Here, Thompson talks to WWD about his exhibit (which runs through Oct. 25), his process behind the camera and starting out as an assistant for the legendary Irving Penn.
WWD: How did you become an assistant to Irving Penn?
Michael Thompson: I started my career in Los Angeles, but I wanted to be a fashion photographer and knew I needed to move to New York. I loaded up a U-Haul and after arriving here, I just started knocking on doors. He hired me and a few weeks later, I was sent to Paris to shoot the collections for Vogue. I had never been out of the country. He was such a gentlemen, such a nice person. He was an old-school person and not part of any of the fashion hype. He always worked 9 to 5 and he taught me how to keep it all in perspective. I don't always work those hours, but I turn down a lot of jobs to be around for my family.
WWD: How do you approach a photo shoot?
M.T.: I try and introduce humor into all of my shoots. We aren't saving lives here. He [Penn] let accidents happen. I do plan ahead, but everything doesn't have to be perfect. I don't try and tell people what to do. I'll let people be what they are an expert in, whether it's hair or makeup. I don't pretend to have all of the answers.
WWD: What is included in your exhibit?
M.T.: There are 20 fairly large images that come in two sizes: 60 by 76 inches and 40 by 50 inches. There are nudes, still lifes and portraits. It's all quite graphic. It spans my whole career and there are a few from W, Allure and French Vogue. W has been very instrumental in my career. The images from Allure, when taken out of context, are so abstract.
WWD: Is there anyone that you haven't shot yet but hope to in the future?
M.T.: [Robert] DeNiro. But I can't think of anyone else. I kind of fell into shooting celebrities and they are honestly just like anyone else. I can't think of what Meryl Streep has done while I'm shooting her, I just try and relate to her. I'm actually working on a celebrity book right now.
WWD: What's next for you?
M.T.: I'm going to Japan next week for a Shiseido ad. I'm shooting all of these Japanese actresses. I love it there. I¹m also doing a Tiffany campaign in a few weeks.