Photo: Albert Watson

Portrait

The story behind the image of Steve Jobs

30 October, 2017

Written by: Clare Gillsäter

Albert Watson’s iconic photographs resonate. Perhaps none more so than this 2006 shot of Steve Jobs, which has become a signature image of the late visionary and businessman.


Time is precious

Albert Watson is renowned for his portraits of acclaimed personalities, and he is always in pursuit of that special, iconic shot. 

Steve Jobs did not like to be photographed. Albert was aware of this and had to think on his feet to capture the unique image he was after in a short span of time. 

“I took a chance,” recalls Albert. Given an hour of Jobs’ time, he told the businessman he could get the job done in half the time. “He looked at me like I had given him a Christmas present.” Thirty minutes was golden in his busy life.

Simplicity is key

Ultimately, Albert only needed 20 minutes to get the image he wanted. His approach, as often was the case when practicing his craft, was to keep it simple. He dipped into his impressive ability to read people. This shot is exceptionally powerful because it portrays Steve Jobs the man. 

Albert achieved this effect by thinking about a passport photo. He set up the shot against a white background, asked Steve Jobs to lean slightly forward and said to him, “Imagine you are across the table from four or five people who don’t agree with you, but you know you are right”. He gazed into the camera and in that moment, Albert captured the intensity, intelligence and conviction that was Steve Jobs’ genius.

Upon leaving, Steve Jobs glanced at the polaroid and asked if he could have it. He said it was “maybe the best picture ever taken of me.” 

Poignant tribute

It was some years later, as he was packing up for the day, that Albert was surprised by a call from John Dowling, then Head of PR at Apple. He asked Albert if he still had the picture and, if so, he would need it as soon as possible. Sensing the urgency, Albert retrieved the image and sent it to Dowling. Later that evening, the announcement that Steve Jobs had passed away was made.

Apple announced Jobs’ death on their website together with Albert’s portrait on October 5, 2011.

Steve Jobs’ impact on our lives was immeasurable. In the tribute on his website, President Barack Obama said, “Steve was fond of saying that he lived every day like it was his last. Because he did, he transformed our lives, redefined entire industries, and achieved one of the rarest feats in human history: he changed the way each of us sees the world.” 

Enduring power

The power of this portrait is enduring. It is an iconic image that represents an era and a monumental shift in our relationship with technology. It graces the cover of Steve Jobs’ biography, it appeared on Apple’s website for a month after his passing, and it is how many of us remember the entrepreneur, businessman and innovator.

 

Written by: Clare Gillsäter