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The story behind Norman Seeff’s iconic Steve Jobs photo

“We were two guys goofing off having fun,” he recalls 28 years later

Steve Jobs with Mac. Photo by Norman Seeff. Click to enlarge.

Ray Basile, who hung out in Norman Seeff’s Laurel Canyon studio as a teenager and now writes a blog called iPhone Savior, has posted a long interview with the South African photographer whose portrait of Steve Jobs ended up on the cover of
Time Magazine
and the book jacket of Walter Isaacson’s’ biography.

Seeff, who had long career as a photographer of celebrities from Andy Warhol to Whitney Houston, tells how he flew to Apple’s (AAPL) Cupertino, Calif., headquarters in 1984, tasked with shooting the Macintosh design team.

“I decided to start with the team rather than Steve right out. They were like a commune, very different than what you’d expect in a corporation. There was a tremendous sense of family, a tremendous sense of shared innovative thinking that seemed to be future oriented.

“I got all of these people together in the room and I could see Steve in the background. You could see him thinking ‘this looks like fun – I wanna play’. Every now and again he’d sneak into the room and he’d kind of glom on — if I was shooting 20 people together he’d run in and he wouldn’t stand in the middle — rather he’d put his arm around someone on the edge and in that way, I was able to get a shot of him with the group.”

Photo by Norman Seeff

Later Seeff suggested that they photograph Jobs by himself in his Woodside mansion.

“We drove over to his house and we sat in that large unfurnished living room and we were just in conversation. My fundamental approach is not to try and take photographs, but to create an authentic, honest relationship so that they forget that the camera is even there.

“He was so inspired in that moment and said ‘I’ll be right back’ and he ran out of the room and he came running back in with the new Mac and he just plopped on the floor.

“So we didn’t think of an idea, we just had a moment. What was encapsulated in that box was his baby. Now if we had conceptualized it and said ‘let’s put you in a lotus position so that you look like a guru and let’s put the Mac on your lap and let me get the right angle and now look at me’ — but none of that happened.

“He walked in and he fell into that place in one second and I got the shot, it was that easy. I didn’t tell him what to do, he just did it. There isn’t any other process that works unless it’s collaborative, that’s the foundation of working with innovative people – you don’t ‘do it’ to anybody — you participate with them.”

Lithographs of the original black-and-white photo, printed on 25 x 36 inch sheets, are now available for $75. Signed and numbered copies, with a touch of color on the Apple logo, are $125.

Basile has the details, plus a gallery of more Seeff photos shot that day. Click here.