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Becoming Visible

Mira Dayal


JOSH LEHRER is lighting up Broadway. A renowned photographer, known for capturing the theater’s magic by shooting images of the faces of actors backstage, Lehrer has also designed some of the most memorable billboards of the Great White Way.

“Anytime we create art for a crowded landscape, we ask ourselves, ‘how do we get the public to pause and grasp the information?’” asks Josh.

He is animated by the challenge of capturing—if for only a heartbeat—the gaze of the passerby in the visually over-stimulated Times Square. His formula is simple: Trust the viewer and don’t tell the whole story.

An accomplished actor, Josh has worked with renowned directors like Robert Wilson, Andrei Serban and Julie Taymor. He was also the executive director of the Atlantic Theater Company.

THE BOSTON native began his career produc- ing still photography at Showtime. He decided at the age of 40 to change it up and enroll in New York’s International Center of Photography.

While in school, he worked on a series of imagery called Back Stage, where he captured Broadway and regional actors as they prepared for their turn in the limelight. The series reignited his love of the theater and the wonderful portrait opportunities that actors present.

Around the same time, he landed his first billboard ad for fedging fashion label, WDNY, which caught the eye of entertainment advertising giant, SpotCo. In the end, not only did the billboards pay for his tuition, but they also grabbed the attention of agents looking for fresh blood in the billboard and celebrity portrait world.

Of all the advertising campaigns and billboards, Josh is most proud of the work he did for Hair. He was so taken by the actors’ energy in the show he had seen the night before, that he came to the shoot the following day with the idea of capturing the cast mid-leap.

His other Billboard credits include the Broadway hits Kinky Boots, La Cage, Three Penny Opera, Chicago, Passion and Hurley Burley.

“My love of theater predates anything else,” says Josh.

Josh lists Tina Brown and Ethan Hawke as among his many favorite portrait subjects. Hawke, he explains, has the courage to be honest in front of the lens. “Everything in the acting profession teaches honesty and truth in the moment,” says Josh. “It is very difcult for many trained actors to surrender to the implied artifce of still photography. Ethan can do it always.”

Brown, he says, recognizes a photographer as one who wields signifcant power over the article, ad campaign or portrait, and how the viewer sees the subject.

“When I arrived at her house there was a spread, crab salad, and she had researched me; she knew my work! She said ‘this must be important if they sent Josh Lehrer.’ She knew how to make me do my very best.”

Josh moves ever forward while at the same time following in the footsteps of his photographic idols: Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange and Mary Bow White.

DESPITE HIS thriving business in the rarifed world of Broadway, his mantra is that society is only as strong as its weakest members.

So in 2008 Josh set out to bring to surface the lives of one of the city’s fastest-growing homeless populations: transgendered youth. With that focus, his art project, Becoming Visible, was born.

The result was a series of portraits of homeless teenage transvestites that has been exhibited in museums and galleries worldwide, including at the Robert Miller Gallery in Manhattan.

In the series, for which he received the Photo Philanthropy Award, he asks the viewer to pause in a sea of visual stimulation and see the world through the eyes of society’s castofs.

“We, as a society are as sick as our weakest members,” he said. “I want to illuminate the segments of society that we are sometimes not aware of.” 

Bravo, Josh, Bravo!