Tom Zimberoff: a photographic memory
âMy career as a photojournalist took off in a helicopter carrying Panama’s military dictator. I was a stowaway. Uninvited, I was hoping for exclusive photographs of this shy media executive. I didn’t know if I would be asked to exit the plane before it landed. It turned out to be my entry into over two decades of filming for Time magazine. – Tom zimberoff
A PHOTOGRAPHIC MEMORY
The art of commemorating personal encounters in front of the camera by Tom Zimberoff
We do not charge many more cameras, but we goal them and shoot pictures. It is in this spirit that I describe my quest for portraits as a predatory sport, hunting big game: the famous and the fascinating. I try to get close enough for a good sharp shot – close, as relative, not just proximity – to avoid inflicting gratuitous injuries like a paparazzo. I don’t stalk my prey. I race my career with a lens instead of looking at the barrel of a gun. But I always hang my head on a wall to admire them like trophies.
By any taxonomy – trophy, souvenir, souvenir, souvenir, prize, totem or print – A photographic memory describes how this collection was built, one portrait at a time, with no particular part ending in mind. It was my life. I had the time of my life.
Photographers are avid collectors. This is the hunting part. Meeting someone with a story to tell and commemorating our meeting – all in one fell swoop, so to speak – is a challenge. I like to take up this challenge. It doesn’t always go well. But when it does, the portrait itself expresses my satisfaction. Of course, not all topics are famous. But it’s a privilege to be around people on the move and shakers, people I admire and people I come to admire, sometimes exchanging ideas or opinions if only for a moment of vanity. egalitarian. Ultimately, my relationship with every person I photograph is photography. This is what we both saw and felt at the time, looking at each other. My point of view, the portrait, is a proxy for the viewer. Now, I can associate each portrait with words, with stories of opportunity and collaboration, to include readers in the experience of creating and collecting portraits as well as seeing them.
When photons bounce off living things, shot through a lens by an occult force called the ‘eye of the mind’ to converge at a focal point on a light-sensitive substrate inside a dark box , two parts on either side of this machine, a camera, commit to telling a story for an indefinitely lasting moment.
It is a portrait, the still life of a human being. It is magic.
A photographic memory is an anthology of stories about my compulsion to create portraits. Each story, each chapter is about a photograph, but it is not a âphoto bookâ per se; it’s not about diaphragms and shutter speeds. And it’s more than a brief. The text does more than legitimize the photographs; the photographs do more than illustrate the text. By taking the pictures off the wall and placing them in this book, I can juxtapose an understated visual artwork in each chapter with equally compelling prose about the events surrounding her creation and the light fixture she represents.
I believe that the hallmark of any significant work is its dualism: collectively autobiographical (on the photographer) and individually biographical (on each subject). The portraits, the chapters, do not need to be sequenced chronologically; however, the result is a de facto autobiographical account of a career in photojournalism. A photographic memory documents my exploits as a photojournalist who had to earn the trust of scientists, academics, warriors, athletes, authors, CEOs, politicians, beauties, musicians, filmmakers, actors and people from all walks of life to give me their full attention and let me reveal something new about themselves.
“Portrait photography is ten percent inspiration and ninety percent of moving furniture” – Arnold Newman
Everyone has a camera. We all take pictures. We all had our photos taken, often with or for family and friends. We all have our selfie faces now too. But the experience of being portrayed is an act of total commitment. It is not a common experience. It is often executed by a stranger.
Few of us have ever been asked to sit for a long time in isolation with a picky portrait photographer, or photojournalist, surrounded by light stands, cables, strobes, umbrellas, computer monitors and lights. all the mysterious paraphernalia that this implies. Even though the experience is as simple as facing a photographer with just a camera on a tripod, it is bewildering to be looked at through a lens. It’s uncomfortable to take a direction, to be manipulated into a pose. Nonetheless, a first-rate portrait is still invented – but in the best sense of the word, as being deliberate and collaborative. At worst, it’s a snapshot.
Portrait photography, compared, for example, to a close-up of a celebrity People magazine (generally called “headshot”), brings this experience closer to the sublime. When you look closely at a portrait, especially of someone famous, their gaze is returned without flinching. It will satisfy the curiosity of the viewer without fear of embarrassment. There is no thrill, no compulsion to look away. The Portrait is an art form, not a format; not just a vertical framing, a close-up. By the way, I shot the very first cover of People in 1973: Mark Spitz. It was the in-house model who encouraged Time Inc. to give its publication the green light.
