You may not have known it, but I'm certain you've seen a Norman Seef photograph. What photo do you think of when you think of Ray Charles? He shot that. Carly Simon? Yup. Steve Jobs? Seef again. After reading our own Douglas Sonders' article on how short the window of time is when working with celebrities, seeing how much Seef could get out of his subjects is awe-inspiring. In his recent interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Seef states that he would rather shoot his famous subject in front of a plain backdrop and get their personality to come out by talking to them.From Rolling Stone:
Through Smith and Mapplethorpe, Seeff met this eccentric pop artist, whom he photographed at Warhol's place in 1970. "Andy was a body whose mouth never moved," Seeff says. "He did whatever I said, but no emotional interaction there." Never trained in photography, Seeff said he was beginning to learn how to interact with subjects when he shot this. "Thank goodness I learned early on it's not about cameras; it's about the relationship and your own observing devices."From Rolling Stone:
Just before Saturday Night Fever made him a mega-star, Travolta's management decided he needed to be shot by a rock & roll photographer, Seeff explains. "I was in the early phase of trying to figure out how to get people to relax in front of a camera," he says. "And I was doing pretty trial-and-error, radical stuff, like throwing a pie in Frank Zappa's face to loosen him up."
For this shoot, he doused a willing Travolta with a bucket of water. At one point, he says, Travolta discussed his upcoming dancing role. "He said, 'What do you think of this pose?'" Seeff remembers. "And he put his arm up and, thank God, I said, 'Oh, I think that's great.'"
Sent by Rolling Stone to shoot a tech company with an atypical approach in 1984, Seeff began shooting group shots of "this commune of kids" at Apple, Inc. Eventually, he managed to get one-on-one time with the company's 28-year-old millionaire co-founder. "We were sitting on the floor, drinking beer and chatting," he says, "and at one point, he ran out and came back with this computer – which I'd never seen at that point – then plopped down into this lotus pose and put it into his lap."
The photo had a rebirth – used on the cover of Time and the back cover of Walter Isaacson's best-selling biography – after Jobs died in 2010. "We weren't thinking, 'Okay, let's make you into the guru, spiritual leader with your thing,'" Seeff adds. "It was just one of those moments."From Rolling Stone:
While Simon's 1975 album Playing Possum didn't generate much enthusiasm, this shot garnered a reputation as one of the sexiest album covers of the era. "The weird thing is, she was terrified before performances," Seeff says. "But in front of the camera, she had no inhibitions whatsoever. At one point she goes, 'I've got this little teddy under what I'm wearing.' And I said, 'Well, that sounds great.'" Simon danced, then began doing yoga poses. "And that was at the end, when she's coming up, and her head had gone out of the frame."