“I don’t really think about what other photographers are doing. I do look at photographs in a way of appreciation. I love to have a lot of photographs around me, so I have a big collection. But I don’t reference how other people do pictures or how they live or where they stay.” -Bruce Weber
Model, then photographer
Weber was a model in the early days of his career represented by the Stewart Nan agency. He appeared in Brut and Clairol commercials.
He attended New York University, then studied at The New School for Social Research with Lisette Model after being introduced to her by Diane Arbus. He says of the meeting, “During that time, I had the good fortune to meet and get to know Diane Arbus. She always said, ‘Don’t let your mistakes or your successes get in the way of doing your work.’”
Weber met Nan Bush while working on a test shoot with Francesco Scavullo. She was representing Scavullo and managing his studio. She became a change agent for his career landing him a reshoot of a catalog for Dillards. The book won catalog of the year. He continued the catalog work and the lifelong partnership of Nan and Bruce flowered into marriage.
He participated in a group show in 1973 at The Floating Foundation of Photography. His first solo show was held at the Razor Gallery the next year. In 1974 the art director for GQ magazine hired Weber for a day-long shoot in New Jersey. He went on to complete many assignments for the publication. GQ was a pivotal moment in his career. Very few photographers worked with men and none of them pictured them as Weber could. He made them fashionable, idealized and desirable.
Weber photographed Olympic athlete hopefuls for the Los Angeles summer games with the idea of publishing them in Rolling Stone. When the magazine cut the number of pages, he took the pictures to Andy Warhol’s Interview. That publication ran a special edition featuring Weber’s photographs. It was so very well received and the exhibit of the work at the Robert Miller Gallery received glowing reviews.
This led to the publishing of a monograph of the photographs by Twelvetrees press. More large-scale projects were commissioned by Interview for Weber to photograph.
Weber’s films often started during his portrait sessions. During one of them, he met a young boxer, Andy Minsker. Weber decided to make a short to go with an exhibition opening in Paris. Excited by the footage he was seeing, he expanded the documentary into the feature-length film, “Broken Noses,” which was nominated for the Grand Jury Award at the Sundance Film Festival in 1988.
His documentary on jazz trumpeter Chet Baker, “Let’s Get Lost,” premiered in Venice, Italy winning the Cinecritica award. It too was nominated for a Grand Jury Award and an Oscar nomination for the best documentary feature followed.
Bruce Weber had always spent time with the subjects of his portraits getting to know them to be able to make distinctive pictures of them. He carried this habit into his ad campaigns for clients like Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein.
“When people hire me, I think about the person I’m working for, not the company.” Weber explained, “When I started working for Ralph, I got to know his family. We had a lot of common interests — in cars, old clothes — so I began by photographing his world. Calvin always had this really glamorous New York life, out at clubs and parties all the time. In a sense, that’s what I was photographing for him — that desire and passion he had to live that way. It wasn’t my world, it was his. That has always been the fun part, going into these other worlds.”
Weber’s work in making television commercials led to his making personal films and music videos. This 30-second ad for Calvin Klein’s Eternity For Men is an example of his documentary style.
Bruce Weber has directed videos for the Pet Shop Boys — “Being Boring” in 1990, “Se A Vida E (That’s the way Life is)” in 1996, “I Get Along” in 2002 and Chris Isaak’s “Blue Spanish Sky” in 1991. This video shows a lot of the style Weber uses in his music video interpretations.
More inspiring photographers are in On Photography.