New York-based headshot photographer Barry Morgenstein is sought after by musicians, actors, news and TV anchors, politicians, doctors, models and executives. His work for record labels, modeling agencies as well as publishing companies has appeared in scores of publications, and on billboards, TV shows and promotional posters.
High on Morgenstein’s list of career highlights was Capitol Records hiring him to capture Paul McCartney right before taking the stage at a 1998 Madison Square Garden concert. Moreover, he recalls proudly being honored twice for his photography by Blue magazine, a law enforcement publication.
The Headshot, His Specialty
In the late 1980s, Morgenstein worked for a pop music photographer in
New York City. He eventually went out on his own, making contacts with record companies and music magazines. “I got into portraits of actors, started working with a lot of New York soap operas and also their magazines. Soon, requests for headshots were coming in steadily from clients as well as other professionals who needed headshots for their websites,” Morgenstein recalls.
In his New York City studio—and also on location in Washington, DC; Pennsylvania; New Jersey; Nashville, Tennessee; and Stamford, Connecticut—Morgenstein has a singular focus. “Capturing the emotion of the moment with a few simple lights, like a great guitarist transmitting emotions through a few simple notes.”
Going Pro Bono
In addition, in 2014, Morgenstein—a self-described patriot and supporter of veterans and law enforcement—was introduced to pro bono work; his makeup artist, Tracey Garcia, pitched the idea of going to the Palm Key Nature Getaway, South Carolina, to cover a veterans’ event.
“Jennifer Griffin of Fox News helped set it up. As did Sarah Verardo, CEO of the Independence Fund, a military charity dedicated to helping veterans overcome physical, mental and emotional wounds. Also onboard was the Gary Sinise Foundation, which raises funds for high-end track chairs for veterans and houses for soldiers with traumatic injuries,” he explains.
At the Getaway, the veterans and family were housed in cabins, as was Morgenstein’s team. He set up a photo studio in one, where he took headshots of wives, mothers and caregivers. Moreover, meeting the veterans, their families and soldiers hit him on an emotional level.
“Seeing those men and women who lost limbs, or were suffering in other ways, made me want to do more. With my photography, I can help in a small way, make a little difference in their lives.”
One of his favorite photos happened on the last day. Gary Sinise’s Lt. Dan Band gave a concert for the families. Recalls Morgenstein, “I was walking around the audience, shooting the show, capturing people’s reactions.
When Gary closed the concert with Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. I happened to see a Vietnam veteran sitting there, his head and face in his hands, crying. His wife was standing behind him with her hand on his back. First I hesitated; I didn’t want to interfere with this personal moment, but I had to snap it because it was a very moving moment.”
Gold Star Salute
Morgenstein has also covered other veteran events with actor/musician Gary Sinise. Sinise has been a strong advocate for America’s military and veterans since 1994, when he played Lt. Dan Taylor in Forrest Gump.
His band performs on military bases at home as well as abroad and at benefit concerts across the U.S. Morgenstein photographed two of Sinise’s Hard Rock Cafe concerts in New York City and hopes to do more.
In addition, Morgenstein has an open door policy when it comes to photographing Gold Star mothers and wives.
“One high-profile Gold Star wife I met was Jane Horton; her husband, sniper Christopher Horton, was killed in Afghanistan on September 9, 2011. I had told her whenever she’s in town, I would take headshots for her prior to any TV appearances. When she came to my studio, she presented me with a bracelet with her husband’s name and the date he was killed. Very touching. I wear it every day.”
Pro Bono M.O.
Morgenstein has never had written agreements or proposals for his pro bono work; just phone calls or in-person conversations. “I’m pretty laid back,” he says. “I just contact people, donate my time or my photos. Simple as that, I guess.”
Similarly, he keeps his pro bono shooting gear simple and light. He uses a Canon EOS 70D with Canon EF 85mm and EF 135mm lenses as well as a Dynalite system. Moreover, at events, such as the South Carolina Getaway, he gives attendees all their images on CDs, which he burns on his Apple MacBook Pro. Keeping it simple.
Morgenstein’s advice for photographers considering devoting time to an organization is likewise simple and straightforward. “If you feel passionately about something, follow your heart. You’ll be glad you did.”
For more Barry Morgenstein images and information, go to barrymorgenstein.com.