This past week we attended the release of Rizzoli’s “The Art of Discovery”—a collection of intimate portraiture featuring many of Hollywood’s most recognizable faces. Each image and the accompanying text was captured by photographer Jeff Vespa, founder of Verge, co-founder of WireImage and video collaborator with artist Alex Prager. We were guests of Renaissance Hotels—production sponsors of the book and the launch event, who have taken us on previous immersion into the hotel’s cultural offerings and partnership. Together with Renaissance Hotels and arts advocacy organization The Creative Coalition, Vespa constructed a beautiful and inspirational book that masterfully showcases celebrities as we’ve never seen them before.
We spoke with Vespa to gain insight on the collaborative work, and how he got 100 of Hollywood’s best to open up. “The initial idea was there from the beginning,” he shares with CH. “Robin Bronk from The Creative Coalition approached me with the project, Renaissance Hotels wanted to do a celebrity photo book that was about discovery as the theme. Their brand’s motto is ‘Live life to discover.’ Together we came up with the idea to ask actors about significant moments of discovery in their lives. Those ‘aha’ moments that changed them or gave them a new perspective on their life or career.” Vespa did the majority of the interview directly after he shot the images. He notes, “Some of the conversations became pretty philosophical. It is not a question they ever get asked so we knew we would get stories no one had ever heard before.”
My favorite compliment about shooting someone is when they look at the photo and say, “That’s me.”
As for his personal process, he says, “The shoots were very simple, just a white, grey or black backdrop, possibly a chair or stool and one or two lights. It is a portrait book in the classic sense, the photos are all about the person, not about the environment we put them in.” Vespa wanted to capture each individual as who they are, and nothing more. It lends the book a personal touch. “My favorite compliment about shooting someone is when they look at the photo and say ‘That’s me.’ That is always my goal.” And it was a goal he accomplished in all 100 photographs.
Vespa also employed communication technology in order to involve the book’s designer along the way. “A big part of the process was Nancy Rouemy, the designer of the book. She helped art direct most of the shoots but she lives in NY and the shoots were in LA. So we used join.me and I shared my screen with her.” As he shot, she immediately saw the images and was able to offer instant feedback. Even before that, Rouemy would preselect reference images before each shoot—and she would work with Vespa on plotting out the book’s pacing. As the conclusive piece in the partnership, the two would pare down all the options and spend hours editing to land the right match.
With discovery at its core, the book delves in the world of its subject—something only Vespa could do. “Most of the actors featured in the book are my friends, so that made it easier in all aspects. We set up a studio at my house; already there was an intimacy and privacy that everyone felt comfortable with, asking the question was just an extension of that. Everyone felt very open to sharing, I think we were able to get personal moments that show who these people really are. They were not promoting a project, this was about us creating something together,” he concludes.
Many stars turned out for the book releases, to honor the work of a visionary creator and his partners, Renaissance Hotels and The Creative Coalition. It was another wonderful event in the hotel’s array of programming.
“The Art of Discovery” is available on Amazon for $31, where a percentage of proceeds go to benefit The Creative Coalition. At the Art of Discovery website a contest is running now through 14 November 2014, where users can submit their own story of discovery and enter to win a chance at a photo shoot with Jeff Vespa in Palm Springs.
Images by David Graver, video courtesy of Jeff Vespa