His self-assigned image, Girls in the Windows, is a classic example of Gigli’s mastery of vision and technique. As a construction crew was dismantling the brownstones across from his midtown Manhattan studio in 1960, inspiration blew in with the changing times. Gigli quickly arranged to immortalize the structure by placing 43 glamorous women in the windows of the empty façade — and a signature image emerged from the skeletal framework.
Equally skilled as a photographer and a raconteur, Gigli’s talents shine anew in the monograph Girls in the Windows: And Other Stories, released in November 2013 by powerHouse Books. Many of the images have not been seen since their original publication more than four decades ago. This 200-page hardcover, priced at $65, includes an introduction by Christopher Sweet and an afterword by Marla Hamburg Kennedy. It can be purchased directly from the publisher, powerHouse books.
Ormond Gigli: It started as a hobby at age 13.
ASMP: Did you study photography in school or have significant photographic mentors early in your career?
OG: During high school, I worked for Ladies Home Journal as assistant to the fashion editor, photographing the fashion pages in the afternoon. I also went to the School of Modern Photography two nights a week. Then I joined the navy and went to the Navy’s School of Photography in Pensacola, Florida.
ASMP: How long have you been an ASMP member?
OG: For about 50 years.
ASMP: What was your most valuable professional tool as a photographer?
OG: My Leica and Hasselblad cameras.
ASMP: In your opinion, what was unique about your style, or set you and your work apart from other photographers and their work?
OG: I was very easy going and put my clients and subjects at ease. I was always thinking about how to make my images different and in good taste.
ASMP: Did you have other team members or dedicated collaborators of particular importance to your work?
OG: My wife.
ASMP: Did the approach to your work change or evolve over time, or did this stay consistent over time and from project to project?
OG: It evolved over time because the look of photography itself evolved over the years.
ASMP: Did you have any favorite or go-to tricks for lighting a shot in a challenging setting?
ASMP: Of all the magazines you worked for over the years, which was your favorite?
OG: Time and LIFE Magazines always gave me glamorous and exciting assignments.
ASMP: Which magazine (or magazines) did you find most difficult or challenging to work with?
OG: It really depended on the assignment as far as the difficulty was concerned.
ASMP: Of all the various celebrities you photographed, who was your favorite and why?
OG: Gwen Verdon was a great dancer. She was very creative and fun to work with.
ASMP: What was your most memorable celebrity portrait and why?
OG: When I photographed Rex Harrison in Jamaica for a Life cover. I had photographed Rex many times before, but this was the most interesting. After completing the shoot, Rex, Kay and I spent the rest of the weekend together. We were like family, I had a great time and I got the cover.
ASMP: What was your most challenging shoot and what made it difficult?
OG: I was shooting a summer fashion spread on Long Island in the winter, and it was so cold that the film was breaking off in the camera.
ASMP: What was the oddest or most unpredictable situation you encountered during a shoot?
OG: Shooting for the US army in Fort Bragg. We were up at 4 a.m. waiting for the sun while commandos waited in the muck of a swamp for me to photograph them. When you have a camera in your hand you outrank even the generals.
ASMP: Do you have any favorites among contemporary fashion photographers?
ASMP: Your Girls in the Windows photograph was a self-assigned image. Were self-assigned images an important aspect of your regular routine during your career?
OG: Yes, I shot self-assignments because this gave me a chance to do what I wanted and to help create new opportunities for new work.
ASMP: Has the popularity of your Girls in the Windows photograph varied over time, and have you done anything to actively market or drive the popularity of this image?
OG: Over time “Girls in the Windows” has become more popular because it’s the fashion statement of its time. My new book has increased the visibility of all of my work, including my most famous shot.
ASMP: You owned the brownstone across from the site of your Girls in the Windows photograph and one of your early tenants was Marcel Duchamp. Did this icon of the 20th century art world have any influence on your photography or creative work?
OG: No. However, he was a very nice person whom I admired.
ASMP: What was Duchamp like as a neighbor and tenant? Do you have any personal recollections about him to tell?
OG: Yes I have many, many stories to tell. It’s best to read my book to find out what they are.
ASMP: What’s the proudest moment in your professional career and what made that particular moment so special?
OG: My first assignment in 1952 for LIFE magazine, when I got the assignment to shoot the fashion openings in Paris and consequently got the LIFEcenterfold.
ASMP: Are you still shooting photographs today?
OG: No, I’m not.
ASMP: Your son, Ogden, is also a photographer. What would you say was the most important lesson you taught him about succeeding in this business?
OG: Think out of the box and try to create something that not just anyone else would do. Also, don’t plug the strobe meter into the wall outlet.
ASMP: In your opinion, how does your son’s imagery or vision differ from yours and how is it similar?
OG: Really, the way that photography is practiced now allows you to look onto the image much deeper than I could do with Polaroid. Technology has changed the way a photographer shoots, thus changing the way the image looks. Today shooting at 3,000 ISO is an everyday thing. That would have changed the way I shot, so it’s easy to see how Ogden’s photographic look is different.
ASMP: Ogden, please talk about the influence your father and his work has had on your photography and career path.
Ogden Gigli: My father is a perfectionist, and he taught me that things can always be better until they’re perfect. He also taught me to do your homework on an assignment and prepare for anything, because while you’re shooting anything can and will happen.
ASMP: Looking beyond your recent book, are there any plans in place (or in the making) for exhibitions of your work and/or for its future legacy?
OG: I look forward to having my images in galleries around the world, and I am very happy that my son Ogden, a professional photographer, and his brother Blake will handle my legacy. Between the two of them I am certain that my images will be handled and sold with the utmost care and professionalism.