Sunday, August 28, 2011

My Computer Signed by Steve Jobs

My first MacIntosh computer--the Mac Plus purchased in 1986 for somewhere in the neighborhood of $2500.  Luckily I had it on hand in 1989 as a prop for a photo shoot with most of the original MacIntosh team for the 5 year anniversary (scroll down).  In the photo are most of the people whose names were embossed on the inside of the plastic case.  They're mimicking a familiar Steve Jobs hand gesture at my suggestion.
At that shoot I asked those present to sign the underside of my Mac.  Here's a photo of that.
Among those not present at that event were Bill Atkinson, Burrell Smith and Steve Jobs.  I frequently see Burrell Smith walking in Palo Alto and have tried to ask him to sign the computer but he refuses, and although I have photographed Bill Atkinson I forgot to bring the computer along.  As for the Steve Jobs autograph--I did not forget to bring the computer on my last shoot with him.  Here is that signature.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Steve Jobs' childhood home

Anyone engaged in a creative activity is faced at some time with non-challenging work.  If it weren't for the possibility of losing a client by refusing to accept a dopey assignment the thought generally runs towards a grudging acceptance.  Such was the case when asked to shoot the exterior of the house Steve Jobs grew up in.  I had it all sized up.  Pick a sunny day and bang out a roll or two from a discreet distance and be gone.  Simple.

I arrived at the house mid afternoon.  The streets were empty except for the blue pick-up truck parked in front of the address I had been given.  Somehow it seemed dishonorable to be secretive but it also felt odd to be standing in the street aiming my camera towards the ex-home of a famous person.  So I decided to find out if the owners were home and tell them what I was up to.

The owner of the house answered my knock and he appeared to have recently arrived home from work since he was wearing dark blue clothing typical of industrial workers I'd known.  I explained what I was up to and asked him to verify that this was the home Steve Jobs grew up in.  He confirmed the story and surprisingly invited me in to have a look around--provided that I took no photos inside.

The home was small but neat and soon after entering I was directed towards a cramped bedroom just to the right of the front door.  I remember looking to the room and being surprised that the room displayed early Apple Computer posters, as if the room were decorated for curious visitors.  And then I asked, "Are you Steve's dad?"  He was.

Paul Jobs and his wife Clara adopted the infant Steve when the unmarried birth mother and father gave him up for adoption.  I asked Mr. Jobs if his son had provided him stock in Apple--he said he had none.  He did volunteer that he was somewhat frustrated early on that the boys (high school aged I take it) needed prodding to get them to try and sell their garage production of electronics.  But then perhaps he wasn't aware of what they were really doing.

Since there wasn't much else to see in the house itself, Mr. Jobs directed me towards the garage where his son and Steve Wozniak had worked on assembling some sort of electronic device.  Except for a yellowed newspaper clipping that mentioned two local boys building computers (Jobs and Wozniak) the garage was clean and bare.

Thanking Mr. Jobs for the kindness of the home tour I proceeded to record the outside of his garage to satisfy my assignment.

Me and Steve Jobs, part III

After the buzz about Steve Jobs' NeXT Computer died down and the prospects were considerably dimmer the company relocated to a quieter part of Silicon Valley next to a boat dock in the Redwood Shores area of Redwood City.  NeXT's sleek two story headquarters no longer exuded energetic invention--rather, it had a library vibe.  I was given an assignment to shoot Jobs there.

Every photographer I knew, and ones I'd only heard about, had stories about long waits to photograph Steve Jobs.  I recall the story told to me of a photographer who flew in from New York to shoot Jobs at the Redwood Shores location only to be told after a long wait to come back the next day, and when he returned to shoot on the next day it was also cancelled after another long wait.  So in the back of my mind I was prepared to arrive on time and be ready to shoot at the agreed upon time, while still knowing the shoot may be seriously late or cancelled at the last minute.

As I selected my location and began to think about the prospects of Job's canceling the shoot and the trouble this would cause my magazine client, it occurred to me that if this were to be about to take place it might be wise to counter with a stripped-down extremely quick session that would smooth the way to an agreement.  Normally I would shoot using strobe lighting but that would necessitate waiting for the strobes to recycle or risk a last minute strobe failure wasting precious minutes.  I decided to use the hot modeling light built into the strobe head for my illumination instead of the flash.  It would prove useful.

The shoot was scheduled for 3pm, Jobs showed up 2 hours later.  He appeared tired and began to beg off, suggesting we do it again tomorrow.  In response I said that we could do that but it would probably involve the same amount of effort from him.  Rather, I proposed, since he was already here we dispense with it in 30 seconds.  This would also allow me to FedEx the raw film to meet the magazine deadline. The logic appealed to him.  I sat him  down and held my finger on the shutter release through a full roll of film using the camera's motor drive.  As promised it was 30 seconds.  He was happy, I was happy and the magazine need not be bothered with a missed deadline.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Me and Steve Jobs, part II

After Steve Jobs left Apple there was significant interest in his next venture--which indeed was NeXT Computer.  In preparation to revealing their first computer product NeXT Computer arranged a single day of several overlapping photo shoots with national media in the same large conference room.  Business Week had asked me to do the assignment for them.  I seem to remember I followed Newsweek and Time and was followed by others.

