Tim Mantoani's studio in a rather industrial area of Linda Vista is covered with proof of his impressive resume. Over his decades-long career, he has shot images for Sports Illustrated and Newsweek, as well as for companies such as Coors and Oakley. But in 2006, he found himself lamenting the demise of film-based photography. He was shooting almost exclusively using the digital format and wanted a film-based project that he says would "mean something" to him.
"I've always used the analogy that when you shoot with film, you embrace the mistakes, but when you shoot with digital, all you see is the mistakes," says Mantoani. "I was starting to notice the disappearance of Polaroid and Kodak, but I was also starting to see these photographers that had made their living shooting with film, they were passing away. Richard Avedon had just died; Joe Rosenthal who did the famous Iwo Jima photo. It made me think."
This realization was the inspiration for Mantoani's "Behind Photographs" series, where he commissioned a vintage, five-foot-tall, bulky Polaroid camera to take pictures of accomplished photographers posing with their most iconic picture. Steve McCurry with his iconic National Geographic portrait of a young Afghani girl. Neil Leifer with his snap of Muhammad Ali standing over a knocked-out Sonny Liston. Mantoani shot 153 portraits over a six-year span. He also had the photographers write a story about their most famous shot at the bottom of the resulting 20-by-24-inch Polaroid print.
"It was convenient because it's a peel-apart process. You would shoot the image, peel it apart and 90 seconds later you had this gigantic print," Mantoani says. "I love the fact there are misspellings in the writings, and in a way the writings provide elements of their personalities."
More than 30 of these photographs can be seen for one more week at Tim Mantoani: Behind Photographs, an exhibition on display the La Jolla location of the Museum of Contemporary Art. It marks the first time the original Polaroids have been displayed. Mantoani will be on hand on Friday, Jan. 8, at 11 a.m. for a closing lecture and walkthrough. He says he will be content if the "Behind Photographs" portraits turn out to be his most iconic photos.
"The idea is that future generations would be able to hopefully walk into a museum one day," he says, "stare this photographer in the face and go, 'Oh, that's what that guy looks like.'"