(My exclusive interview with Norman Seeff continues here in Part 2) - view Part 1
By the time Norman Seeff completed his 1984 photo session with Steve Jobs at the now demolished Woodside mansion, he managed to capture not just one iconic image of Apple's Co-Founder, but several.
Another compelling image that emerged from that same session was a close-up of Jobs that appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine in October 2011. The photograph captured Jobs with his hand underneath his chin. I could not help comparing the image to another well-known photo taken of Jobs by Albert Watson in 2006, a memorable shot which appears on the cover of Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs.
During interviews following the release of his book, Isaacson often told the story of Job’s insistence on changes to the cover design, even though he had previously promised to allow Isaacson free reign.
Isaacson speaks of Steve's influence over the cover design in the introduction to his book; "He didn’t seek any control over what I wrote, or even ask to read it in advance. His only involvement came when my publisher was choosing the cover art. When he saw an early version of a proposed cover treatment, he disliked it so much that he asked to have input in designing a new version. I was both amused and willing, so I readily assented." Isaacson wrote.
Norman's business partner Charles Hannah recalls how he managed to get the image that appears on the back cover to Simon & Schuster at exactly the right time. "Unbeknown to me, it was just perfect timing and I was thrilled to be told that Steve personally chose Norman’s image for the back cover."
Seeff recalled another incident involving the same image: "When Steve’s doctor went up to see him one day, it was about the time that I had prepared a print and he said to me ‘I'm going to be seeing Steve for lunch’, and I said, ‘I have a present for him’ and he took that print and gave it to him.”
"I don't work on the body. The body is the form — I interact at the level of function, on the emotional inner experience that precedes body language," said Norman. "... that mysterious essence that reflects as authenticity in the moment."
"I strive to connect into the emotional relationship — that's one of the secrets of the creative process. Communication is emotion based, and if you can be in touch with your own emotions when you communicate with someone, then you're communicating from a place of authenticity."
"It's all about creating the experience, because the experience evolves to the moment where people 'wake up to their emotions' and are there, and are present. Often, we are working step by step through these stages until we 'wake up' and there is a feeling of safety and of intimacy. The vitality of the images comes out of this process and not out of trying to achieve a preconceived image. The challenge for me is to achieve the authentic moment where the person is absolutely present — there is no self-consciousness. They are no longer conscious of 'posing for a photograph'."
"When that happens you enter ‘the zone’ and experiences flow effortlessly. What happened was that Steve and I connected at that level at a certain point and the images emerged out of that."
I was interested to learn that sometime after that photo shoot Jobs invited Norman to lunch in Cupertino. Seeff recalled a conversation with Jobs that centered around the creative process and his desire to take a deeper dive into understanding how to mine the subconscious.
"Steve was obviously intrigued by the process, so at some time later, I don't remember the detail, I got a call from him to say "what are you doing? I want to have lunch with you. Can you meet me in Cupertino at this restaurant?" Norman said.
"I don't recall exactly if I was in LA and jumped on a plane, or I was up there, but I ended up there on a lovely sunny day, and he and I are sitting on a patio and we're having a conversation about creativity."
"Now this to me is critically important to get an insight into the inner dynamic of Steve Jobs. When I said earlier that creativity is a multi dimensional process and that most of the process happens not in the conscious mind, but in the subconscious and in the higher conscious, Steve knew that — but didn't have a language for it."
" ‘You know’, he said, ‘I don't know how to explain this, but it seems to me that there's a place you can go to where causes and effects exist and you can take them and you can combine them and create.’ "
"Steve had an innate understanding and his innovative brilliance emerged because he naturally knew how to access that particular frequency. Someone will bring him something that he isn't the creator of — but he can take it and vision into the future and imagine what impact this thing could have. So his ability to access that particular arena of creativity seemed to be an innate natural ability." Norman explained.
"In the realm of creativity, Steve had the ability to see things in this expansive way and be able to in some way grok the future potential of things. He was not a creator at the nuts and bolts practical level, but he could envision how some new idea could be applied — he was a visionary."
After giving it some prolonged thought, I still can't accurately articulate why it became so important for me to tell this story. I can only say that I felt compelled to convey the passion that Norman puts behind his images, a committed passion that resonates clearly from his profound images of Steve Jobs.
Norman's ability to capture the essence or soul of his subjects is what makes his work so powerfully engaging. His photographs are living portraits that seem to dispense the very character of those he captures within a single moment in time.
It's impossible to examine the raw beauty of Norman's work without making a deeper connection that transcends beyond what a still image ought to convey. His photographs of Steve Jobs, as it is with countless others in his collection, embody an eternal quality that I cannot adequately describe with words.
"There's an interesting energy that's related to beauty. Just so that you understand, we're not talking about Vogue or Harper's Bizarre vision of beauty," said Norman.
"When you experience something that's beautiful, you experience an emotional feeling of eternity — of immortality. I remember when I drove up to Yosemite, I came through a tunnel and there was this incredible mountain face of El Capitan with its 1000ft. waterfall backlit at dusk. I pulled the car over and burst into tears. The experience in that moment still lives in me."
"When something has beauty built into it, why does it live on? Because it engenders a profound emotional experience deep inside of people, that inspires and lives on forever. Steve understood that. To him it was an essential ingredient to what he was doing, so when people buy an iPhone, they feel like they own a piece of eternity in a certain sense. There's something eternal about it, it's not just technology in a box."
Looking back now, weeks after my interview session with him, I see Norman as a formidable master of his craft and much like Steve Jobs, his innovative brilliance does not fail to inspire.
If I was to make even a minor attempt to 'grok the future potential of things', I could imagine Norman's body of work inspiring several generations of photographers and young artists in years to come — as they seek to unlock the secrets to making a more intimate connection with their own creations. Norman offered me a brief glimpse into that experience and unfolded a vibrant story that is his alone to tell. For that I will be forever grateful.
"There are artists who make photographs that are conceptual and editorial. My focus is on the emotional experience in the moment. It's not better or worse it's just a different area." said Norman.
"Part of the creation is about participation — in a way, I’m participating in what I’m creating. There are no subjects and objects there is only the shared subjective experience."
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