Norman Seeff has over the past 45 years been a photographer and filmmaker that has captured many of the world’s most recognizable faces— from Ray Charles and Carly Simon to Robert Mapplethorpe and Andy Warhol—in their most unguarded moments. The authenticity of his images reflects his skills as a communicator and his ability to create an environment for artists and innovators conducive to the revelation of how they function creatively. He documents the creative process and in doing so captures the passion and essence of the creators.
Norman Seeff was born March 5, 1939 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Seeff graduated with honors in science and art at King Edward VII School in Johannesburg. At the age of 17, he was drafted as the youngest player in the South African national soccer league. Seeff qualified as a medical doctor in 1965. For three years he worked in emergency medicine at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto focusing on the management of traumatic shock. In 1969, he immigrated to the United States to pursue his creative passions and artistic abilities.
Soon after arriving in New York, Seeff’s photographs of the people he encountered on the streets of Manhattan were discovered by the famed graphic designer, Bob Cato. Cato introduced Seeff to the world of album cover design and his first major photographic assignment for The Band brought him immediate recognition. His early work also includes images of Robbie Robertson, Patti Smith, Robert Mapplethorpe, Andy Warhol as well as other New York personalities. In 1971, Seeff spent a year as Professor of Photography at Bennington College in Vermont.
In 1972, on the recommendation of Cato, Seeff relocated to Los Angeles to become creative director of United Artists Records where his work in design and photography received multiple Grammy Award nominations. Three years later, he opened an independent studio on Sunset Boulevard. His photographic sessions soon became legendary and attracted audiences of 30-40 at each session, swelling to over 200 on some occasions. A combination of actor’s workshop and a celebration of creative spontaneity, Seeff’s sessions were emotionally engaging experiences that resulted in many iconic images with leading artists and innovators of the time.
Seeff’s creative interaction with artists inspired him to film his sessions beginning with an Ike & Tina Turner session in 1975. Using the photo session as a vehicle for exploring the inner dynamics of the creative process with artists at work, Seeff has continued this process for over 3½ decades. His film and tape archive of more than 400 shoots with musical artists, film directors, authors, television personalities, scientists, visionaries and entrepreneurs provides a unique insight of artists and innovators in the act of creation.