Tim Mantoani's Portraits of Portraits

[© Tim Mantoani](http://www.mantoani.com/)
Rodney Smith hides behind his image.© Tim Mantoani

Most successful photographers are better known for the images they create than for what they look like. Even their names tend not to show up very big. “The credit a photographer gets is usually six-point font in the gutter of a magazine,” says commercial photographer Tim Mantoani.

Five years ago Mantoani began a project designed to pay tribute to the faces behind great pictures. Using the massive Polaroid 20x24-inch format, he portrays each photographer holding his or her favorite image, underscored by a hand-written inscription, creating a layered, three-part narrative in each portrait.

The project began as a keepsake of Mantoani’s friendship with music shooter Jim Marshall, who posed holding his image of Johnny Cash flipping off the camera during a sound check at San Quentin. That memento sparked the idea for a full-blown project that snowballed as Mantoani sought out other creators of images that inspired him to take up photography. “I wanted to show that these photographers are real people,” he says. “Most of them were just doing their job. They didn’t realize that their work would have the significance it has today.”

[© Tim Mantoani](http://www.mantoani.com/)
William Wegman poses with a cut-out of his Weimaraner Bobbin.© Tim Mantoani

Mantoani usually allowed his subjects to choose which photographs to feature, collaborating with them to reveal personalities who aren't typically in front of the camera. Lois Greenfield, known for her study of motion, came to the studio with a stack of square photos and threw them in the air; William Wegman brought a life-size cut-out of his dog Bobbin. Street photographer Fred Gurner chose an image of the reclusive Diane Arbus that features her Mamiya C33; Daniel Kramer posed with his cover shot for Bob Dylan's Bringing It All Back Home. Once Mantoani started accepting referrals for subjects, he ended up with a Who's Who list that included Neil Leifer, Mary Ellen Mark, Elliot Erwitt, Douglas Kirkland, Bob Gruen and Steve McCurry.

“Most of them were just doing their job. They didn’t realize that their work would have the significance it has today.”

[© Tim Mantoani](http://www.mantoani.com/)
Lois Greenfield creates a motion study with her own photos.© Tim Mantoani

There was no shortage of logistical challenges, many of which stemmed from Mantoani’s use of Polaroid 20x24, one of the more esoteric film formats. Of the six massive cameras that shoot it, only three are in the United States, and the film they take was discontinued in 2008.

Still, New York–based 20x24 Studio arranged to obtain adequate film inventory and production equipment to facilitate Mantoani's project, allowing him to make enough pictures for a book—Behind Photographs: Archiving Photographic Legends (Channel Photographics, $60)—which features portraits of 158 photographers. Still, at a cost of nearly $200 per exposure plus camera rental, the book could only have been done as a labor of love. Partially self-published, it includes a varnish coat on the pictures to make them look and feel like Polaroid prints.

Because of the intellectual property featured in these images, Mantoani does not intend to sell the prints, although he hopes that one day they will end up in a museum collection as an archive of some of the great photographers of our time. “I hope future generations will be able to not just appreciate famous images,” Mantoani says, “but the photographers as well.”

[© Tim Mantoani](http://www.mantoani.com/)
With his photo of Muhammed Ali, which famously appeared on the cover of Esquire© Tim Mantoani
[© Tim Mantoani](http://www.mantoani.com/)
Holding: "Legs"© Tim Mantoani
[© Tim Mantoani](http://www.mantoani.com/)
With her photo of an elephant trainer in India© Tim Mantoani
[© Tim Mantoani](http://www.mantoani.com/)
With two of her portraits© Tim Mantoani
[© Tim Mantoani](http://www.mantoani.com/)
With his photo of Dexter Gordon© Tim Mantoani
[© Tim Mantoani](http://www.mantoani.com/)
Holding his photo "Egg Head"© Tim Mantoani
[© Tim Mantoani](http://www.mantoani.com/)
With his famous Vietnam photo of a young girl after a napalm strike at Trang Bang Village© Tim Mantoani
[© Tim Mantoani](http://www.mantoani.com/)
With her photo of John Lennon and his son, Julian© Tim Mantoani
[© Tim Mantoani](http://www.mantoani.com/)
Holding one of his Minox photos (and camera)© Tim Mantoani
[© Tim Mantoani](http://www.mantoani.com/)
With his photo "Dog Legs"© Tim Mantoani
[© Tim Mantoani](http://www.mantoani.com/)
With his photo of Marilyn Monroe© Tim Mantoani
[© Tim Mantoani](http://www.mantoani.com/)
With his photo of Robert Kennedy© Tim Mantoani
[© Tim Mantoani](http://www.mantoani.com/)
With his photo of Elvis© Tim Mantoani
[© Tim Mantoani](http://www.mantoani.com/)
With his portrait of Bob Dylan© Tim Mantoani
[© Tim Mantoani](http://www.mantoani.com/)
With his photo of System of a Down© Tim Mantoani
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