Nose Jobs: The Story Behind The Most Incredible Steve Jobs Photo You’ve Never Seen [Feature]

Steve Jobs And Nose Jobs
Steve Jobs & Nose Jobs. Photo by Tom Zimberoff.

Steve Jobs & Nose Jobs. © 1989 – 2013 Tom Zimberoff (all publication rights reserved)

Tom Zimberoff doesn’t make his living as a photographer anymore, but in the 80s and 90s, he was the go-to guy in Silicon Valley to take magazine shoots of the upcoming techno-elite.

A commercial photographer and photojournalist, Zimberoff stopped being a pro strobist back in 1995 when he created an app called PhotoByte that photographers could use to automate their back office paperwork and maximize their time doing what they love most: taking pictures.

George Lucas & Yoda as Groucho. Photo by Tom Zimberoff.

George Lucas & Yoda as Groucho. Photo by Tom Zimberoff.

In the eighties, though, Zimberoff was still working doing photo shoots. He had a fun little side-hobby that he would use to promote his work: at the end of every magazine photo shoot, he’d take one picture, just for him, of the celebrity he was shooting wearing a pair of Groucho Marx glasses.

“Back then, at the end of the photo shoot, I’d just always do something silly,” Zimberoff said. “I asked everyone to put on the Nose. Then I’d send the photos out at the end of the year as Christmas cards. It got me a lot of work.”

“Jamis told me that Steve had an aversion to Groucho Marx glasses,” I said to Zimberoff during our photo interview. “So how hard was it to get him into ‘The Nose’?”

Zimberoff’s response was just a chortle. “Very difficult,” he told me, in a tone that suggested an ocean of understatement.

The photograph of Steve Jobs wearing the Groucho nose came about in 1989, when Zimberoff was hired to do a cover shoot for a contemporary magazine, which was profiling Jobs’s latest company, NeXT Computers, in their forthcoming issue.

The way Zimberoff tells the tale, he arrived at the NeXT offices early that day to scout the location and find some props. Steve Jobs hadn’t come in for the day yet, but Zimberoff was immediately shown to Jobs’s office. It was a small room, with no space to shoot, and Zimberoff wrote it off as unsuitable. The office did have one notable thing about it, though: an enormous replica of the Rosetta Stone hanging above Jobs’s desk.

As soon as Zimberoff saw it, he knew he had the prop that was going to define his shoot. “It was perfect. The Rosetta Stone was the first tablet computer,” Zimberoff told me. “Think about it.”

“The Rosetta Stone was the first tablet computer. Think about it.”

Zimberoff immediately took the Rosetta Stone replica off the wall and moved it to the front lobby, which he converted into a make-shift studio by lining the ceiling to floor in black drapery.

Several hours later, Steve himself walked in, in hellfire mode.

“I’d been working in the lobby to turn it into makeshift studio for hours when Steve walked in with his entourage,” Zimberoff recalled. “Jobs didn’t even acknowledge me, but just walked in and asked the room, ‘Whose stupid f***ing idea is this?’ So I told him it was my stupid f***ing idea, and if he didn’t like it, he could go screw.”

Jobs smiled, and apologized. “It was just his M.O.,” Zimberoff graciously observed.

After that, over the course of the next couple hours, Zimberoff and Jobs worked together on a series of photographs, one of which was destined to be used for a magazine cover, and another — Steve Jobs as Groucho Marx — destined to twenty-three years of relative obscurity.

The original film contacts of the Publish magazine shoot. © 1989 - 2013 Tom Zimberoff (all publication rights reserved)

The original film contacts of Zimberoff’s original magazine shoot. © 1989 – 2013 Tom Zimberoff (all publication rights reserved)

It was in the aftermath of Jobs’s death in October 2011 that Zimberoff was contacted by an editor in Italy to contribute to a book called Contatti. Translating to “Contact Sheet,” the book features reproductions of the original film contacts from which notable photographs were selected by their creators, replete with years-old editing mark-ups to indicate which image, from all of those on a given roll of film, was to be printed. Contatti chose Zimberoff’s 1989 double Rosetta Stone portrait: one without glasses (titled: Steve Jobs) and the other with (titled: Nose Jobs)

The Future Of Nose Jobs
Thinking differently about Steve. Photo by Tom Zimmemore.

