“I only have a few moments to try and get a unique and compelling shot so you have to pair it down to the basics and just concentrate on the face. No sets or anything, you just want to get a great shot of the person.”

Who or what inspired you to become a photographer?
When I was a kid, I was always into fine art. I learned how to draw very realistic drawings in pencil. I realized however it would be a lot faster to recreate the images I wanted to draw by shooting them instead. I needed the instant gratification.

My mom had a Canon AE-1 that she wasn’t using so I read the instruction manual, and that is how it all started.

How did you get involved in Sundance Film Festival?
I started attending in 1995. I had the idea to start a company to distribute short films, so I decided last minute to go to meet filmmakers. The company never made any money, and I never sold a single short to a network. The idea was very before its time.


How long have you been working at Sundance and what is your role there for Getty Images?
I started shooting at Sundance in 1999 with Randall Michelson, working as his assistant. The next year I suggested we needed to attack it in a different way, and we hired someone to help us book appointments etc. I also built my first distribution site called SundancePix.com, the precursor to SteveGranitz.com and then WireImage. I built it myself and we sold images to magazines from there. We did incredibly well in all the magazines because of that site. I still look at that year as my favorite of all time. After that I set my sights on being the official photographer of the festival which I became in 2003.

Currently, my role is the same as from the beginning – I shoot the official portraits of the festival at my portrait studio. After we had sold WireImage to Getty Images, we integrated the Getty portrait studio into the same space to make it easier on talent and capitalize on one location. I also shoot a few select events as well.


Being such a veteran of Sundance Festival, how do you bring a fresh approach each year?
It is pretty hard to be fresh every year. We used to build a different set and try different props but then I realized that we were trying too hard, so now we do pretty much the same thing every year.

We paired it down to simple backdrops to just focus on the talent and not the sets. It really is all about the person.

What is the most enjoyable part of shooting at Sundance?
Meeting the new and emerging talent. That is my favorite part. I also enjoy seeing friends. It is a great place to catch up with actor friends in new films and get a chance to hang out.

What is the most challenging thing about shooting at Sundance?
Exhaustion! We shoot hundreds of people over the course of five or six days with appointments booked every 15 minutes from 10am to 5:30pm. It’s insane. How I do it every year I actually don’t know. Also, another challenge is trying not to get sick.


Your book ‘The Art of Discovery‘ showcases intimate moments with 100 celebrities in which they reveal a discovery they made in their life. How do you think the Getty Images portrait studio at Sundance is recreating this?
Well, some of those images were captured at Sundance last year. We knew we were doing the book so I saved some of the best portraits for it.

I think the book and what I create at Sundance are very similar. I only have a few moments to try and get a unique and compelling shot so you have to pair it down to the basics and just concentrate on the face. No sets or anything, you just want to get a great shot of the person.

Last time we spoke to you ‘The Art of Discovery’ had just launched, what can we look forward to in 2015?
I am working on my magazine Verge. I really want to take that to the next level so expect to see a lot more about that this year. I am also working on my first feature film.

With your interest in film, it must be a great feeling to be amongst it all at Sundance, what does it mean to you to be a part of such a prestigious event?
Sundance is where it all started for me, so it really is an important part of my life. I can’t imagine where I would be without it.

What learned wisdom can you offer an artist who is just beginning their career?
The wisdom is go to Sundance, it will change your life. And keep coming back every year.

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.

Discover more of Jeff Vespa’s portraiture on Getty Images