In Chaos and Cosmos, an exhibition running until the end of August at Fort Works Art, Kate Simon’s photographs of the biggest music and art icons of the past 40 years are so intimate and natural you forget you are looking at superstars. Led Zeppelin at rehearsal. Bob Marley by the pool. Andy Warhol reading a newspaper with headlines about Cuban President Fidel Castro’s visit to speak to the United Nations. Simon’s portraits, with their mood of ease and play, make you feel like you are a lucky witness to one very cool personal photo album.
And, in some ways, you are. Simon began photographing friends and acquaintances in the mid-’70s when she befriended a range of emerging musical legends such as Patti Smith, Bob Marley, and the Clash. Over her career, during much of which she was on staff for magazines like Creem and Interview (where she is still a contributing photographer), she had an uncanny access to an even uncannier range of the defining talents of our times.
“These portraits are little pieces of history, not just pictures of celebrities,” says Lauren Childs, owner, director, and curator at Fort Works Art, the 6,700-square-foot art gallery that is bringing fresh energy to the Fort Worth gallery scene. “The fact that she meets so many people before their height—like the Madonna photos. Those were taken six months before Madonna’s album dropped. When Kate was told by Interview magazine that Madonna was going to be a subject of hers, she took one roll of film of her when she normally took several, because who’s Madonna? And they’re 36 of the best shots that we have of Madonna, and Madonna still uses them.”
Although her images are in the National Portrait Gallery, the Smithsonian, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Simon’s work has never been made available to the public to collect before. As a paid photographer working for magazines, she did not rely on selling her work to collectors, so there are not many people outside of her inner circle who have had the chance to purchase these. And it’s remarkable that a Fort Worth gallery is now representing her. “I like that if you want to see these photos that have never been exhibited before, you have to come to Fort Worth, not New York or Paris or London,” Childs says. “It’s just a really cool thing that we have her.”
Childs was introduced to Simon through a friend of hers in Fort Worth, Eddie Vanston. When she was in New York to represent one of her artists at a Sotheby’s auction, Childs visited Simon at her apartment where she fell in love with her work; particularly with Simon’s photos of the former model Teri Toye, a 1980s transgender fashion icon. They connected immediately, and Simon agreed to let Childs take on her other work.
With more than 100 of Simon’s photographs on display at Fort Works, the gallery reflects the breadth of Simons’ work and personal nature of it. Take, for example, the photo of Freddie Mercury, lounging on a couch in velvety pants and a fur jacket. “It was a photo that Kate took the very first time he ever listened to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’” Childs says. “To me that’s incredible. And then there is the Ozzy. It’s the third print she’s made. Ever. It’s never been released to the public, and it’s never been shown, not even in a book.”
And now you can see it—and even buy it—in Fort Worth.