Coffee table book is self-taught photographer’s valentine to Apple design

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Jonathan Zufi's book ICONIC has been popular with Apple fans.
Jonathan Zufi's book ICONIC has been popular with Apple fans.
Photo: David Pierini/Cult of Mac

Cult of Mac 2.0 bugThe fun Jonathan Zufi had playing RobotWar on his high school’s lone Apple II in the early 1980s re-emerged one day. He just had to play it again.

The lark that led Zufi to an online search for an Apple II to play the game grew into the acquisition of more than 500 vintage Apple items, which he lovingly photographed, but then sold to fund production of a coffee table book that has sold more than 15,000 copies.

ICONIC: A Photographic Tribute to Apple Innovation already has had two press runs since it first published in 2013.

Woz approved

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak called Zufi’s book “a beautiful gift to Apple fans and employees alike.”

“When Jonathan showed me an early draft of ICONIC, memories of the many amazing products that have come out of Apple, as well as some of the incredible engineers and designers I worked with over the years, came flooding back,” Wozniak wrote in a Forward for the book. “The beauty of design that Apple is known for deserves beautiful photography and that is what Jonathan has given us.”

Zufi said he knew almost nothing about photography, especially the kind of studio lighting it would take to capture the seductive simplicity of Apple’s product design. He consulted with a professional photographer who helped him shop for the equipment he would need and gave him instruction in a makeshift studio Zufi set up in his basement.

If the Apple fan took design for granted, Zufi’s photographs make the fan take notice of every brilliant curve, indentation and angle that ushered us into the personal computing era.

Zufi in his basement studio with a Lisa.
Zufi in his basement studio with a Lisa.
Photo courtesy of Jonathan Zufi

But when he was done, he put the items, most of which came in original packaging, up for sale. Zufi estimates there are about 50 serious Apple collectors with massive collections around the world and almost certainly could have been one of them.

Zufi wanted the book to celebrate design as much as innovation.
Zufi wanted the book to celebrate design as much as innovation.
Photo: David Pierini/Cult of Mac

Collect, shoot, sell

Keeping the artifacts he compiled over a three-year period was never Zufi’s intent.

“I had a specific goal in mind with no compunction about selling them when I was done,” says Zufi, who lives in Atlanta. “As I was browsing through all the products online that day (looking for the Apple II), I thought wouldn’t it be cool if there if there was a place to go to see photography of all the products with the same aesthetic as you see on the Apple website.

“When I get an idea in my head, I kind of take it all the way.”

As the products arrived by mail, Zufi painstakingly searched every angle to find perfect shots. He started a website, Shrine of Apple, so he could share immediately.

The book artfully catalogs every distinct model of the Apple devices from 1976 with the Apple I to 2013’s iPhone 5s. The pictures allow you to set functionality of the designs aside to just consider lines and shapes. Design that started beige and straight, forming hard angles and boxy shapes, suddenly pop with color and softens into elegant curves.

From more than 150,000 images, Zufi completed an edit that captures the macro view of the engineers’ gifts for innovation and the wider, alluring, first impression that makes a person want to hold that iPod or run a hand along the curves of those colorful iMacs.

Whatever your favorite Apple device, Zufi has it covered in his book.
Whatever your favorite Apple device, Zufi has it covered in his book.
Photo: David Pierini/Cult of Mac

A valentine to Apple design

The reader can marvel at motherboards, roll their eyes at some of Apple’s still-pretty failures or get choked up facing that first object of desire. The most devoted Apple fans will nod at those devices that symbolize a company grasping for a vision after exiling founder Steve Jobs and smile at pictures that represent his return.

Even peripherals and packaging get a salute, reminding Apple fans that no detail was an afterthought to Apple.

Zufi couldn’t photograph everything and products he could not buy, he borrowed from other collectors to fill out a book that weighs close to seven pounds. He didn’t sell everything. He kept a few iPods and, of course, an Apple II to play Robot War. He generously passed some items on to young collectors.

There was no painful split from all he collected. He was satisfied with what he accomplished but still wasn’t sure how ICONIC would be received.

“Like any normal person, (his wife) thought was mad,” Zufi said. “But the day the first copy of the book came back from the printer, her whole face lift up.”

For Zufi, this was a good sign.