Bruce Weber on the journey of All-American


‘These things sometimes mean more than any exhibition at a museum or gallery.’

Bruce Weber on the journey of All-American

By Dennis Freedman and Bruce Weber

All-American V: Is Love Enough?
Kevin Small and Cotton Eye,
Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association, Tucson, Arizona, 1989
Photo by Louise Serpa

All-American: Short Stories
Sugar and friends in Elizabeth’s backyard, Bel Air, California, 2002
Photo by Bruce Weber

“Elizabeth Taylor kept all these director’s chairs from her various films in the backyard of her home in Bel Air. In the middle sits Sugar, one of her favourite dogs, holding court. But that black cat on the right is a bit like Elizabeth, who had a mind of her own. I was so sad when these chairs went up for auction at Christie’s after her passing. Her dogs and cats really miss hanging out in them but not as much as they miss her.”

All-American IV: Otherworldly
Mary McGrory celebrates her Pulitzer Prize award, Washington DC, 1975
Photo by Bernie Boston

“Some of our greatest heroes are the journalists from newspapers and magazines who live on the road like we photographers do. They are so curious, always searching for and reporting on the ideas and events that will make a story big. One of our favourites was Mary McGrory, who in this photograph had just won the Pulitzer Prize for her reporting on the Watergate scandal for The Washington Star. I can imagine how she felt, with all those bottles of champagne – as I look at the most recent issue of All-American, I’m wondering if maybe we should all start drinking again.”

All-American V: Is Love Enough?
Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center,
Twentynine Palms, CA, 2005
Photo by Bruce Weber

True at Camp Longwood, Adirondack Park, New York, 2001
Photo by Bruce Weber

“We were in the middle of working on our first edition of All-American and were of course very insecure, as we still are today. Nan and I had just gotten an extraordinary new puppy and named him True Blue. I took this photograph at our place in the Adirondacks – Camp Longwood on Spitfire Lake. True had just come in from a swim, and as he sat there wrapped in the towel, his whiskers almost looked like a beard. I could picture what he would look like if he were an old man. That’s the great thing about dogs – they so often resemble the people they live with.”

All-American VII: ‘Till I Get It Right
Saturday Night
Painting by Clementine Hunter.
Courtesy of The Ann and Jack Brittain Family Collection

“The story of Clementine Hunter and her paintings taught us a lesson – sometimes you have to have the courage to choose a subject not knowing if the story will live up to what you hope it will be. Clementine gave us faith in our decisions as editors from that point on. Her paintings evoke the title of the seventh volume of All-American: ‘Till I Get It Right. Clementine painted in that naïve style of Grandma Moses yet told her own story of life down south. I wish I’d had a chance to meet her.”

All-American VI: Larger Than Life
Heidelberg Project, Detroit, MI, 2006
Photo by Bruce Weber

“I went to Detroit for the first time in 2006 with Dennis Freedman to do a story with Kate Moss for W. When we would pass by this house, we’d just smile and wish we lived there. It’s part of the Heidelberg Project, a group of abandoned buildings that has been redeveloped as a community art project. We chose this photograph as one of the opening images for All-American that year because it says a lot about hope. You could just tell that someone with a great sense of humour once lived there.”

All-American VII: ‘Till I Get It Right
On the way to the Martin Luther King Jr Day Parade,
Liberty City, Florida, 2007
Photo by Bruce Weber

“Liberty City is a small town west of Miami that celebrates Martin Luther King Jr Day with a huge parade. This photograph reminds me of those wonderful pictures of Diana Ross and the Supremes when they returned from Paris and paraded around the projects in Detroit wearing Dior. These ladies have lots of pride and attitude, and they sure got our attention.”

All-American VI: Larger Than Life
Burt and Susie Todd wearing traditional garb, Bhutan, 1955
Courtesy of the Todd Family Collection

All-American VIII: Nature’s Way
Huandoy Massif, Peru, 1964
Photo by Henry Kendall Archive

“We discovered William Kendall’s photographs while researching images of the great mountaineers, Gary Hemming and John Harlin. Kendall was a larger-than-life character – a physics professor at MIT, a Nobel Prize winner, a dedicated environmentalist and an avid climber and deep-sea diver. His photograph of an oncoming storm in the Andes of Peru epitomizes his quest of always taking the high road.”

All-American Volume VII: ‘Till I Get It Right
Ernest Beasley, New Orleans, Louisiana
Photo by George Dureau

“George Dureau, the New Orleans-based photographer, met me barefoot in front of his townhouse on Bienville Street in the French Quarter. He asked with his polite Southern drawl, “Are you sure you want to climb up all these stairs to see my photographs and paintings?” Everything he showed us was accompanied by an eccentric 45-minute anecdote. When George showed us this photograph of Ernest Beasley, he told us about taking him watch to a wrestling competition. Ernest bought along this young boy who was always hanging out with him and always carried a needle and thread. We asked why the boy had tailoring tools, and George said, “Why, every time Ernest sat down, his pants would rip, and that boy would sew them back up.” You can only hear this kind of story in New Orleans.”