The NeXT PR department was under orders to not allow photographers to duplicate the work of others.  The problem for photographers was that NeXT wouldn't previously reveal what others had done, only after they saw that you were about to do what someone else had done.  After having a couple ideas shot down by the PR executive I devised a scheme that was sure to be approved.  I would shoot Steve in front of a black cloth.  Where the cloth existed no film would be exposed (pre-digital) leaving me to rewind the film and insert something else in its place to be exposed.  I had used this technique in the past and was pretty confident I could re-roll the film and get the frames to match up.  Remember this was before PhotoShop was widely used.

Sure enough no one previously had shot Steve alone in front of a black backdrop and I was given the first go-ahead.  Steve was ushered in and wanted to know what the plan was.  I told him, he seemed highly skeptical but consented and I proceeded to shoot several rolls, the session ended, we said our good byes.

In addition to the portrait I was to shoot the top secret new computer system which was all black.  Because this set up was ready to shoot I re-rolled the film and double exposed Steve with the computer.  The combination of black background and black computer allowed a unique portrait.

When the NeXT Computer was revealed in the press there was a good deal of interest.  As a photographer I was curious to see what others had done with the NeXT limitations and was satisfied that I had done well.  After a few days I received a call from someone at NeXT who asked me to hold the line.  Then Steve Jobs came on the phone to tell me that he finally understood what I was attempting to do and that he loved the result and thanked me.  As you may suspect, this never happens.

Me and Steve Jobs, part I

The recent announcement that Steve Jobs has stepped down as the CEO of Apple seems to signal a change in his health prospects.  Unless one knows the details of his pancreatic cancer it isn't likely to know with great specificity what his life expectancy would be, but the upper limit for most pancreatic cancers seems to be about 5 years.  Jobs was diagnosed in 2004 and it appears that he has beaten those odds.

Since I've been able to photograph and assist in photographing Steve Jobs on a number of occasions this seemed like a good time to remember.

I met Steve Jobs for the first time after running across the Stanford University campus loaded down with photography gear.  After giving my shot trying to carve out a career as a fine art photographer I had decided that there was something to be said for making money doing commercial and editorial photography.  The irony was that I had just been awarded a National Endowment for the Arts artist fellowship and intended to use the money buying lighting gear for my lateral move.  Being able to understand how one went about completing assignments seemed a prudent thing to know and so I began assisting editorial photographers in order to learn what they knew.

And so there I was assisting Ed Kashi on an early morning shoot at Stanford.  We were running late because our time with Apple Computer's then CEO John Sculley had run long, and now a portrait of Sculley and Jobs together was the next thing to be done.  Sculley was very concerned that the guy who hired him, Steve Jobs, would be left waiting alone on the Stanford campus wondering when we would arrive.  Remember when no one had cell phones?  Everyone knew Job's temperamental nature and as we ran we imagined the worst.  With apologies and heavy breathing the shoot commenced with none of the histrionics we'd come to expect.  Could it be that we simply got Jobs on a good day?

(here is a photo from that shoot with Ed Kashi)

As I will reveal in subsequent posts, this was entirely consistent with several other experiences I've had with photographing Steve Jobs.

Composer Alexander Borodin, 1928

Looking more like a sketch than a photograph yet someone thought the image needed improvement with a sloppy smear of gray paint.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

J.P. Hanna, 1938

The Executioner--not a nickname, it was what he did for a living.  The newspaper clipping on the back of this photo sketches in a few details about a pending execution but the web has more.
J.P. (Phil) Hanna was an Illinois farmer who developed hanging apparatus for capital punishment cases and supervised the executions for devices of his design.  On at least one occasion he agreed to also be the actual executioner.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Mary Nash, 1921

She was a noted stage actress in New York and successful in vaudeville before moving to Hollywood in 1934, where she was in films until 1946. According to Allmovie: "Nash was often cast as seemingly mild-mannered women who turned vicious when challenged, as witness her work in College Scandal (1936) andCharlie Chan in Panama (1940).

Friday, August 19, 2011

Mrs. Evangeline Lindberg, 1927

The isolated headshot gets a decorative edge effect while Mrs. Lindberg's head resides among the stars.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Miss Louise Chase, 1919

Little retouching on this one but the crop marks are a stylish addition.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

R. Clifford Durant, 1920

This photograph got me interested in heavily retouched press photography.  See it large by clicking on the photo.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Grand Marshall Joffre of France, 1917

Another heavily retouched photo from newspaper archives.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Gen. Coolidge

Gen. Charles A. Coolidge, 1925

(click on image to see larger)

As the previous post indicated, I've recently acquired a number of photographs from newspaper archives that were heavily retouched. What I like about these images is the pre-photoshop handiwork that went into enhancing or isolating aspects of the photo, as well as some of the accumulated markings from periodic handling of the image. Rather than the photograph simply bearing witness to events recorded by a camera, in the hands of newspaper editors these have become both an artifact of the way images were handled in newspapers as well as objects of an accidental aesthetic.