Bob Willoughby

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Robert Hanley "Bob" Willoughby (June 30, 1927 – 18 December 2009) was an American photographer. Popular Photography called him "The man who virtually invented the photojournalistic motion picture still."


Willoughby was born in Los Angeles, California. He pursued photography after receiving a camera as a gift on his 12th birthday. Willoughby studied photography at the film school at the University of Southern California and worked under graphic designer Saul Bass at the Kahn Institute of Art.[1]

Between 1948 and 1954, his exhibitions of photographs of jazz musicians and dancers[2] led to a contract with Globe Photos, and one, of a screaming female audience, was selected by Edward Steichen for The Family of Man exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art which toured the world to be seen by 9 million visitors.[3][4][5] Later, he worked for Harper's Bazaar magazine where his photographs illustrated arts and culture articles.

His big break came when he was assigned by six magazines to photograph Judy Garland during the filming of A Star is Born (1954). Subsequently, he was hired by Warner Brothers to film the extensive "Born in a Trunk" sequence. This was the first time a motion picture studio hired a special or unit photographer to specifically take photographs for sale to magazines. The result was a Life magazine cover featuring a close-up portrait of the pixie-faced singer in costume. It was her second Life cover and his first.[6]

Much of Willoughby's popularity stemmed from his ability to capture film stars in unguarded moments of repose and vulnerability. Director Sydney Pollack said in the introduction to Bob's autobiography: "Sometimes a filmmaker gets a look at a photograph taken on his own set and sees the 'soul' of his film in one still photograph. It's rare, but it happens. It happened to me in 1969, the first time I looked at the work of Bob Willoughby during the filming of They Shoot Horses, Don't They?".[7]

In 1963, Willoughby built the first remote radio-controlled camera for on-set still photography. This led to other innovations that enabled him to take still photographs identical to the film footage.

Willoughby continued to photograph for the rest of his life. He lived in Ireland for 17 years where he used his photographic skills to illustrate ancient Irish poetry text with photographs of the countryside. In addition, he authored books on photography and other subjects. He lived his last years in Vence, France, where he continued a very active professional life. He died of cancer on 18 December 2009.[8] Willoughby's images are represented by the Motion Picture and Television Photo Archive and can be viewed by the public at [1]

Body of Work[edit]

His photographs are held in collections and exhibited worldwide including:


  1. ^ Grimes, William. "Bob Willoughby, Candid Photographer of the Stars, Dies at 82", The New York Times, December 27, 2009. Accessed December 27, 2009.
  2. ^ Tanner, L. E. (Lee E.) (2006), The jazz image : masters of jazz photography, Abrams, ISBN 978-0-8109-5749-7
  3. ^ Steichen, Edward; Sandburg, Carl; Norman, Dorothy; Lionni, Leo; Mason, Jerry; Stoller, Ezra; Museum of Modern Art (New York) (1955). The family of man: The photographic exhibition. Published for the Museum of Modern Art by Simon and Schuster in collaboration with the Maco Magazine Corporation.
  4. ^ Hurm, Gerd, 1958-, (editor.); Reitz, Anke, (editor.); Zamir, Shamoon, (editor.) (2018), The family of man revisited : photography in a global age, London I.B.Tauris, ISBN 978-1-78672-297-3CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  5. ^ Sandeen, Eric J (1995), Picturing an exhibition : the family of man and 1950s America (1st ed.), University of New Mexico Press, ISBN 978-0-8263-1558-8
  6. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2006-10-03.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  7. ^ "Capital Art: Bob Willoughby". Capital Art Inc. Archived from the original on 23 August 2013. Retrieved 11 August 2013. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  8. ^ Valerie J. Nelson, Bob Willoughby dies at 82; still photographer shot on movie sets Los Angeles Times. Retrieved on 24 December 2009.
  9. ^ "Bob Willoughby (1927-2009)". Search the Collection: National Portrait Gallery. National Portrait Gallery, London 2013. Retrieved 2 August 2013. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)

External links[edit]