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March 5, 1939
Johannesburg, South Africa
|Known for||Photographer, filmmaker|
Norman Seeff was born March 5, 1939, in Johannesburg, South Africa. Since moving to the United States in 1969, his work as a photographer and filmmaker has been focused on the exploration of human creativity and the inner dynamics of the creative process.
Early life and career
Seeff qualified as a medical doctor in 1965. For three years he worked in emergency medicine at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto, focusing on the management of traumatic shock. In 1968, he immigrated to the United States to pursue his creative passions and artistic abilities.
Soon after Seeff arrived in New York City, his photographs of the people he encountered on the streets of Manhattan were discovered by the famed graphic designer Bob Cato. As the former Vice President of Creative Services at Columbia Records, Cato was renowned for his album cover design which had won two Grammy Awards. Cato became an important mentor to Seeff and gave him his first major photographic assignment producing images for The Band's Stage Fright album. Seeff's iconic image of the group was re-produced as a poster inserted under the album's shrink wrap, which when unfolded, became a hugely popular collectors' item. This brought him immediate recognition and launched his career as a "rock" photographer. His early work also includes images of Debbie Harry, Patti Smith, Robert Mapplethorpe, Andy Warhol as well as other New York City personalities.
At the end of 1971 and on the recommendation of Cato, Seeff relocated to Los Angeles to become creative director of United Artists Records. His innovative approach to collaborative art-direction resulted in multiple Grammy Award nominations for graphic design.
Two years later, he opened an independent studio on the 'strip' on Sunset Boulevard. His photographic sessions soon became legendary and attracted audiences of 30–40 at each session, swelling to over 200 on some occasions.
In his evolution as a photographer of public personalities, Seeff realized that to accomplish the vitality and authenticity he was looking for in his images required a paradigm shift in his interaction with artists and innovators.
Creating the session as both a nurturing and challenging environment for a co-creative relationship with artists, it evolved as a laboratory for the exploration of the fundamental dynamics of creativity from the "inside" out. Responding to the emotional authenticity and depth of the creative communication between himself and artists, Seeff brought a film crew into a session for the first time in 1975, beginning with Ike and Tina Turner.
For Seeff, the session became the art-form itself, transforming into a multi-disciplinary process of photography, filmmaking and creative communication. Shifting his focus from ends to means and creating an authentic experience in the moment revealed that optimal experience flowed elegantly into optimal performance. For Seeff it was a personal paradigm shift in his understanding of the creative process.
Seeff has documented over 500 sessions with artists of many disciplines including musicians, actors, writers, directors, actors, scientists, entrepreneurs, politicians, etc. His creative interaction with renowned creators and innovators includes such luminaries as Ray Charles, Joni Mitchell, Kiss, Steve Jobs, Steve Martin, John Huston, Martin Scorsese, Billy Wilder, Bob Fosse, will.i.am, Tina Turner, Alicia Keys, Sir Francis Crick, Nobel Prize winners and hundreds of others.
In 1990, Seeff applied the spontaneous and co-creative approach he had developed during his photo sessions to working with actors in television commercials. During the 1990s, he became an acclaimed, award-winning director of hundreds of national commercials for major brands including Apple, Levi's, Glaxo, Nissan, Toyota, General Motors and Motorola.
Seeff returned to photography and the documentation of his sessions in 1999 in order to produce a documentary exploration of the artist's journey for the opening of Paul Allen's Experience Music Project and sessions with the stars of Paramount Television and Caltech's many Nobel Science Laureates.
It was the latter assignment that led to Seeff being invited to work with the NASA space explorers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and to the production of his documentary film Triumph of the Dream. Triumph of the Dream reveals the human face of the Mars Exploration mission that landed two rovers on Mars in 2004. In the film, Seeff uses the Seven Stage Dynamic of the Creative Process he developed in his photo sessions as the underlying narrative structure. Triumph of the Dream is scheduled for release in 2013.
Exploration of creativity
As a consequence of 35 years of research and development of creativity in action, Seeff has developed a body of content exploring the roots of creativity, innovation and optimal performance and has identified schematics describing the archetypes of the creative process that function across all creative disciplines. The fundamental tenet of his work is that all creation is sourced in the inner resources of consciousness and that everyone has access to the same innate resources.
Seeff views himself as a conduit for the voices of the hundreds of creative and innovative individuals working at the higher reaches of human potential he has interacted with over many decades. He is now preparing this multi-media and multi-disciplinary content for global release via multiple interactive digital platforms.
1.) Patti Smith & Robert Mapplethorpe 1969 : Seeff and Mapplethorpe met soon after Seeff first arrived in New York and Mapplethorpe asked Seeff if he could airbrush some of his prints. Seeff loved what Mapplethorpe had done and offered to photograph Mapplethorpe and Smith. These shots have been featured widely since the release of Smith's book "Just Kids".
