Interview: Jeff Vespa (Photographer – “The Art of Discovery”)

The Creative Coalition, the premier nonprofit, nonpartisan social and public advocacy organization of the arts and entertainment community, in partnership with Renaissance Hotels, have launched an inspiring book and traveling art exhibit, “The Art of Discovery.” NOW AVAILABLE, the book published by Rizzoli, a premier retailer and publisher, features insightful stories edited by The Creative Coalition’s CEO Robin Bronk and accompanied by one hundred color portraits of celebrities shot by renowned photographer Jeff Vespa. “The Art of Discovery” is designed by typographer and award-winning art director Nancy Rouemy.

Through beautiful narrative and imagery, “The Art of Discovery” book showcases moments of discovery from luminaries such as Zach Braff, Adam Driver, James Franco, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ashley Greene, Jonathan Groff, Michael C. Hall, Marcia Gay Harden, Ethan Hawke, Amber Heard, Cheryl Hines, Kate Hudson, Anna Kendrick, Nicole Kidman, Jared Leto, John Leguizamo, Jeremy Renner, Seth Rogan, Mark Ruffalo, Gabourey Sidibe, Justin Theroux, Naomi Watts, Forest Whitaker, Shailene Woodley, and others who share the heart pounding, heart stopping and heartwarming moments of their lives. From Jane Lynch’s first stage debut to Kurt Russell revealing the most sacred details of the first few hours of his newborn son’s life, “The Art of Discovery” is a collection of revelations from the world’s most celebrated artists.

“The Art of Discovery” is a look ‘under the skirt’ of Hollywood’s most inspirational luminaries. Each spread is an adventure. “We are so proud to partner with Renaissance Hotels to unveil these very personal stories of inspiration,” said Robin Bronk, CEO of The Creative Coalition. “Proceeds from the book will go to support The Creative Coalition’s mission to ensure that arts in education and public arts thrive and flourish in our nation.

With “The Art of Discovery” NOW AVAILABLE we took time to speak with the book’s photographer JEFF VESPA on everything from 1980s Baltimore bohemia to his photographic philosophy and, of course, shooting the world’s top stars.

Purchase “The Art of Discovery” on AmazonHERE

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At its most basic level, do you have a common approach to photographing your subjects prior to the physical act? If so, how far back in your own photographic history does this approach go?
My approach is observational. I love to catch candid moments of people and always loved LIFE Magazine photography. That is what has always inspired me the most. The idea you can document amazing moments in time by observing the ordinary. This has been my approach from the beginning and it is expressed in my approach to portraiture as well. I don’t do a lot of directing of the subject during a shoot. I like to just let them do their thing and I capture it.

What brought on your initial interest in photography? When you first started, what kind of photos were you taking? When did you venture into portrait photography? Celebrity photography?
When I was a kid I always knew I was going to be an artist. I took a lot of art classes and did realistic pencil drawings. But as you may imagine to doing realistic drawings take a lot of time. I thought why spend all that time drawing a realistic drawing if I can capture the same thing in an instant with a camera. I was young so I needed instant gratification. My mother had a Canon AE-1 camera that she wasn’t using anymore so I read the manual and that is how I learned to be a photographer. I was in the punk scene in Baltimore in the early 80’s and I started shooting portraits of all my friends. Even at that time I was very into movies and I used think about making movies or being a part of the entertainment business. As I said, I also loved LIFE Magazine and Hurrell’s old Hollywood portraits. So those images really inspired me much later when I was living in LA working for Warner Bros. I was pretty unhappy at a desk job. I eventually realized I needed to concentrate on photography as my career and very quickly after that realization got my first photo jobs. Then because of a crazy fluke I shot my first premiere and that was it. From that point on I was shooting celebrities, first at events then portraits.

 Shailene Woodley graces the cover of "The Art of Discovery"

Shailene Woodley graces the cover of “The Art of Discovery”

In the forward to “The Art of Discovery” you relate Baltimore’s bohemian culture to that of Los Angeles. Many readers may be familiar with LA but, perhaps, not so much Baltimore. From the perspective of a young artist, can you describe the Baltimore bohemian scene?
Well that was the early 80’s in Baltimore so it is pretty different now but at the time it was pretty special. There was an amazing confluence of things happening: punk rock, graffiti, skateboarding and rap. We had great places that we all hung out at like The Loft, ­the punk club­, Cignal, the dance club, The Charles Theater, an art house movie theater that one of my friends my owned. To be exposed to great cinema like that at an early age was amazing. John Waters made Hairspray during that time and I was in it, along with most of my friends. In addition to all this my friends were like a family. We knew kids from all over Baltimore and we were all very close. I am still friends with many of the same people today.

Subject-wise, what characteristics make someone photogenic? Do you have any examples of subjects you find to be prime examples of this?
That is really a hard question to answer. I can say that when I shoot someone that is a fellow artist and they understand that we are making the picture together that is the best experience. When they are working as hard as I am to make a great shot to me that is the best characteristic to have.

What was the most challenging part of shooting & compiling “The Art of Discovery”?
The hardest part was the crazy deadline. We had to do the whole thing in three months. Normally a book like this would take at least a year.

– Interview Conducted & Edited by Steve Rickinson

Jeff Vespa (Photographer - "The Art of Discovery")

Jeff Vespa (Photographer – “The Art of Discovery”)

About Jeff Vespa
Jeff Vespa is a photographer and the CEO and founder of Verge. He is also one of the cofounders of WireImage, the largest entertainment photo agency in the world. He was previously the editor-at-large for LIFE.com and the West Coast special projects editor of Los Angeles Confidential magazine.

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