A Sure Bette
Bette Marshall went from performing in front of the camera to making magic behind it for more than two decades.
Chicago-born Bette Marshall, now a fellow South Florida resident, has been a portrait photographer with a studio in New York for over 25 years. Her portraits of actors, musicians, artists and corporate leaders have appeared in international publications, on CD covers and in annual reports. But photography is Bette’s second career. Before that, she pursued acting—she even has two Broadway shows to her credit, along with a brief tenure on the soap opera The Secret Storm.
“When asked why I became a photographer, the short answer is that my husband gave me a camera,” she says. “I started making pictures of my children, and soon I wanted a camera that could change lenses, shoot faster and capture them in motion.” She also grew up around images. Her father, Jack Lieb, was a newsreel cameraman with Hearst Movietone News before becoming an industrial and TV commercial filmmaker; her older brother, Warren, is a filmmaker and photographer, and her son, Robert, is a documentary filmmaker and playwright. As she says, “Photography and theater seem to run in the family.”
In terms of personal satisfaction and fulfillment, what do you get from photography that you didn’t get from acting?
Jobs! As an actor you always are auditioning for the next role and in order to do the work to which you aspire, you have to be hired. However, with photography, I felt a greater sense of control over my life. You could take a photo without an audition and people liked it or didn’t, but nothing prevented you from doing it. When I co-authored Chess For Children and took pictures of my children and their friends for the book, there was a unique sense of satisfaction when I held the printed book in my hands. Then a friend told me about Philippe Halsman’s Master Class at The New School.
It was confirmation that my transition from acting to photography was the right direction for me. Philippe Halsman is one of the great portrait photographers of the 20th century. While his class started with basic lighting, it was called “psychological portraiture” and made me aware of the importance of the photograph telling you something about the person(s) photographed. It inspired me to go the next step.
Which of your photographs is the most beautiful you’ve ever taken?
That’s like asking which of your children you love the best. If pressed, however, the pictures I took early on in Jamaica will always be among my favorites, but I had the advantage of being thrust into a dramatic situation. Similarly, in 1982, my husband, an attorney in the music business, was invited by Cissy Houston to hear her 17-year-old daughter sing. After young Whitney Houston sang one song we looked at each other and said, “That is a superstar!” I asked to photograph her, and my photographs of young Whitney Houston before she became a star, are unique. Since her tragic death, they have appeared around the world, and are now available as limited-edition prints at the Black Square Gallery in Miami.