Their turn to get clicked: Lensmen who shot iconic images revealed

  • Vignesh Radhakrishnan, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Feb 19, 2015 13:55 IST

“If a photographer cares about the people before the lens and is compassionate, it is the photographer, not the camera, that is the instrument.” - Eve Arnold, award-winning photojournalist and member of Magnum Photos.

First up, ladies and gentlemen, take a look at some of these iconic pictures.

Tiananmen Square “Tank Man”

Vietnam Napalm girl

Afghan girl

Chances are you would have seen these multiple times, screaming out for your attention from a magazine cover or on the front page of a newspaper. Irrespective of where you've seen them, all these pictures have one thing in common: They are all powerful enough to make an impact on you. Some of these have captured wars, while others stopped them. Many of these have chronicled history, while many others altered it.

Still, have you ever thought about the men and women behind the cameras that ensured these images stayed in our mind for a lifetime? Unlike writers, photographers rarely get due credit for their works. Unlike plain text, the persons/objects in a photograph, capture our imagination to an extent that, we fail to go beyond the lens and learn about the men behind the frames.

Not for US-based photographer Tim Mantoani. In fact, this question has been his life's biggest obsessions, right from the days when he used to produce editorial images for Sports Illustrated, Newseek, ESPN, and while doing advertising pictures for Coors, Coca-Cola, EA Sports, Oakley and many more international brands.

It all began during the Christmas holidays of 2006, when Mantoani rented a 20x24 Polaroid Camera, a product of the '70s, to shoot something "that was important to myself". He asked two famous photographers to bring in their iconic shots and made portraits of them holding it. Mantoani realised he was on to something special with the project as it allowed the "viewer to appreciate both the photograph and photographer in a single image."

Since then, he's been on a journey not many dare to undertake: To find the the men behind some of the world's most famous and talked about pictures. After spending five years on the project, taking portraits of around 150 photographers, Mantoani's labour of love has given shape to his recently published book, "Behind Photographs, Archiving Photographic Legends."

In a freewheeling email interview with HT, Mantoani sheds more light on his passion, the challenges he braved, and his future plans.

How long did it take you to complete this project, and how many countries did you visit for it?
It was shot in the US over 5 years.

Jeff Widener: Tank Man, Tiananmen Square, Beijing 1989. (Photo: Tim Mantoani)

Who introduced you to these famous photographs in particular?
It all started with a couple of photographers I knew, and before I realised the project took a life of its own. In the end, there were over 150 photographers involved.

Nick Ut: Kim Phuc, napalm drop, Trang Bang Village, June 8, 1972. (Photo: Tim Mantoani)

Tell us more about how it started?
2006 marked my first year as a photographer when I did not shoot any paying assignments on film. I had become a digital photographer and was forced to work with 35mm digital cameras. Prior to that, I shot primarily medium and large format film. The process for both the photographer and subject when shooting large format is completely different and I knew the photography industry was on the brink of a major change as companies like Kodak and Polaroid would struggle to survive.

During the Christmas holiday, I decided to rent one of the 20x24 Polaroid Cameras that were made in the 1970’s, knowing that the opportunity to shoot on this format would most likely be limited. The first of these mammoth cameras was made under the direction of Polaroid founder, Edwin Land, in order to make images of their share holders during an annual share holder meeting. The cameras are very unique and render an image of 20x24 images once the film is “peeled apart”. Since renting the camera was expensive, I wanted to shoot something that was important to myself. I called a couple of photographers I new -- legendary music shooter Jim Marshall and sports shooter Michael Zagaris. I asked each of them to bring in a few of their most iconic or favourite shots and I made my first portrait on this format. The process was special for both me and my subjects, and I knew I was on to something, as the viewer could appreciate both the photograph and photographer in a single image. I also had each of them write about their photograph at the bottom of the print. From there, I began to approach other photographers, shooting from California to Boston, and over a period of five years recorded over 150 photographers on this format.

Steve McCurry: Afghan Girl, Peshawar, Pakistan, 1984. (Photo: Tim Mantoani)

Was it difficult to trace these photographers? How did you go about doing your job?
I shot in San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, San Diego and Boston since I had to get the photographer to the camera or the camera to the photographer. I used 3 different 20x24 Polaroid Cameras and one 20x24 Wisner Camera with a Polaroid back.

Bob Gruen: John Lennon, NYC, August 29, 1974. (Photo: Tim Mantoani)

Out of all these photographers, whom did you like the most and why? Is there an interesting anecdote you'd want to share with us?
There are far too many amazing photographers and stories to have a favourite. I was photographing Steve McCurry and he suggested we allow a little more room at the top of the frame above his head. He then stopped and said, “I’m sorry, this is your photograph, not mine.” My reply was, 'Steve, you have taken possibly the most iconic portrait of all time. If I can’t take advise from you, something is wrong with me.'. There are so many amazing photographs and photographers. They are all special in their own way. However, when you look at Nick Ut’s photo from Vietnam, you are looking at an image that changed history.

Ozzie Sweet: Albert Einstein. (Photo: Tim Mantoani)

Roberto Salas: Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, Havana, Cuba, January 1959. (Photo: Tim Mantoani)

What's so special about this 20×24 Polaroid camera? Why did you choose this ?
This camera is hard to describe until you see it in person. It is magical. I knew digital was coming fast in 2006, and the 20x24 Polaroid format is legendary having been used by the likes of Chuck Close, Andy Warhol and Julian Schnable. I just wanted a chance to shoot with this camera while time permitted. The good thing is, there is still some film left and people can shoot with it today.

Harry Benson: The Beatles, George V Hotel, Paris 1964. (Photo: Tim Mantoani)

How is the reception of the book? Is it meeting your expectations?
The book and project have far exceeded my expectations.

What is your next project?

I have been photographing old hammers for the past few years. I don’t know what will come of it, but something always does!

Ormond Gigli, Girls in the Windows, New York City, 1960. (Photo: Tim Mantoani)

Alfred Wertheimer: Elvis Presley and his date, backstage at the Mosque Theatre, Richmond, Virginia, June 30th 1956. (Photo: Tim Mantoani)

|Here is a short film on how Mantoani did the project.

And finally here is

Tim Mantoani

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