Cited by critics, film directors, and audiences as one of the greatest films of all time, Taxi Driver is a 1976 American vigilante film with neo-noir and psychological thriller elements, directed by Martin Scorsese and written by Paul Schrader. Set in New York City following the Vietnam War, the film stars Robert De Niro and features Jodie Foster, Harvey Keitel, Cybill Shepherd, Peter Boyle, and Albert Brooks. Schrader decided to make Bickle a Vietnam vet because the national trauma of the war seemed to blend perfectly with Bickle’s paranoid psychosis, making his experiences after the war more intense and threatening. Thus, Bickle chooses to drive his taxi anywhere in the city as a way to feed his hate. What makes Taxi Driver so memorable is the way that it captures New York City in the summer of 1975 when it was filmed. The city was a terribly depressing and dangerous place to be at that time, and cinematographer Michael Chapman manages to capture the Big Apple in a way that few cameramen have. The film was considered “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant by the US Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in 1994.
Steve Schapiro, an American photographer born in 1934, New York, is known for his photos of key moments of the Civil Rights Movement such as the March on Washington or the Selma to Montgomery March, but he is also known for his portraits of celebrities and movie stills, most importantly The Godfather and Taxi Driver.
The political, cultural and social changes of the 1960s in the United States were a great inspiration for Schapiro, but in the 1970s, Steve Schapiro focused more on film set photos. Having taken extraordinary film set photos of Midnight Cowboy (1968), among them also a famous one of Dustin Hoffman, he was hired as a photographer by Paramount Pictures. Projects like the movie The Godfather by Francis Ford Coppola, one of the most important representatives of the “New Hollywood”, brought out the best of Schapiro. He was also present at the film set of Chinatown (1974), Roman Polanski’s homage to the “film noir”. Two years later, Schapiro was, by request of Robert De Niro, hired as a photographer of the film set of Martin Scorsese’s movie Taxi Driver, one of the most iconic films of the American cinema of the 1970s.
Schapiro took innumerable publicity shots on the set of the film and captured the cast in their moments during camera set-ups, prior to and after shooting, and while taking a break. The images are a fascinating look at the ideas that both Martin Scorsese and screenwriter Paul Schrader had about the city and the central character, the aforementioned Bickle, and how they wanted to get those ideas across to the audience. The city itself is also a character in Taxi Driver and this fact comes out quite strikingly in Mr. Schapiro’s on-set photographs. He captured the film’s most intense and violent moments from behind the scenes. His book, simply titled as Taxi Driver, is a collection of beautiful photographs that depict much of the action of the film and candid, behind-the-scenes shots.
Photos credit: Steve Schapiro