Joel Grey may always be thought of as a Tony- and Oscar-winning actor above all, but his later-in-life career as a photographer is giving that reputation serious competition. Now enjoying a photo exhibit through August 16 at SoHo’s Staley-Wise Gallery, Grey’s fifth book of photos, The Flower Whisperer, was released earlier this summer, even as the Yiddish-language Fiddler on the Roof revival that he directed recently celebrated its one-year anniversary.
“I'm obsessed with flowers,” the original MC of Cabaret—not to mention George M. Cohan, Amos Hart, and Wicked’s Wizard of Oz—says simply in his West Village apartment on a recent rainy morning. “That's all there is to it.”
As readers and gallery visitors can attest, there is much more to it than that. Grey’s photos for this latest show and book—all taken with his iPhone—zoom in on obscure details that distort and disorient the image in often provocative ways. “I started to get very specific about abstraction,” he says. “To abstract the flowers and let them be paintings or watercolors, which I've always wanted to do, but I have no talent in the painting department.”
For Grey, no matter the discipline—acting, photography, directing—the basis comes down to dreaming and transformation. Of his photos, he says, “The surprise is always part of my kick, you know? What it transforms. Transformation is probably not dissimilar to acting. It's not work for me. It's joy, it's dreaming, it's finding the beauty in something. Reinventing. But that's what acting is too, right?”