Remembering Marc Hauser

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Marc Hauser

Marc Hauser

Sando Miller,
Tony D’Orio, and
Tony Fitzpatrick
pay tribute
to their friend,
the legendary
Chicago artist

Marc Hauser created memories that will last forever. From the start of his career in the mid-1970s until his passing in late 2018, the Chicago-based photographer built a genre of portraiture and editorial that will inspire generations.

According to those who knew him, he was also a fun-loving and generous soul whose talent was matched by an inspiration to help others.

Michael Jordan by Marc Hauser
Michael Jordan by Marc Hauser

Hauser’s most famous work occurred during the 1980s and 90s, when he photographed celebrities like Mick Jagger, Cindy Crawford, Oprah Winfrey, and Michael Jordan. Combining authentic vulnerability with technical expertise, the pictures exude an impossible degree of truth and beauty.

“Marc had incredible methods of achieving what I call ‘the little secret’ from everybody,” explains photographer / director Sandro Miller. “It’s a very intimate moment when a person gives something vulnerable … the soul.”

Miller was a teenager shooting a band called The Motels at Park West in the 70s when he met Hauser for the first time.

“I saw this big teddy bear with a camera around his neck right down the aisle from me,” Sandro recalls. “I went up and asked him if he was pro, and we started talking, and we spent the next 40 years becoming friends and competitors.”

Miller went on to create renowned images and films, including several recent collaborations with actor John Malkovich that are currently making the rounds in Europe. Last year, he started work on a documentary about Hauser, a man who was “more dedicated and motivated to taking pictures than anyone I’ve ever met.”

“I’m hoping to show the history of a really great photographer who shot a lot of portraits that will inspire us for years to come,” he says. “There were a lot of tears shed by some big powerful people who knew we were going to lose Marc. Big, loud, fun — he had a gigantic heart and he’d offer anything that he had when people were asking for help. You really hear at the end how much everybody loved him.”

Cindy Crawford by Marc Hauser
Cindy Crawford by Marc Hauser

As Hauser’s influence expanded, so did his oeuvre. In the 90s, he sold thousands of ties featuring his colorful illustrations through the upscale retailer, Bigsby & Kruthers. During his latter career, he photographed fewer celebrities and, in 2007, suffered an injury that damaged his eye and his right leg. But that did not stop him from shooting portraits.

“I remember seeing Marc deathly ill get out of his bed and do a portrait session,” continues Sandro, who filmed an interview with Hauser just a few days before he died. “That’s who he was. That kept him going. He never stopped taking pictures. He had all these ideas that he thought he was going to fill.”

A large, bearded, gregarious man who loved to tell stories, Hauser spent his final weeks in a hospital bed receiving treatment for complications from diabetes. Sharing takeout with friends and talking about future projects, he remained “full of conversation” until he passed on December 30, according to photographer Tony D’Orio.

“I saw him the day before he died,” D’Orio says. “He said he was getting better and he was going to be back.”

D’Orio met Hauser during a routine trip to a Chicago studio facility called The Dark Room in the mid-70s. He remembers thinking that the guy “seemed to have known it all at the time.”

"Portrait of a Clown" by Marc Hauser
“Portrait of a Clown” by Marc Hauser

“Everything we were trying to do as young photographers, Marc had already achieved,” he says. “He was doing a lot of editorial. He was plugged into the music industry. He had a couple of album covers. He had worked with a lot of famous people. He had a lot of stories.”

Hauser was born in Chicago in 1952, raised near the North Shore, and educated at New Trier High School. He began working as an assistant to fashion photographer Stan Malinowski in 1966.

Three years later, when he was 17-years-old, an art director from Playboy dropped by Malinowski’s studio, saw Hauser’s work, and hired him to shoot John Prine for the magazine.

By the time he met D’Orio in the 70s, Hauser’s place in the trade was firmly established.

D’Orio and Hauser operated a studio for a few years together before going their separate ways. While Hauser continued doing his thing, D’Orio developed an award-winning reputation for advertising work, shooting Leo Burnett’s Curiously Strong Altoids campaign, among others.

D’Orio’s respect for Hauser’s talent grew along with their friendship. To this day, he believes that Hauser can “find a photograph no matter what the situation,” and that he knows precisely how and when to “capture a person.” But it’s not just Hauser’s “epic” celebrity portraits that impress D’Orio; he also admires the work featuring lesser-known subjects.

“Marc’s circus stuff is the strongest I’ve ever seen,” he says. “His cameras were stolen right before he shot it, and he went and bought a cheap little camera and used that.”

The eerie, soft-focused circus series is much darker than Hauser’s glamor work, but it’s no less powerful. One of its more famous pieces — Portrait of a Clown — is a study in loneliness. Among those who admire the piece is Chicago artist and Patriot cast member Tony Fitzpatrick, another creative star in Hauser’s tight knit circle.

 
TONY FITZPATRICK: CRAZY FRANK | HAUSER STORIES

“What he did with Polaroids and how he blew light and dark together was astonishing,” Fitzpatrick says. “Marc really had a voracious curiosity about human beings.”

Fitzpatrick met Hauser at Oprah’s former nightclub, The Eccentric, in the 80s.

“I was showing my slate drawings to a woman named Susan Wildman, and all the sudden this big meaty paw reaches over my shoulder,” he remembers. “I looked up and I said who the fuck are you? He said, ‘I’m Marc Hauser, and I’m thinking about buying one of these.’”

Over the next 35 years, Fitzpatrick’s career “kind of merged” with Hauser’s. His acting took off, his illustrations began to populate galleries and album covers like Steve Earle’s legendary El Corazon, and he “began inhabiting the orbit of Hauser, Sandro, and Ed Paschke.” During the last few weeks, he took turns with D’Orio visiting Hauser in the hospital.

“Marc was my dear friend for 35 years,” he recalls. “We bought each other’s work prodigiously.”

One of Fitzpatrick’s favorite Hauser achievements is Halloweeen in Bucktown, a neighborhood essay published in 1987. As Hauser explained to ipa, the series came by way of a suggestion from Cindy Crawford, who was sitting for a Marshall Field’s shoot when “a little kid came in dressed as a ghost for trick-or-treat.”

Wearing homemade costumes, the youngsters command attention with expressions that appear well beyond their years. They offer a glimpse of “warmth and humanity” that Fitzpatrick — who “never lived more than a mile from Hauser” after they became friends — found incomparable.

“For once, I saw somebody make art out of a neighborhood that I knew and people who I was familiar with,” he explains. “I remember thinking, ‘God I wish I could do this.’”

Like Sandro and D’Orio, Fitzpatrick was also mystified by Hauser’s ability to “find the essential character of everything he aimed his camera at.” Having sat or for a Hauser portrait and an on-camera interview, he’s also familiar with the sensation from both sides of the lens.

“Marc can shake you out of the pose that you decided to costume yourself in and wait for the perfect moment,” he says. “All of the sudden, you reveal something of yourself and you’re you, and he gets it.”

Underscoring all of this creative brilliance, Fitzpatrick adds, was an epic level of compassion.

“Marc Hauser was incredibly generous and supportive and I’m glad to get a chance to speak to his legacy,” he says. “This is the kind of guy you name streets after.”

 
To contact Reel Chicago Editor Dan Patton, email dan@reelchicago.com.

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