Steve Jobs’s Obsession With Perfection Made Him A ‘Nightmare Subject’ for Photographers

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Jobs getting serious about selling Macs
Jobs getting serious about selling Macs

We’ve heard some wonderful stories from people who were lucky enough to have met Steve Jobs, all of which describe Steve as a remarkable man who was, amongst other things, determined, driven, and passionate. Steve knew what he wanted, and he was committed to making it happen, and to photographers who worked with him, that made him a very challenging photo subject.

Steve wanted just as much control over the pictures taken of him than he did over the exemplary products his team was creating at Apple. He wasn’t prepared to let anyone take pictures of him, anywhere — it had to be just so. PDNPulse, a professional photography blog, has a few humorous stories from professional photographers who had the pleasure of dealing with the difficult Steve.

William Mercer McLeod, a San Francisco photographer who worked with Steve five times, said:

“It was the joke among photographers. He was like the nightmare subject.”

“It was in the late 80s. [Jobs] walked into the the photo shoot and started moving the lights around. Then he picked up the phone and called the art director in New York and said he wanted to do something different.”

“He’s the only person I ever saw do that.”

Photojournalist Ed Kashi, who worked with Steve around ten times during the early 80s and early 90s, said that Ross Perot told Steve to “grow up” during one shoot:

“He was one of the most difficult subjects I ever dealt with during my Silicon Valley years but I appreciated his awareness of identity, setting and message of the images. There was one time I had to get a picture with him and Ross Perot and when Jobs acted up Perot turned to him and like a stern parent said ‘Steve, Grow up!!’ No matter how dreadful he could be as a subject, I am deeply saddened by his early departure.”

Doug Menuez worked with Steve more than any of the other photographers, with access to the NeXT boardroom for three years while Steve was at the helm.

“In all those years, Steve only screamed at me at the top of his lungs once,” Menuez recalls. It was in 1988, when Fortune hired Menuez to shoot a portrait of Jobs for the cover of the magazine. Menuez wanted to photograph him in the NeXT offices, on a staircase that Jobs had commissioned architect I.M Pei to design. Jobs arrived for the shoot, looked at what Menuez had in mind, “then [he] leaned in and says, ‘This is the stupidest fucking idea that I’ve ever seen.’ Right in my face, like  5 or 6 inches away,” Menuez says. “I felt like I was 10 years old. He went off on a tirade. He said, ‘You just want to sell magazines. ‘And I said, ‘And you want to sell computers.’ And at that he said, ‘OK,’ and sat down.

“I’ve been in war zones, but I like to say that I became a man learning how to stand my ground with Steve.”

Be sure to read the PDNPulse report for more stories from photographers who worked with Steve — it’s a fascinating read, and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.