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Remembering Tim Mantoani Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

12 October 2016

As a teen, Tim Mantoani picked up a 35mm SLR at Serra High School in San Mateo to take a photo of his high school counselor. It wasn't only the shutter that clicked. He had just found a way to both see the world and share the world he saw through that lens.

"Everyone sees the world differently. Through their own lens," he once said. "I'm lucky that mine happens to be attached to a camera."

After high school, he studied photography at Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara. He then found a job managing Dean Collins' studio before opening his own studio in 1995. His editorial clients included Sports Illustrated, Newsweek and ESPN, while his advertising clients added Coors, Coca-Cola, EA Sports, Oakley in addition to other well-known brands.

But the project he'll be remembered for is the project he created to remember other photographers. Behind Photographs is a series of giant Polaroid portraits of photographers holding one of their own favorite images.

'I wanted to show that these photographers are real people,' he said.

The project began innocently enough.

For a memento, Mantoani had posed his friend, photographer Jim Marshall, holding up his image of Johnny Cash flipping off the camera at San Quentin. The portrait inspired Mantoani to make more, posing photographers who had inspired him with their favorite image. The photographers themselves usually picked the image.

"I wanted to show that these photographers are real people," he said.

The project developed into a popular Web site and both a printed book and ebook.

To make the portraits, Mantoani rented time on the giant 20x24 Polaroid cameras at 20x24 Studio in New York City, which could also provide the discontinued Polaroid film from their stockpile. Each exposure cost him $200.

Reflecting on the experience, Mantoani said the photographers usually didn't realize the significance of their work when they were doing it. "Most of them were just doing their job," he said. "They didn't realize that their work would have the significance it has today."

It's hard to imagine, though, that Mantoani wasn't aware of the importance of his own project.

He never sold prints of the portraits, hoping the collection would be housed together at a museum.

A victim of cancer at 47, Mantoani left us too soon to make those arrangements himself.

But the concept of a gigantic instant portrait of a person who has labored a lifetime to produce at least one image to show to the world is not just of historical interest.

It would ignite the mind of any bored teen in their school counselor's office who might idly pick up a camera, look through the viewfinder and wonder for a moment what they could see.

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