All-American Volume Twelve: A Book of Lessons
Bo Derek, Lake Powell, Utah, 1979
Photo by John Derek, courtesy of Bo Derek

“For last year’s issue, Bo Derek shared a series of photographs taken by her late husband John during a weekend getaway at Lake Powell, Utah. With the glove on her hand, this was from a group of pictures John took of Bo windsurfing in the nude. John always took pictures of the women he loved, and they often ended up in Playboy because the ladies often didn’t have any clothes on. Towards the end of his life, when John got sick, Bo and his other previous wives – Linda Evans and Ursula Andress – all sat together on his bed to let him know how much he was loved. I think both John and Bo have a lot to be thankful for in this photograph.”

All-American Volume Eleven: Just Life
Paula McKinley and Betsy Kelson,
Arlington National Cemetery, Washington DC, 2011
Photo by Bruce Weber

“I visited Arlington National Cemetery the day after we photographed at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. As we drove into the cemetery, I met these lovely ladies who are part of a group called the Arlington Women. They attend funeral services at the cemetery as representatives of the various branches of the military and stand with grieving families who have lost their sons or daughters to the war. There are times when a family does not have enough money to attend the service in Washington DC, so these volunteers attend their services so that no one is buried alone. They are an incredibly kind and generous group of women.”

All-American Volume Twelve: A Book of Lessons
Nile Rodgers, New York City, 2012
Photo by Bruce Weber

“For this story, Nile Rodgers – the talented musician and producer – invited us to his very elegant and eclectic apartment on the Upper West Side. Nile’s innovative arrangements for Madonna, David Bowie and Diana Ross are only half of his story. He wrote a bestselling autobiography that could so easily be adapted into a musical on Broadway or a top-10 movie. Nile is the essence of soul, and his generosity of spirit in helping young people around the world is unsurpassed. This photo was taken a couple of months before the Daft Punk album Random Access Memories came out, which has created a whole new generation of Nile fans. It’s fitting that in this photo, Nile’s wearing a cape from the same store in Madrid that made them for Picasso.”

All-American Volume Thirteen: Born Ready
Southwick Motocross Race,
Southwick, Massachusetts, 2013
Photo by John Scott

“We chose motocross as our sport for our 13th issue because so many small towns in America have a track or an event. It’s a real family-oriented sport. John Scott’s photograph resonates the thrill of being ‘born ready’ for anything and willing to take it on. I always loved that idea, in photographs that deal with sports, politics or even fashion.”

All-American Volume Thirteen: Born Ready
Frank and Nicole at Tiny’s,
Louisville, Nebraska, 2013
Photos by Sean Thomas

“These days, stories in magazines and journals – be they news or fashion – are so short. There’s so little space to go in-depth. I wanted do something different with All-American, to assign stories in the spirit of the great Life magazine editorials, like W Eugene Smith’s photographs of Albert Schweitzer in West Africa or his images of the country doctor in Colorado. Those stories have lived on all these years in the minds of the people who discovered them in their homes because they had the luxury of space. This year, we decided to hire Sean Thomas to return to his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska to photograph the senior prom. In seeing the pictures he brought back, I couldn’t help but think of Farm Boy, a book by Archie Lieberman that I’ve always admired.”

All-American Volume Thirteen: Born Ready
Frank and Nicole at the Happy Hollow Country Club,
Omaha, Nebraska, 2013

All-American Volume Twelve: A Book of Lessons
Danny Trejo, Arleta, California, 2012
Photo by Bruce Weber

“Danny Trejo is one of our favorite actors – his new film with Robert Rodriguez, Machete Kills just came out. I took this portrait with his family last spring at their home in Arleta, California, just outside of LA. His beloved mother just recently passed away, and at her funeral, the photographs we took that day were prominently displayed. Those kinds of things sometime mean more for a photographer than any exhibition at a museum or gallery.”

All-American V: Is Love Enough?
Tom Frost, Gary Hemming, Stuart Fulton and John Harlin II
above the Mer de Glace Glacier, Chamonix, France 1963
Courtesy of John Harlin III

All-American: Family Albums
Kelly’s Boys, Filming A Letter To True,
Davie, Florida, 2003
Photo by Bruce Weber

All-American VI: Larger Than Life
Portrait of Trey Mourning, Miami, Florida, 2006
Photo by Bruce Weber

“This is a painting of Trey Mourning, the son of Tracy and Alonzo Mourning. Tracy is a prominent philanthropist for education, and Alonzo is one of the greatest basket- ball players of all time – he used to play for the Miami Heat. I had never seen a painted portrait of a child like this – I thought it was interesting that the Nike sweatshirt had become the modern-day alternative to a tie and jacket.”

This evening sees the British Fashion Council award Bruce Weber a special honour for his contribution to fashion. Yet the photographer’s reach is beyond just that, with a series of works created especially for journal, All-American. Conceived in 2001 with fellow photographer and partner, Nan Bush, the journal is an inquisitive look at often-unexplored aspects of American culture, both spotlighting and commissioning the States’ unsung greats.

Revisit our Issue 2 feature with a portfolio curated by Dennis Freedman above.