When it comes to portraits, I don’t surreptitiously capture anyone’s likeness, even though I take advantage of the spontaneity. But a portrait cannot be rationalized as being “candid” just because it is floating or not repeated. The idea of ââa candid portrait is an oxymoron. He lacks the intellectual rigor of preparation and the technical skills necessary to create a revealing portrait. The photo of a shriveled old man in a distant place or of a “pretty girl in native costume” comes to mind. While well focused, well exposed, and correctly composed, they are just keepsakes made by camera enthusiasts and tourists alike. On the other hand, whether it is made with an iPhone or a Hasselblad, a portrait is the result of the collaboration of a photographer with a guardian. It is rarely a one-sided representation as it reflects the participation of the model, both literally and figuratively. It should be obvious from just looking at it why a portrait was taken; certainly not to recreate a clichÃ©. In the hands of an artist, an iPhone is a great tool for making portraits. But the same goes for a pinhole drilled in an empty oatmeal box with a piece of film taped inside. It’s the result that counts, not the type of camera used to create it.
Portrait painters, whether they use film, pixels, pencils or paint, are storytellers. Those who use a camera are indeed concise storytellers, working in a medium with only two dimensions (unlike sculptors) and one frame (unlike filmmakers). Photographers have less leeway than writers (especially biographers) who can tap the limitless imagination of their readers. We also hope to make a portrait during an important episode in the subject’s life because it makes a good story, and the moment itself is preserved.
These are my stories. They are always sought after by mass media publishers who reach out.
At the time of this writing, for example, Vanity Fair published, Photographer Tom Zimberoff captures Ava Gardner’s last session.
Zimberoff’s portraits can be found in private collections and museums, including the National Portrait Gallery in London; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and the San Francisco Museum of Performance and Design. His black-and-white negatives and color transparencies are archived at the Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin.
Classically trained clarinetist Tom studied music at the University of Southern California before turning to photojournalism. He has traveled the world covering hundreds of historical and breaking news stories. He shot several hundred portraits, including magazine covers depicting cultural icons from John Lennon to Steve Jobs, as well as two seated US Presidents (Carter and Reagan) for the covers of Time and Fortune. He has shot advertising campaigns for Fortune 500 companies, the US Navy and numerous Hollywood productions, with on and off set access to cast and crew.
Tom created PhotoByteÂ®, the first successful business management software for photographers. He founded a venture-funded start-up during the “dot-com bubble” and then joined the StartX community of start-ups affiliated with Stanford University. He wrote the book on the business side of photography titled Photography: Focus on Profit (Allworth Press, 2002). It was used to teach in colleges
Across the country. He wrote and illustrated a two-volume set of books titled Art of the Chopper1 on custom motorcycle culture which he calls âHigh Engine,â with both biographies and photographs of his followers. His photographs along with thirty of the actual motorcycles featured in the two books were exhibited at the William J. Clinton Presidential Library & Museum in 2009. The exhibit, including the motorcycles perched on pedestals as examples of sculpture, visited at the Appleton Art Museum in Ocala. , Florida, then to Union Station in Kansas City, Missouri.
Breaking from an early start to covering rock ‘n’ roll, Tom’s photojournalist career took off in a helicopter carrying Panama’s military dictator. Tom was a stowaway. He hoped, once on board, for exclusive photographs of this shy media executive. He hadn’t thought of the possibility of an invitation to get out of the plane before it landed. It turned out to be her entry into more than two decades of filming for Time magazine. âThe danger is less obvious through a camera’s viewfinder; like watching a movie screen in the dark. It’s not real until you bring home the movie, develop it, and watch the prints. So it’s real.
Zimberoff was born in Los Angeles in 1951. With three already grown siblings, he felt like he had grown up with five parents. He was raised commuting between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, where his mother and father both spent the latter part of their careers; his mother as a small business owner and his father as a musician who performed in hotel orchestras on the Strip, accompanying Nat King Cole, Bobby Darrin, Frank Sinatra and Wayne Newton et al. He also played numerous studio recording sessions in Los Angeles. Tom lives and works in San Francisco.