Photographers Art Directing Themselves

Photo­grap­hers Who Art-​Directed Their Own Photo­graphs.

My schooling and first jobs as an illus­trator /​graphic designer had been varied, but I had no expe­rience in directing a photographer—on loca­tion or in a photo studio. After viewing an art director’s layout or being informed of a client’s wishes—most, or maybe all, profes­si­onal commer­cial photo­grap­hers have the talent to capture a required image. The art director atten­ding is probably only there to witness the photo­grapher in action, suggest minor changes or is just happy to get out of the agency for the day.

Below, I show a variety of subjects for a commer­cial need where the photo­grap­hers needed no “art direction”.

In the late 1960s, I was still at my loca­tion at the south-​east edge of North Beach, S.F.—the home and work loca­tions of many Italian/​Catholics. I was offered desig­ning assig­n­ments from one of my steady clients, Ales­sandro Baccari, who had his office (always a wonderful walk to and from) the Maybeck Buil­ding at 1736 Stockton Street, near the Saints Peter and Paul Church on Washington Square. In 1967, he referred a repre­sen­ta­tive of the Catholic publi­ca­tion, Catholic Home Messenger, to my studio. I was supp­lied all of the photos that were to reflect the copy that was written for an eight page insert for their publi­ca­tion. The subject was “Lone­li­ness”. The only addi­ti­onal photo that I needed was one that had to have a vague back­ground image that would cover the first and last page of the insert. It needed to be ambi­guous by showing an uniden­ti­fi­able person. A weekend visit to Golden Gate Park was the first time that I art-​directed a shoot.

1967—(my job #223) Catholic Home Messenger 1 Pg : “Lone­li­ness”


Photo­grapher, Tom Vano, had his own personal pet-​project for the College of Holy Names in Oakland. Tom’s photos of the campus and the classes were deli­vered to me at the time that I received the assig­n­ment to design a brochure. Its purpose was to include an invi­ta­tion to finan­ci­ally support the new planned deve­lop­ments for the college. I was to draw the map with each proposed buil­ding and open area, shown with dashed lines. The brochure was written by Morrison Stewart and offered in three languages : English, Chinese and Spanish which were type-​set by Reardon and Krebs.

My paste-​up boards went to the agency, Ales­sandro Baccari and Associates—then sent to Hogan-​Kaus Litho­graphy for prin­ting. A week later, a set of printed copies was sent to me.

I never even met Tom Vano, but I received word, much later, that he was very pleased with my arran­ge­ment of his photos. He knew his subject very well. Had I been to the photo shoot, I would have learned from him, but I would have been of no help. Before this assig­n­ment, I hadn’t even known of the college.

1968—(my job #321) College of Holy Names 1 cover + 5 pages (#3,4,5,6,7)

Later, in 1974, when working on a brochure for U.S, Leasing, I needed the simple subject of marbles. The cover needed a photo of a child’s hand as in a game of “Marbles”.

A call to photo­grapher, Earl Wood, was all that was needed. Earl had an exten­sive port­folio of his photo­graphs showing his past efforts in shooting intri­cate subjects. This job was simple. He left the studio and returned with a lot of shots of various marbles. He had called our mutual friend, Dave Nelson (a top lette­ring man at the Logan, Carey & Rehag art studio)—and arranged for Dave’s son, Chris, to be the model. Earl directed his own “table-​top” (or ground-​level?) shot. The photos were exactly what the client wanted.

1974—(my job #1192) US Leasing NCR Folder (Cover and inside Cover)

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Larry Keenan. Jr. was known for his “repor­ting syle” of photo­graphy. (See his link at the column at the right.)

As I was sket­ching thumb-​nail ideas for the up-​coming San Fran­cisco Ballet’s holiday poster for the “Nutcracker”, Larry visited the studio and offered to try some expe­ri­men­ta­tion using an exis­ting photo from the ballet’s collection. On his return, days later, Larry said that he tried a series of filters and achieved this ”Holiday Orna­ment” look, trans­formed from the original image. He had worked without any direction. The client accepted this effect, exactly as he presented it. The image was used for full-​sized posters, small posters, direct mail (which offered ticket prices and perfor­mance times). All items were printed at Pisani Press.

1974-​1975 (my job#1271) “Nutcracker” 1 Poster

December 22, 1975. I had never met George H. Knight before he appeared with a full enve­lope of the photo­graphs that he had taken, from all across the country. He had been contracted directly by Conso­li­dated Freig­ht­ways. The photo­graphs had been taken along one of the many routes of the CF trucks. Who could go wrong, desig­ning around photo­graphs like these ? I tried to imagine all of the plan­ning that this man had to do before captu­ring each subject.

We, in the studio, affecti­o­na­tely referred to George as “the cat in the hat”. George was a nice and hard working photo­grapher who seemed to always be wearing his plaid, pork-​pie hat : rain or shine, outdoors or indoors. I knew, or knew of, many commer­cial photo­grap­hers in San Fran­cisco. Here was George Knight, a low-​key and unas­su­ming talent. I learned later of his respected repu­ta­tion that included historic repor­ting of the chan­ging views of San Fran­cisco.

I had the assig­n­ment of desig­ning the 1975 Conso­li­dated Freig­ht­ways’ 200th Anni­ver­sary annual report. I had no influ­ence on photo subject matter other than the selection or crop­ping of George’s photos.
As the photos were laid out, in the sequence that a CF ship­ment would make on its journey east to west—it was the perfect oppor­tu­nity to show the old and the new views of each loca­tion depicted. Adding old images and photo­graphs avai­lable from archives—the report became an enter­tai­ning story, along with the charts and finan­cial copy impor­tant to Conso­li­dated Freig­ht­ways stock­hol­ders. As an ”extra”, I had the idea of crea­ting a map of our country’s original trails. I was glad that the client “went for it”!

This story is also about the way the repre­sen­ta­tive of Conso­li­dated Freig­ht­ways was kept from knowing that a female was desig­ning their annual report. I supposed, that he believed “trucking” was a man’s world. I had to hide all images of the project from my work area, whenever he visited the studio. I was kept out of the confe­rence room when my layout of the full thirty-​six pages, was presented by the two men in our studio.

By March of 1976, this CF client may have found out that I had designed the whole job—this was when a framed award arrived in the mail for me, showing my name as graphic designer “for the 1975 Annual Report of Conso­li­dated Freig­ht­ways, Inc.” (An addi­ti­onal report of this award—might have reached him.)

Without George Knight’s exper­tise in choice of loca­tion, timing and general hard work that was needed to provide me with these highly profes­si­onal photos—I would not have had the inspi­ra­tion to put all of these pages together making a unique annual report cele­bra­ting the CF’s 200th year.

12-22-1975—(my job #1450) Conso­li­dated Freig­ht­ways 1975 Annual Report (Cover + Spreads 1—9)

Ann Thompson

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