Photographer Tim Mantoani Interview

San Diego based commercial photographer, Tim Mantoani, is preparing for his first book release, “Behind Photographs: Archiving Photographic Legends” in New York. “Behind Photographs” has been a daily life mantra practiced by Tim Mantoani day in and day out for over 5 years in a quest to archive over 160 distinguished photographers and their most iconic images.

Traveling coast to coast with a mammoth sized Polaroid camera, the largest ever produced at 20x24” format and about 450 lbs., Tim visited the legends of the photographic field. His visits were met with intrigue, openness and compliment, as Tim exchanged one large format print 20x24” for the opportunity to capture their portrait featuring their most favorite or recognizable image.

Tim Mantoani recently kicked off a Kick Starter campaign to promote his new book, complete the necessary funding process and share this important project with the public. I recently caught up with Tim to talk more about his dedication to “Behind Photographs” and this important contribution to the photographic industry.

mM : Behind Photographs was launched in 2006, looking back, what inspired you to embark on this ongoing journey, archiving so many great photographic legends?

TIM : The project just took me over, once I shot that first giant Polaroid I was hooked and started to envision a body of work. I had no idea it would grow to this point.

mM : Several months later, POLAROID decided to discontinue making film, chemicals and the cameras themselves. Please share your reflection of acquiring a large format, discontinued, Wisner camera for shooting POLAROID 20x24 film, as well as your challenges to keep this project alive well beyond the discontinued date of large format equipment and supplies.

TIM : When Polaroid announced they would stop making film, I was not sure of what would happen with this project and how long I could keep shooting. I soon found out that there was a large supply of film and that I was safe for a while. However, in time, we began to see the chemistry pods starting to fail. In some of my portraits you will see streaking in the background as a result of this oxidation. In time, John Reuter from the 20x24 Polaroid Studio in New York would salvage the machine used for making chemistry pods and start to make fresh chemistry. There is still some film remaining, but in time, the old stock will be gone and hopefully, the efforts of The Impossible Project will keep this format alive. It would be a shame to see it vanish.

mM : So many great legends have been captured to represent the Behind Photographs. How did you select the photographers featured and what was it like meeting some of these legends for the first time. Please share some of your favorite moments.

TIM : When people ask me how I found these people, I say, "In most cases, they found me." What I mean is that each time I did a shoot, another door would open, one photographer would refer the next and it just took on a life of it's own. I tried to not have any specific parameters, and just went along for the ride. When you hold images like Steve McCurry's Afghan Girl or Bill Epperidge's Kennedy assassination print in your hands a chill runs up your back. Originally, many of these images and photographers inspired me to become a photographer. The opportunity to collaborate with all of them has been priceless.

mM : You must have a huge amount of archival video, photographs, outtakes and materials that did not make it into your first book. Do you have any future plans in taking this project further or continuing to archive living legends of the photographic arts?

TIM : I have shot tons of video and behind the scenes images. My goal is to continue to develop the project into a show that would include these elements. Just getting this project shot and the book published has been a mammoth undertaking and financial strain. I hope the book will bring awareness and renewed corporate support.

mM : Reflecting on your project and in comparison of today’s modern photographer. What do you feel is the value of darkroom prints, Polaroids and physical photographic materials, as opposed to archival inkjet, digitally printed prints? What qualities do you enjoy most?

TIM : There’s nothing like an original silver based print, a tintype or an original Polaroid. They just have a special quality that is often hard to describe. Silver prints are hand-made and photographers that have worked in the darkroom know it has become a vanishing craft. With a digital print, there is a feeling like you can just generate another with the push of a button.

mM : Traveling coast to coast, you met hundreds of legendary photographers, supported the photographers through your lens and have vested yourself like no other. When visiting your studio over the past 5 years, I have noticed that you have built up quite an archive of photographic prints from these photographers. What’s it like to collect photography as a photographer? How do the images make you feel day to day when you are living with all of them, witnessing their eye to craft? Do you have any favorites that you would like to share?

TIM : Many of the photographers have been kind enough to give me their prints. I have hung most of these in my studio as a daily reminder of this adventure and more importantly that I am just beginning my career in many ways. Some of these shooters have been at it for over 50 years and have been successful by keeping with it through the good and bad times. When most of these photographers make the images they hold, they had no idea what that image would mean in time, they were just doing their job or shooting for fun. These images, in time, have become time capsules to a period that will never be repeated and it is only through the eyes of photographers and videographers that we have these moments to reflect upon.

Every print that has been given to me is special, and takes me back to the exact experience with each photographer.

mM : Please share a little bit about the launch of your upcoming compendium, “Behind Photographs: Archiving Photographic Legends” and how can people be a part of this historic archive?

TIM : The book is 11x14 in size and 220 pages and available in November. There are two editions, a regular edition and a special edition that is limited to 150 copies. I am really proud of the way the book came out. You can help support the effort by buying a book and sharing the work.

I have posted a Kick Starter page to offer regular edition books, signed limited editions and prints, as well as a couple of other incentives. In order to get this book printed I invested everything into this project and a book was the best way to archive this collection of important photographers. It is a great risk, but I wanted to see this project through, and provide the best quality reproduction for fans of photography, students, instructors and the photography profession to celebrate this project with me.

Thanks to Tim Mantoani, and we wish you great success in your premiere book release in New York at Ogilvy and Mather on Thursday, October 27 at 7—9PM. Ogilvy and Mather located on the first floor at 636 11th Avenue, between 46 and 47. Please RSVP to For more information and to purchase Tim Mantoani’s “Behind Photographs” participate on Kick Starter. And yes, very proud to have collaborated with Tim Mantoani on the design and production of this historic publication—“Behind Photographs.”

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