Getty Images/WireImage Photographer, Jeff Vespa just released a stunning celebrity portraiture book titled The Art of Discovery. The book focuses on capturing authentic moments of inspiration from artists such as Jared Leto, Naomi Watts, Jessica Chastain, Nicole Kidman and others. We sit down with Jeff to talk through the journey of creating this book over the course of a few short months.
Getty Images: How did you get involved in this project?
Jeff Vespa: Robin Bronk who’s the CEO of the Creative Coalition, has been asking me to work on a project like this for a number of years and I’ve never been able to do it. She ended up partnering with Renaissance Hotels to do a book, and she called me again and said she had another great opportunity and asked if I wanted to be a part of it. I said yes.
Renaissance’s brand platform aims to get across the idea to “live life to discover,” and so they wanted the book to be about discovery. And since we knew it was going to be a celebrity book, we started thinking about what we can do and how this mantra can make sense. So we came up with the idea to ask prominent actors to tell us about a significant moment of discovery in their lives. We knew this would produce something really cool since those answers haven’t really been given before in that format.
GI: How many people did you interview and shoot?
JV: In total, the book consists of a 100 actors. Out of that 100, I shot about 60 specifically for this book. All the photographs are exclusive for this particular project.
GI: How long did it take you to complete the project?
JV: Timing was the craziest and the most challenging part of this project. We knew about the book about a year ago in September and we had a few ideas to shoot for it at the Toronto Film Festival. Then, we got a deal from Rizzoli and signed with a great award-winning designer, Nancy Rouemy. However, the deal didn’t actually get signed until January, which meant we had less than four months to complete the book. We ended up turning it in on the 20th of April, which is mind-blowing to me. Staying up every night with my small team was nuts, but in the end was a big accomplishment.
GI: What were the most enjoyable aspects of shooting the portraits?
JV: It wasn’t actually the photography part of it, which may sound weird. I’ve been doing this a very long time and over the years have become very friendly with most of the people in the book. I reached out to them personally, expressing that I wanted to include them in this and they were all honored to take part. It was very gratifying for me personally to have these people be so excited to want to be a part of it.
I shot everything in my house by the way. For two months we’d have this studio set up in my living room and every day people would come, so the most enjoyable aspect was just that process. Having actors come and to be able to enjoy hanging out with them, to talk to them and to have a good time together. I had many moments where I just thought to myself “this is incredible.”
GI: What was the most challenging part of the process?
JV: The main challenge was the deadline. Actually producing the portraits wasn’t a problem, especially since it was so contained at my house. It was mainly the amount of work in such a short period of time that was the challenge. I didn’t have a photo editor – it was me, Nancy Rouemy, and my retoucher, Mike Windle. We’d loop Nancy in digitally since she was in NY, so she edited the shoots remotely.
GI: Which celebrities surprised you in the process of shooting?
JV: I told this story a bunch of times about the Seth Rogan shoot because it’s so unbelievable. It was the most fun shoot I’ve ever done in my life because he’s the funniest guy. The idea we had ended up working really well, where we had him hold up two magnifying glasses and when he did that, he looked like a live cartoon. It was so funny, we couldn’t stop laughing – actually, I was laughing during the entire shoot. We left the shoot with such an incredible high. One of the four shots of him in the book turned out to be one of the best photos I’ve ever taken.
Christoph Waltz is an incredible person too – he’s super talented and brought everything to this shoot. I loved that he always wanted to do everything at the highest level. Working with actors like that just blows you away.
GI: What do you hope people get out of seeing the book?
JV: Because it’s all about great moments of discovery, I want people to walk away with inspiration that resonates on a personal level. Proceeds of this book benefit Creative Coalition, which helps to fund arts programs, so what’s cool about it is that it’s inspiring to other artists as well. It’s the kind of book you can read and get significant insights into people’s lives that are universal.
GI: What’s next in your career? How else do you want to challenge yourself professionally?
JV: I’ve been working on trying to direct my first feature film. That has been a big goal of mine that I still hope to achieve. As far as photography, I hope that this book will increase my recognition, and that I can do more of these types of creative collaborations in the future. It’s made me more confident about what I can achieve.
Check out more behind the scenes with Jeff and the making of The Art of Discovery in this video:
Jeff Vespa is a photographer and the CEO and founder of Verge. He is also one of the co-founders 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.