Interview Series With Tim Mantoani

Mon 01st Sep, 2014

Posted by Staff

By Keith Green

Tim Mantoani

Describe the "flashing light bulb moment" that ignited this wonderful personal project portrait series, which not only pays tribute to some of the world's most recognizable images but places a name and face to these photographs. I had heard about the 20x24 Polaroid Camera and always wanted to try shooting with it. In Dec of 2006, I rented the camera for a day and asked two photographers that I knew in San Francisco to come in for portraits. I requested that they each bring one of their iconic photos to hold. Michael Zagaris held his photo of Joe Montana and Bill Walsh from the 49ers and Jim Marshall brought in Johnny Cash flipping off the camera. There was something interesting – the balance of both the photographer and their photograph in these instant images. I had each of them write a bit about their image on the bottom of the Polaroid. It all started there and I knew I was onto something special based on the feedback from the photographers and people I shared the images with.

Personal projects for photographers have long been career- launching vehicles and can be synonymous with a writer's moving short story or, perhaps, a novel. Do you see this correlation? I think personal work is a must. I have done several personal projects/trips over the years and they all have led to something that was a positive in my career and life.

Many art buyers from, both, the editorial and advertising worlds have gone on record by associating a photographer's personal work with their creative identity when reviewing books. How has this affected or influenced your overall photographic style? The format of this project is what is different, the simplicity of the lighting and image is not much different than most of my portrait work.

We now live in a highly technically advanced, media-savvy digital culture and yet, you've applied simplicity in your personal project's concept with the 20X24 Polaroid Camera. Do you see this element as being partial for its success? I think that using 20x24 Polaroid helped to get the photo industry interested in this project since Polaroid stopped making film while I was in the middle of shooting. Each Polaroid, like a wet plate image, is unique because of the medium. I love that the artifacts of each image are different and not perfect. Photography has become so "retouched" it is nice to work with a more organic process.

I do think no matter what you shoot, you need to do personal work and shoot what you love.

One of the main hurdles for many contemplating or undertaking a meaningful personal project is funding. How have you approached this factor? Were grants funding or sponsorship involved in any way? I have self-funded this project and have had to take on a lot of risks to make it happen. My wife is a saint and when I asked her about refinancing our house so I could keep shooting, she said, "sure". I hear photographers all the time say, "When I get (insert new camera, more money, a new portfolio, time, I want to go shoot (insert dream project here)." Bottom line is that most of them never will go shoot what they want. I was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer when I was 30. It showed me that you need to live your life now. So go do it. Make that first call, send that first email, take that first picture for your personal project now. Stop reading and go do it or it will never happen. You have to make it happen. Take the risk, you will not regret it.

Could you discuss the impending book publishing process which is part of this portrait series? I have been speaking with a couple of publishers, but the book industry is not too solid in this economy. I may take the road of self-publishing if needed. My goal is to have a beautiful, large format book.

Do you view the practice of personal projects, for aspiring photographers, as a more viable way of entry into other publishing opportunities in this multi-dimensional world of media publishing, as opposed to the traditional route of support via editorial magazine assignments? It is hard for me to say what others should do. For me, I have had to do it all to make ends meet and build my business. I do think no matter what you shoot, you need to do personal work and shoot what you love. It will show in your images and lead to the work you want to do. People will hire you as "photographer", and not because they are buying "photography". There is a big difference; you want people to hire you, not your camera.

What are the rewards or benefits you hope to see as a result of your portrait series venture? It has already been worth the risk and debt. I have had the chance to collaborate with so many amazing artists and develop some lasting friendships with my subjects. The biggest reward is that I have archived some of the world's most important photographers and several of them have already passed away. These images will be a way for future generations to not only appreciate their photos but the photographer as well.

Selected works

© Tim Mantoani photograph of Jim Marshall

© Tim Mantoani photograph of Mary Ellen Mark

© Tim Mantoani photograph of Steve McCurry




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