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 #1192US Leasing NCR Folder (Cover and inside Cover)


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