It's been more than three weeks since Steve Jobs passed away. He will be missed by many people, but especially by the creative community which he inspired and enabled. Perhaps for no other group of people does the line Made On A Mac mean more.
The blogosphere and the media have moved on to other stories, but only a week ago, it seemed as if the only story was that of Steve Jobs' death. One image seems to define not only that story, but also the man himself. It is the soulful black and white portrait of Jobs that was photographed by Albert Watson for Fortune in 2006. I was privileged to be the photography director of the magazine at that time.
Once in a while, a magazine photograph takes on a life of its own beyond the page. Watson's portrait has become one of those. Since his death, the image has quickly become the iconic portrait of Steve Jobs.
The story behind the shooting of this now poignant image is straightforward. Inspired by the ground-breaking 1976 Rolling Stone photo essay shot by Richard Avedon entitled "The Family," I thought it would be interesting to see if Fortune could run a long photo essay featuring portraits of the world's most powerful people. Eric Pooley, Fortune's then-managing editor, green-lit the project. His mandate however, was that the subjects we included in the portfolio be the people who affected the world of business most in 2006. Knowing how strong-willed these business leaders were, I gave the assignment to the photographer Albert Watson. The project needed a photographer who possessed not only a sharp eye, but an equally strong will. Pooley, along with other editors at Fortune, cobbled together a long list of C-Suite subjects, Steve Jobs being among them. After weeks of asking, Jobs finally agreed to participate. Talk about a get! Alix Colow, Fortune's tenacious and talented longtime senior associate photo editor, produced the entire portfolio.
The picture that Albert shot for Fortune has had a remarkable life. Out of hundreds of portraits taken of Steve Jobs over the years, many of which were excellent, there was something about this portrait that struck a chord with people around the world.
In an interview with PDN Pulse, Watson describes his experience shooting Jobs for Fortune.
"[Jobs] said, 'What do you want me to do?' I said I would like 95 percent, almost 100 percent of eye contact with the camera, and I said, 'Think about the next project you have on the table,' and I asked him also to think about instances where people have challenged him...If you look at that shot, you can see the intensity. It was my intention that by looking at him, that you knew this guy was smart," Watson says, adding, "I heard later that it was his favorite photograph of all time."
(ABOVE: the spread from Fortune's 2006 'Portraits of Power' package featuring Watson's portrait)
In 2006, Fortune ran the portrait in the photo essay entitled Portraits Of Power. Jobs was so pleased with the picture, Apple bought it from Watson. In 2009, the magazine used the image again on the cover under the headline: CEO Of the Decade. That striking cover, designed by Fortune's former creative director, John Korpics, has become a classic.
Immediately after Job's death, Apple wiped its home page for the picture and ran it alongside Jobs' name and birth and death dates. The picture was printed by people around the world and placed alongside burning candles and bitten apples as part of impromptu shrines in front of Apple stores. Apple also repurposed the home page layout and used it as a taxi-top memorial in New York.
(ABOVE, LEFT to RIGHT: Watson's portrait featured on Apple's homepage; print-outs left at Apple Store memorials; the taxi-top tribute, photo by GJONETO)
And finally, the image was used elegantly as the cover art (below) for Walter Isaacson's authorized Jobs biography simply titled Steve Jobs.
The world will be a less interesting place without Steve Jobs in it. But as time passes, we will still have our ipods, ipads, iwhatevers, and this amazing portrait of the visionary genius who changed the way we live and work.
The original 2006 Fortune photo-essay in which the Jobs photo appeared here.
The full Albert Watson interview with PDN here.
Softpedia's post with the color version of the image here.
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