What Happens When Your Photography Is More Famous Than You Are?

What Happens When Your Photography Is More Famous Than You Are?

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Some photographers’ fame rises so quickly it’s like a Thanksgiving Day Parade float. Straining its ropes, untethered from the photographs which gave rise to it: Ansel Adams, Annie Leibovitz, Jay Maisel, Henri Cartier Bresson.

Other photographers, like the ones below, live in the bottom corner of their most iconic image, a small, insignificant scrawl of a signature. They may have taken one great photo, or thousands, but will always live in their work’s shadow. San Diego sports photographer Tim Mantoani wants to bring them out of the shadows by shooting them with a massive 20 x 24 inch polaroid negative, holding their most famous photograph.

Among the 150 portraits are Harry Benson with his photo of The Beatles in a pillow fight, Steve McCurry standing with his portrait of Afghan Girl taken during the Russian war with Afghanistan, Lyle Owerko’s image of a blazing World Trade Center, and Jim Marshall’s portrait of Johnny Cash flipping off the camera.

There is something revelatory about seeing these remarkably unknown faces, these everymen standing before great works of art. The portraits show the seemingly normal, largely anonymous people that have seared images into our collective mindspace. They give one hope that every one of us could someday contribute something extraordinary, and leave behind a great work of art that outlives our short lives.

Nick Ut may never be as famous as his image of a Vietnamese girl running down the road, burning from American Napalm, but he will be better remembered thanks to Mantoani’s homage to the photographers behind the lens.


Previously published February 22, 2015.


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