The Talented Photographers Behind History’s Most Iconic Photos

The problem with many of the world’s most talented photographers is that we rarely get the chance to know who they are. Lucky for us, US photographer Tim Mantoani is out to change all that with his captivating “Behind Photographs” series.

His epic project started in 2006 when Mantoani rented a rare 20×24 Polaroid camera to shoot portraits of Jim Marshall and Michael Zagaris. Since then, he has photographed over 150 other photographers and the iconic photos that made them famous.

Bob Gruen – John Lennon
famous photographers - bob gruen

Tim Mantoani

Bob Gruen: John Lennon asked me to come to his pentouse apt. on the east side of New York to take pictures for the cover of his ‘Walls + Bridges’ album. After we took a series of portraits for the record cover we took some informal shots to use for publicity. I asked him if he still had the New York City t-shirt I had given him a year earlier and he went a put it on and we made this photo.

Carl Fischer – Muhammad Ali
famous photographers - carl fischer

Tim Mantoani

Carl Fischer: Muhammad Ali, New York, 1967

David Doubilet – Circle Of Barracuda
famous photographers - david doubilet

Tim Mantoani

David Doubilet: Circle of Barracuda, New Ireland, Papua New Guinea. The school of chevron barracudas circled the diver three times and pow they were gone into a dark afternoon sea. The oceans of the world have no straight lines; geometry like a perfect circle is a rare thing, but these barracudas will do this as a defense. 70% of our planet is an ocean. It is a place of infinite hidden beauty. It is a place where light behaves in a very different manner. Global warming/ climate change is about water. Coral reefs where I have spent most of my life are very threatened now—not just from rising temperatures but from the change in ocean chemistry = This is a world where my partner Jennifer Hayes and I go into. It is most of our planet. A world without corners that may be gone by the end of the century.

Douglas Kirkland – Marilyn Monroe
famous photographers - douglas kirkland

Tim Mantoani

Douglas Kirkland: This is from my Evening with Marilyn

Elliott Erwitt – Two Dogs With Owner
famous photographers - elliott erwitt

Tim Mantoani

Elliott Erwitt: The picture I am holding was snapped in 1974 just across the street from my apartment in New York’s Central Park. It has been 38 years since that event and sadly I have lost track of the participants.


Harry Benson – The Beatles
famous photographers - harry benson

Tim Mantoani

Harry Benson: Brian Epstein – Beatles Manager – had just told them they were number one in America – and I was coming with them to New York. 1964

Herman Leonard – Jazz Musicians
famous photographers - herman leonard

Tim Mantoani

Herman Leonard: It was early 1948 at the Royal Roost in New York. An afternoon rehearsal gave me a unique opportunity to photograph many giants of jazz with my trusty 4×5 Speed Graphic. What a great career! To do what you love and be entertained at the same time!

Jeff Widener – Beijing 1989
famous photographers - jeff widener

Tim Mantoani

Jeff Widener – Beijing 1989

Lori Grinker – Mike Tyson
famous photographers - lori grinker

Tim Mantoani

Lori Grinker: Mike Tyson – 1980, age 14. I began a project on young boxers when I was a student. The legendary Cus D’Amato told me Mike would be the next great heavy weight champion, he was right – and I continued on with him for nearly a decade. He was a trouble but sweet kid who veered off the good path he was led to with all that comes with being a celebrity in that world.

Lyle Owerko – 9/11
famous photographers - lyle owerko

Tim Mantoani

Lyle Owerko: No one knew such beautiful warm day would serve as the backdrop to one of the most painful and confusing events to the heart of mankind. This picture is one small part of such a huge event that ties the threads of thousands of stories and millions of people together. Written words will never convey the whole scope of the event, nor summarize the sounds, the smells or even voices that are frozen in my memory bank from that day. I did the best job I could in photographing the 9/11 so that future generations would have the idea of the scope of what happened, to have the evidence how innocence can so easily be snatched away in a razor’s edged moment in time. My hope is that in time the wounds and pain will heal and that wisdom and peace will prevail among the darkness of this event, so that humanity could move forward into a time of grace and understanding.

May Pang – John Lennon
famous photographers - mary pang

Tim Mantoani

May Pang: Summer 1974 Long Island Sound NY. A relaxing time with his son Julian. I called this photo “Family Portrait”

Neil Leifer – Ali vs. Liston
famous photographers - neil leifer

Tim Mantoani

Neil Leifer: Ali vs. Liston – May 25, 1965, Lewiston, Maine

Marry Ellen Mark – Ringmaster With Elephant
famous photographers - marry ellen mark

Tim Mantoani

Marry Ellen Mark: I am holding my photograph of Ram Prakash Singh and his beloved elephant Shyama – taken in 1990. Ram Prakash Singh was the ringmaster of “The Great Golden Circus” – this photograph was done in Ahmedabad, India – This was part of my Indian Circus Project. I love India and I love the circus, so photographing eighteen circuses all around India was an incredible experience. Unfortunately Shyama died a few months after this photograph was taken – supposedly, he succumbed to poisoned chapatti – Ram Prakash Singh was heartbroken – me also.

Nick Ut – Napalm Attack In Vietnam
famous photographers - nick ut

Tim Mantoani

Nick Ut: June 8, 1972 Trang Bang Village Kim Phuc 9 year-old girl South Vietnam drop napalm in her village.

Steve McCurry – Girl In Afghanistan
famous photographers - steve mccurry

Tim Mantoani

Steve McCurry: Peshawar, Pakistan 1984. I looked for this girl for 17 years and finally found her in 2002. Her name is Sharbat Gula.

Thomas Mangelsen – Brown bear
famous photographers - thomas mangelsen

Tim Mantoani

Thomas Mangelsen: Brown bear, Brooks Falls Katmai National Park, Alaska. July 1988. I pre-visualized this possibility (of an image like this) from watching documentary films about the bears at Katmai and seeing a photograph in Alaska Air Magazine of a group of bears here at the falls. At the time, I was on a flight to Anchorage working on a documentary film about Sandhill Cranes and had a week between shoots. I phoned the park headquarters from the airport in Achorage and asked about getting a campsite. They said they were all full – except for one site, that was near the bear trail and nobody wanted it. I told them I would take it. I spent a week on a small platform above the falls trying to captures this image. I would go most days before sunrise and stay until dark. During that time I shot 35 rolls of film of pretty much just head + shoulders of bears + sockeye salmon leaping the falls. Six weeks later I opened the yellow box to see this image. It was a nice surprise. I hadn’t known that I got it.

Vincent Laforet – Me And My Human
famous photographers - vincent laforet

Tim Mantoani

Vincent Laforet: I’ve been fortunate enough to witness some pretty amazing things in my relatively young career that began twenty years ago. Many were beautiful, others were horrifying; most were important moments in history every event big or small is important. One of the interesting things that I’ve learned through aerial photography is that taking a step backwards (or in this case 1,500 feet up) ironically often forces the view to become much more intimate with the image as they study it in much greater detail, and are forced to let their imagination take over. “Me and my human” Central Park, NYC

Tim Mantoani’s Behind Photographs series is available in book form on Amazon.

Credit: Tim Mantoani │ Via Bored Panda