In the photograph: Tim Mantoani, 1969-2016

“A camera, like a guitar, is just a box with holes in it. Until it is placed in the hands of a true artist, it will make no music, only noise. -Tim Mantoani

Tim Mantoani was a commercial photographer. He has photographed advertisements for Epson, Oakley, Delta Airlines, Ford and Coke. He was also a portrait painter. He has photographed athletes for magazines including Sports Illustrated. His photography has been featured on Madden NFL and many other video game packages.

Engineer? No, photographer

Tim Mantoani began his studies as an engineer, but after a year of math at UC Santa Cruz, he decamped to Santa Barbara and the Brooks Institute of Photography. He interned with renowned commercial photographer and lighting instructor Dean Collins.


Tim Mantoani’s grandfather, Pal, was a carpenter. He’s built his own house, office buildings, restaurants, a dollhouse for Tim’s sister, and even a doghouse for his beloved black lab Jet. When he died, he left his hammer to Tim. Tim realized that Pal’s hammer was like Tim’s camera. Both have been used to create art.

“A few years ago I started buying hammers at swap meets, garage sales and online,” Tim said. “…each of them has a unique story to tell. As you look at these hammers, look closely, listen to them speak, and let them tell you their life story.

real people

Tim Mantoani, a commercial advertising photographer has also created many personal projects. One of his works on his website is called “Real People”. He has photographed on the beach, in Cuba, on the road and in exotic locations.


Tim Mantoani was active. One evening in 2000, he was playing football. Later that night, he felt a sharp pain that lasted until morning. He went to the emergency room. X-rays revealed a tumor in the left femur. Five weeks of radiation therapy and months of chemo followed by surgery that replaced his bones and knee with titanium.

After recovering from the operation, he kept up the pace with his business and personal projects. Once he hit a creative wall, he and a friend of Brooks’s took a five-day trip to Cuba.

“There were many reasons not to go, time away from my family, cost, etc. But there were many more reasons to go,” Tim said. “Travel pushed me out of my comfort zone, forced me to look at a new place in a new way, and got the creative juices flowing.”

“Behind the Photographs”

Tim Mantoani on the frosted glass of the Polaroid 20 by 24 inch camera.

Tim Mantoani started his “Behind Photographs” project in 2006. He wanted to do portraits of photographers holding their work.

“I had always wanted to try shooting with the Polaroid 20×24 camera, so I rented it for an afternoon,” Tim recalls. “It was expensive to rent and I knew I wanted to shoot something that was important to me. So I called Jim Marshall and Michael Zagaris. Both legendary photographers, I asked if I could do a portrait of each of them holding one of their iconic images. Jim told me I was ‘f***ing crazy.’ It was daunting, expensive and empowering, but it was also exhilarating, priceless and infectious.

The 20-by-24-inch Polaroid camera weighs 235 pounds. Each sheet of film costs $200.00. He asked each photographer to write a description of their photo under the Polaroid print. Tim Mantoani spent 5 years on the project. He has photographed over 150 photographers holding one of their iconic photographs.

Opening photo bottom row left to right: Jim Marshall, Mary Ellen Mark, Neil Leifer, Nick Ut and Ron Galella.

Roller coaster or merry-go-round?

Tim Manoani said, “This was the most rewarding project I’ve shot to date. I don’t have trust funds; I am not independently rich. I refinanced my home to do this. (Did I mention I have the best wife in the world?) Believe in yourself. Remember that the roller coaster is more fun than the merry-go-round.

Video Behind the Photographs

This 2 minute video tells more about Behind Photographs.

Sources: Tim Mantoani, The San Diego Union-Tribune, feeldesain, Scott Kelby.

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