2.) The Band 1969 : Seeff was commissioned by the late Bob Cato to take the liner images for The Band's 1970 release Stage Fright (album)Stage Fright. However Cato loved Seeff's image so much it became the major design feature of the album as a poster insert. The poster rapidly became a collector's item and helped launch Seeff's career as one of rock n roll's leading photographers and album cover designers.
6.) Keith Richards 1971 : Seeff also took a number of individual shots of Richards during the Exile on Main Street shoot.
7.) Rolling Stones 1971 : The Stones commissioned Seeff to shoot an iconic series of 12 images that were featured as an insert of 12 postcards. The postcards are to be re-released in 2010.
9.) Miles Davis 1974 : Seeff shot his iconic image of Davis who at the time was recovering from a throat condition and had just come off stage.
10.) Sly Stone 1974 : Seeff's shot of Sly Stone kissing his then wife Kathy Silva was included in the Brooklyn Museum 2009 exhibition Who Shot Rock & Roll: A Photographic History, 1955 to the Present.
11.) Carly Simon 1974 : Seeff's cover shot of Carly Simon dressed in a teddy for her Playing Possum album was thought to be 'racy' and was featured in Sheila Weeler's book Girls Like Us. In fact it came from a series of shots of Simon doing yoga poses.
14.) Ike and Tina Turner 1975 : Seeff was a great admirer of the artistry of both Ike and Tina and many of his shots from this session illustrate the edge in their relationship. This session was the first that Seeff documented on 16mm film.
15.) Joni Mitchell 1975 & 1976 : Seeff had a long working relationship with Mitchell with whom he did 7 sessions.
16.) Frank Zappa 1976 : Seeff photographed Zappa multiple times. The images were used for album cover art (see cover of Strictly Commercial) and were featured extensively in the February 1994 issue of Musician magazine in observation of Zappa's recent passing in late 1993. Prior to his death, Seeff's photos of Zappa and his daughter Moon Unit were also featured in a 1989 LIFE magazine article.
22.) Steve Martin 1977 : This series of images demonstrate the amazing physical comedic talent of Martin early in his career. The images were used as album cover art for his 1977 album Let's Get Small.
23.) Zubin Mehta 1977 : During the shoot, Mehta asked Seeff to play classical music at full volume to illustrate that it could outperform rock 'n' roll.
27.) Rickie Lee Jones 1978 : Taken for Jones' first album release that broke her into the music business.
32.) Curtis Mayfield 1979 : Mayfield wrote an original song during the filmed photo session.
35.) Tina Turner 1983 : Seeff was asked to take a series of images of Turner as she rebuilt her career, launching a string of hits beginning with her 1983 single "Let's Stay Together", which featured Seeff's image on the cover. The photo session with Tina was filmed and featured spontaneous live performances.
36.) Quincy Jones 1984 : Seeff's shot Quincy Jones with his daughter at his home and was featured in the 2009 book The Art & Soul of Quincy Jones.
37.) Steve Jobs 1984 : Seeff shot Jobs at the Apple HQ in Cupertino, California, and also at Jobs' home in Woodside. These are iconic images of the young Steve Jobs in the early days of Apple's success and one was chosen by Walter Isaacson for the cover of his biography that was released in October 2011. Soon after Jobs' death, Seeff's shots also ran on the covers of Rolling Stone as well as TIME Magazine(different photos).
39.) John Huston 1985 : Seeff interviewed and photographed Huston for a series on American film directors. One of the photographs from this session was used by Apple for their "Think Different" campaign and appeared on giant billboards across America.
40.) Martin Scorsese 1986 : Seeff photographed and filmed their conversation on the creative process for a series on American film directors.
43.) Bob Fosse 1986 : Seeff photographed and filmed Fosse for a series on American film directors.
44.) David Crosby 1986 : From a shoot with Stephen Stills and Graham Nash.
47.) Steve Tyler 1989 : Photographed during the session for Aerosmith's album Pump.
Record cover design and photography
From 1969 onward Seeff contributed photography and art directed and designed hundreds of record covers
Ike & Tina, What You Hear is What You Get – Live at Carnegie Hall: Art Direction & Photography 1971
Bobby Womack, : Art Direction & Photography 1972
George Duke, Reach for It: Photography 1977
George Duke, "Don't Let Go": Photography 1978
Seeff's first book, Hot Shots, published in 1978, was awarded the New York Art Directors Club Gold Medal for photography. His second book, Sessions, was published in 1988.
- Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe. Interview Magazine. Retrieved on 2010-10-02.
- Patti Smith discusses her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe. PBS. Retrieved on 2010-15-02.
- Exhibitions: Who Shot Rock & Roll: A Photographic History, 1955 to the Present. Brooklyn Museum. Retrieved on 2010-23-02.
- Who Shot Rock & Roll: A Photographic History, 1955 to the Present. Random House, Inc. Retrieved on 2010-23-02.
- Girls Like Us. Amazon.com, Inc.. Retrieved on 2010-23-02.
- Norman Seeff Discography at Discogs