Thinking differently about Steve. Photo © 1989 – 2013 Tom Zimberoff (all publication rights reserved)

Delighted a photograph that had always been a personal favorite had been chosen for the book, Zimberoff chose to email the photo to a small group of friends, who in turn, forwarded it to Jamis MacNiven at Buck’s. MacNiven then remembered his own run-in with Steve Jobs over Groucho glasses, and was so effusive about his appreciation for the photograph that Zimberoff agreed to print a copy of Nose Jobs for display at Buck’s.

But Zimberoff’s sweet and silly portrait of Steve isn’t destined to remain unique to Buck’s, amongst the taxidermied gila monsters, harmonica collections and cowboy murals. Impressed by the reaction to the photograph, Zimberoff has decided to launch a Kickstarter product to fund the printing of the dual Steve Jobs/Nose Jobs portrait. By April, you should be able to buy a poster of this photo for $25. You can pre-order it online here.

An iconic photo makes a person obscured by their fame seem knowably human.

It is, of course, absurd to call a photograph that no one has ever heard of “iconic.” Iconic photographs are by their very nature famous. Yet sometimes photographs have the quality of being iconic and still have somehow, through chance, escaped fame. These photographs reveal a truth about a subject that is both simple and potent; they make a person who is obscured by the massiveness of their fame and personality seem knowably human.

For me, Zimberoff’s Nose Jobs photo is like that. It captures a man known for his fire and his ferocity standing before the spiritual precursor to his last great idea — the iPad — at a rare moment of silliness, when he was handed a pair of Groucho Marx glasses and instead of raging against their design, just put them on and grinned. A man whom, in wearing a disguise, was less of a cipher than he was when not wearing one.

For me, that’s iconic. I hope someday that this photo is hanging in a lot more places than Buck’s. But if you go to Buck’s to see Nose Jobs, try the huevos rancheros while you’re there.

Thanks to Jamis MacNiven of Buck’s, Tom Zimberoff and Barbara Varenhost for help on this story. To order a copy of ‘Nose Jobs’, please check out Tom Zimberoff’s Kickstarter.

Related
  • dcj001

    Interesting.

    But what is a “way station,” John?

  • wgfinley

    Your Einstein photo link is broken, use wikipedia.org instead.

  • brownlee

    Interesting.

    But what is a “way station,” John?

    A station between principal stations on a route, as of a railroad. American Heritage Dictionary, 4th Edition.

  • CockRobin

    I recall having seen this photo several times over the years – who hasn’t seen it and why?

  • brownlee

    I recall having seen this photo several times over the years – who hasn’t seen it and why?

    You recall incorrectly. This hasn’t been published anywhere else before now.

  • technochick

    It’s possible that those prints will never happen thanks to California’s very strict personal image rights laws. The rights to Steve’s image belong to his widow and if she wasn’t asked if it was okay to commercialize the photos in such a way, she can very possibly shut it down. Regardless of copyright on the image itself. That’s how kooky Cali’s laws are. And she might do it.

  • superdyu

    Looks like they are being printed by the original photographer:

    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1431439776/who-nose?ref=live

  • Designkai

    Steve Jobs would be turning in his grave. He didn’t want this picture taken in the first place, and now its being turned into posters for the world? That sucks.

    But I’d still buy one.

  • Designkai

    Steve Jobs would be turning in his grave. He didn’t want this picture taken in the first place, and now its being turned into posters for the world? That sucks.

    But I’d still buy one.

About the author

John BrownleeJohn Brownlee is a Contributing Editor. He has also written for Wired, Playboy, Boing Boing, Popular Mechanics, VentureBeat, and Gizmodo. He lives in Boston with his wife and two parakeets. You can follow him here on Twitter.

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