone who was so famous and talented that I had to find myself again.”


Childers’ New Work

There is a stunning photo of Wyoming in Nude Fusions, featuring a nude melded with the scenery where Childers spent 10 days recently.

“The beauty of Wyoming’s landscape was inspiring,” he said. “Some of our world is so beautiful. We need to treasure it.”

A photo from Michael Childers’ Nude Fusions series.

Although not a “techie,” Childers has embraced digital photography. “Anyone can be a photographer these days, since the phone cameras are good and getting better, and also have a zoom,” he said. “(Digital photography) is extraordinary, sharper than the original photograph. It’s a whole new vocabulary we have been given; 10 years ago, museums wouldn’t show digital, but now they do.”

While anyone can perhaps be a photographer, nobody else has Michael Childers’ eye for the perfect shot. His advice is to train your eye to see things that other people don’t see—to find the unique beauty in people’s faces and landscapes.

“However, most importantly, besides luck, talent and timing, is being prepared for that big chance if you’re lucky to have it,” he said.

Black and white, or color? “I used to love black and white; now I love color,” he said. “The influence of Hollywood glamor—I photographed the most beautiful women in the world.”

Famous men, too, like Sir Laurence Olivier. “He hated that I came in that close, but he trusted me,” Childers said. “‘I assume you’re going for that mean upper lip, young man,’ he said to me.”

And David Bowie. “I can pinch myself now—the biggest highlight of my life,” Childers said. He spent a week with Bowie and jazz guitarist/composer Pat Metheny at Bowie’s studio in Switzerland –producing the music score for the movie The Falcon and the Snowman, starring Sean Penn, and directed by Schlesinger.


Bouncing Back

Childers is still recovering from a serious case COVID-19. He was exposed to SARS-CoV-2 in New York while rehearsing for his annual One Night Only charity show at the McCallum Theatre. He flew back the next day to Palm Springs and tested positive three days later. His case was so serious that he was placed on a ventilator for four days at Eisenhower Medical Center. He credits his survival to the great care he received.

“I almost didn’t make it, and I’m grateful that I’m still here,” he said. “It’s a miracle.”

While he is still suffering from some long-term effects of COVID-19, he remains enthusiastic. “I’m blessed with a lot of energy. I still have things that I want to produce and create, especially in the art and photography world,” he said.

EMERGENCE will be on display at the Joshua Tree Gallery of Contemporary Art, inside the Yucca Valley Visual and Performing Arts Center, 58325 Highway 62, in Yucca Valley, through Sunday, March 13. The exhibit’s Grand Gala will take place at 5 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 22. The gallery is open from 1 to 5 p.m., Thursday and Friday; and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday; private showings are available by appointment. For more information, visit www.jtarts.org.

A photo from Michael Childers’ LA Drag Ball series.

Cat Makino

Catherine Makino is a multimedia journalist who was based in Tokyo for 22 years. She wrote for media sources including Thomson Reuters, the San Francisco Chronicle, Inter Press Service, the Los Angeles...

5 replies on “Photography Legend: An Exhibit With Michael Childers’ Works—Both Old and New—Christens a New Yucca Valley Gallery”

  1. Interesting and intriguing profile fused within an event announcement. Ms. Makino offered insight that brought this article to life. Give her a raise.

  2. Interesting on two levels: learning that a photographer can morph with technology and not be afraid of change, and learning that Yucca Valley is open to the subject matter and an avant- art gallery.
    I hope Palm Springs goes north to see his show.

  3. This event sounds wonderful. The article did a beautiful job of taking me on a high level, layered journey of Childer’s life and art, and left me with a desire to see his work in March.

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