Art in images have been a part of Jeff Vespa’s universe for a very long time. The enigmatic co-founder’s work behind the lens is brought into the light with his new and stirring book, The Art of Discovery, published by Rizzoli. The book which is available on October 7, showcases Hollywood luminaries in captured moments of discovery that will draw you in, stopping your heart at times and warming it in others.

HYDROGEN MAGAZINE: You’ve made art your life in a sense. You are one of the co-founders of and founded a web magazine intent on discovering new talent, among several other ventures. Tell me a bit about the arc of your career that has brought you to where you are today.

JEFF VESPA: I always knew I was going to be an artist so yes, art is my life. I moved to Los Angeles to attend the American Film Institute’s graduate film program. I have always been involved in film and I first started working for the studios, New Line and then Warner Bros. Those jobs were desk jobs and I quickly got disillusioned with the industry. I knew I needed to get back to being an artist. So, I decided to pursue photography as a career. Up until that point, I only thought of photography in the sense of fine art. I realized I would be happy as long as I had a camera in my hand and if I had to do commercial work for that to happen, I would do that.

Very quickly things took off after that decision and two and a half years later, we created WireImage. After we sold WireImage, I knew I needed to create something on my own to channel my film making and photography. That is how I came up with Verge. Since I have been shooting the Sundance Film Festival for over 15 years, I have seen emerging talent on a regular basis. So basically, I have been doing what I am not doing at Verge for a long time. I just never had a specific place to promote these people. It was the logical outgrowth of having this access and wanting to support new talent. The book has also helped me move to another step in my career. It made me take a step back and examine my work, and allowed me to understand where I want to go next. It is interesting how when you concentrate on something really hard for a short period of time, it makes you focus clearly.


HM: Why did you embark on this project, your book The Art of Discovery, and why now?

JV: Robin Bronk from The Creative Coalition has been asking me for years about doing a book together. Last year, Renaissance approached her about doing a project with them to highlight their brand platform, which is “Live Life to Discover”. We came up with the idea to ask actors to tell us stories about significant discoveries in their lives, things that changed them in a powerful way. Rizzoli agreed to publish and we all got very excited. I hadn’t been planning on doing a book anytime soon, so this was kind of a surprise. We had to complete the book in three months, so we really didn’t have any time to think.


HM: The book is stunning to look through. Each page encapsulates an honest and often surprising moment you photographed with Hollywood’s brightest stars from Shailene Woodley, Anna Kendrick and Nicole Kidman to Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jared Leto and Forest Whitaker. What was the process of selecting the images like, deciding what made the cut?

JV: We had to shoot over 60 people for the book in three months. So, this process was pretty intense. The designer and art director for the book, Nancy Rouemy, was an integral part of the shoots and the selection process. She lives in New York, so we did everything over the computer. I would share my screen during the shoots and select the images after. The actors kept saying it was like the movie “Her”.

We spent days and days going over thousands of photos to narrow it down to these shots. Sometimes it was easy and the one shot just jumped out at us, and other times we had a few shots we loved and had to pick only one. The other part of that intimacy and honesty is the typography – I think Nancy had a way of bringing out each person’s personality in their quote through her great use of design.


HM: If you had to pick a moment of discovery you captured that really stands out for you, which would it be and why?

JV: I talk about this moment in the book. I was a teenager in Baltimore, Maryland and I was a punk rock kid. My mother had a Canon AE-1 camera that she didn’t use anymore. I picked it up and read the manual. That is how I became a photographer. The punk scene in Baltimore was a really special group of people. They were like my family. I had the sense that, that moment in time wasn’t going to last very long, so I decided to document it. I took that camera and shot a lot of great black and white photos of my friends and the scene. It turns out I was the only person that shot artful beautiful photos of that time. Recently, I posted those pictures and all of my friends were very thankful that someone had captured that moment.

HM: Give us a funny story from one of your snapping sessions captured in The Art of Discovery

JV: I think my favorite story is when we shot Seth Rogan. We gave him two magnifying glasses to put in front of his face. He put them up and started making funny faces. Of course every action was magnified and we all immediately burst out in laughter. I couldn’t stop laughing the entire time. It was definitely the most fun I have ever had on a shoot.


HM: Photography is a curious thing. People will look at an image and sometimes walk away with completely different impressions and feelings stirred about what they have seen. Perhaps that’s the beauty in it. What say you, and what if anything do you hope people take away from The Art of Discovery?

JV: Just showing people images for the book during the process of making it, this has already happened. It is so interesting to see what each person thinks of a specific photo. You may hate it and I may love it or vice versa. My hope is to inspire other artists. When you collect so many intimate moments from great talents such as these, you are giving other artists the opportunity to glean insights into their own artistic goals. It is one of those books you can say, I didn’t realize this person struggled too, or I relate to specific ideas that they are expressing.



FOLLOW JEFF @jeffvespa


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