[New York Times,
By RICHARD MORGAN
It takes something bizarre to grab a New Yorker's attention. And bizarre it was: row after row of actors' head shots, the kind that adorn the walls of New York's pizza parlors, delis, comedy clubs and theaters. But these pictures, on display at a Los Angeles playhouse, were not in black and white as they traditionally are in New York. They were all in color.
''I thought: What? Why?'' said Terry McCrossan, a New York actor who was baffled by the photos when he noticed them on a recent trip to California. ''It put me on edge a little. It was so alien.'' But for Mr. McCrossan and other New York actors, color head shots may not be alien for long.
In Los Angeles, color head shots have been the preferred format for a few years. In fact, roughly 90 percent of actors' head shots made in Los Angeles are color, according to Reproductions, a photography studio with operations in that city and in New York that produce 35,000 prints daily.
But color head shots are slowly catching on in New York, too. About 20 percent of head shots made in New York are in color, by Reproductions' estimate, and that number is rising. Beyond daytime television work, where color has been making inroads for years even in New York, the black-and-white tradition in this city may be starting to fade. The change may seem minor, even trivial, but it has sparked an aesthetic debate as well as anxiety among actors who must choose which style to adopt.
The signs of change are unmistakable. ''It's not like five years ago when it was: 'Why is she color? She must be a soap actress,''' said Bernard Telsey, the casting director for the Broadway musicals ''Wicked'' and ''Hairspray'' and the theatrical and film productions of ''Rent.''
''Yes, color is still a bit flashy,'' he said. ''But guess what? Flash grabs attention. Isn't that what an actor wants?''
In New York, head shots have traditionally been anything but flashy. These ubiquitous black-and-white photographs have served as subtle but instantly recognizable signs of the celebrities in our midst, indelible images that say yes, this is New York. Inside the Carnegie Deli on Seventh Avenue, one of the city's shrines to head shots, the walls have been overtaken by 1,500 images, a collection of celebrated stars and humble locals. Of course, even stars were locals once.
''We got J. Lo back when she was just a kid in the Bronx,'' said the owner of the deli, Sandy Levine, pointing out a heavily made-up but casually dressed Jennifer Lopez as he led a recent impromptu tour of his trove.
For the not-so-famous, head shots are the first and often only chance to make an impression, which may help explain why the city's acting community didn't switch to color head shots sooner.
''Actors don't want to make a mistake,'' said Michael Katz, a New York-based personal manager for actors whose clients use a mix of color and monochrome. ''In acting, you can shake out the flaws with the rehearsal process. Submitting head shots isn't acting. It's a job interview. There's not really a second chance.''
The shift to color is altering not just the business of acting, but the aesthetic as well. The city's art scene adores monochrome: Think of Woody Allen. Or Marky Mark in his underwear.
For the black-and-white stalwarts in New York's film and theater world, color is heresy, a living example of California gaudiness. But while New York artists may be loath to follow the footsteps of Angelenos , as photographers abandon traditional film for digital images, industry experts predict that New Yorkers will have no choice but to operate in a world of color pictures. There is no black-and-white digital photography, only gray-scaled color.
''We're not just talking about a color medium,'' said Cameron Stewart, the owner of Reproductions. ''We're talking about a color world.''
That shift to color in Los Angeles began less than three years ago, Mr. Stewart said, propelled by a flurry of digital submissions, which favor color because computer screen resolution is designed to show it off in detail. By the fall of 2003, about half of head shots in Los Angeles were color.
In New York, even some black-and-white loyalists are now making the switch. Philip Stark, who has operated his Chelsea portrait studio for 15 years, began offering color options for head shots in recent months, mostly because digital processing lets him provide either color or black and white with minimal effort.
When Sara Laudonia, a 30-year-old actress who lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, arrived at Mr. Stark's office last month to pick up new head shots, she was nervous, in part because this was her first foray into color.
Clutching the disc containing her digital shots on it, Ms. Laudonia smiled. ''I hope they look good is all.'' But it was an actress's smile. She has enjoyed what she calls the forgiving nature of monochrome, and is worried that color will accentuate and exaggerate blemishes or imperfections. ''When I think of color shots,'' said Ms. Laudonia, a petite brunette with a pixieish glow, ''I think of pictures from my family vacations, not the most flattering thing.''
Just how widespread color head shots will become in New York remains to be seen. ''I've heard it's 50 percent color now,'' Mr. Stark said. ''I don't believe it, but it's definitely growing.''
Evan Bass, a New York actor who straddles the worlds of theater and film and sends out digital head shots in color and monochrome, said that no one in the acting business seemed to know what the standard was in New York at the moment. ''The norm is changing,'' he said.
For his part, Mr. McCrossan, who has appeared in soap operas and New York regional theater and was struck by the color head shots he saw in Los Angeles, is looking forward to sending out his own in color. Blond and blue-eyed, he said he had been typecast as a pretty boy and was excited that color head shots presented a chance to show off the visible signs of aging on his 31-year-old face: crows' feet, furrowed brow lines and general weathering.
''I'm tired of playing high school jocks,'' he said, happily tracing his wrinkles. ''I'm looking forward to playing older.''
Still, loyalties to tradition run deep in theater, where many see color as pretty but ultimately not passionate. ''Color photos tend to seem more glamorous, not the core essence of the artist,'' said Joseph McConnell, the casting director for ''The Boy From Oz.''
''There is something starker psychologically that leaves a serious impression in the black and white,'' he said, adding: ''It's a conundrum because the head shot is the most important calling card. An actress can say she has terrific red hair all she wants, but have you seen Maureen O'Hara in black and white? You don't see Paul Newman's piercing blue eyes in black and white.''
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