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Definitive as his photographs can be, Timothy White would never want his life to be pictured in just one way.
In all fairness to him, his career is far from one-dimensional. Established as he is as a Hollywood photographer, White is adding a few new job descriptions to his portfolio — clothing entrepreneur, executive producer, curator and auctioneer. The truth is he never stops — editing, juxtaposing, rearranging, seeing how things relate to each other and composing — not even during an interview at the Dream Hotel in Manhattan. “I’m always composing. Sitting here looking at the pool, I see the people and see it a certain way, editing, changing, arranging,” he says.
This story first appeared in the August 20, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
That reflex is something he first picked up as an undergraduate at the Rhode Island School of Design, “where the people who were there worked. They weren’t there because their parents told them they had to go to college. People were passionate about what they do. You went to class all day, you went home and had dinner and then you went back to the studio and worked. But that’s what you wanted to do.”
Nearly 30 years on, White is still all about the work. And this fall is jam-packed. An avid motorcyclist, White has been swayed by Alan Piven to help launch the HGMC clothing label. Named after the High Gear Motorcycle Club, the British café racer-inspired collection is being developed by Jeff Hamilton and will hit stores in the spring. Piven sought out White after reading a profile of him earlier this year, but the photographer, who rides his bike daily, took some persuading. “I’m kind of excited about it because we have a clear vision of what we want it to be. I’m not promising any of my celebrity friends or offering to dress anybody. Since I have a say, that’s cool and it will be more motorcycle-inspired than other collections.”
Demi Moore and Brandon Boyd were among the guests who turned up Saturday at the Project Gallery for the opening night party for White’s show dedicated to his friend Indian Larry, a motorcycle builder who died in 2004. When an image of the invitation was posted on Instagram before it was sent to guests, 8,000 fans checked out Project’s site within 24 hours. (Shooting for the film “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” White bonded with Brad Pitt over bikes as soon as the actor started talking to him about his book about Larry. The pair have hit the road together here and there, too.) White curated another Project-based exhibition, “Rock Fight,” which pairs Theo Ehret’s boxing and wrestling imagery with iconic rock ’n’ roll portraits from Bob Gruen and others; the exhibit will open next month.
“It’s not work. It’s just life. I love the diversity of it all,” says White.
As co-owner of the Morrison Hotel Gallery, which represents 90 photographers, White is dressing up the downtown Dream Hotel with memorable images of Mick Jagger, Jimi Hendrix and others. Soon guests will be able to buy the prints they see on the walls of the hotel’s new upstairs club or subterranean lounge by dropping by the lobby shop or ordering online in their rooms. He has teamed up with Antiquorum to host “The Art of Music” sale of rare signed photographs and iconic prints October 8 in New York. “In my mind, the photography the Morrison Hotel represents appeals to the same guys who collect watches and supercars, smoke cigars and have man caves.”
Still living bicoastally, White sold his 6,500-square-foot carriage house in Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan to the Richard Avedon Foundation reportedly for nearly $7 million earlier this year. The New Jersey native lives in Beverly Hills, returning to New York every two weeks to photograph his aging parents for a book. Bouncing from working on that project to shooting the “Paranoia” movie poster with Harrison Ford (a friend for 30 years), organizing a gallery exhibition, mentoring Julian Lennon’s photography pursuits and then meeting about HGMC somehow all adds up. “When I talk about it, it sounds like I’m in a spin, but I like it. I’m not just a photographer. That’s not my identity,” he says. “I’m just me. You know, go after what interests you. I’m also an opportunist. When you see things come your way, you go after them.”
That might explain why he is trying out his executive-producer skills. He is developing a new reality show that focuses on a Pennsylvania mechanic who restores vintage luxury cars. That project came to be through the owner of a European luxury label whom he declined to identify. White has another new show with Vice that will center on well-known photographers talking about images that changed their lives.
As for whether a good photo says more about the photographer than the subject, White says, “I certainly think it says a lot about the photographer but it depends on the type of photographer. A picture by Terry Richardson says more about Terry Richardson than it does about the subject. But people whose intent is to capture someone else’s personality, energy and impact really does come through and makes them stand out as a great photographer. Nonetheless, there is always that influence of you on it. It’s perspective. It’s your point of view.”
Having recently done a fashion shoot with a glammed-up Daryl Hannah wrestling with her pet pig in the woods, White says he approaches each assignment with an up-for-anything attitude. “I create an image. I make an image. I don’t take a picture — I make a picture. That’s just my style. But I definitely think my pictures are more about me than my subjects,” he admits.
Asked about putting people at ease, White says, “I mean, I’m from New Jersey. It’s easy. It’s just being yourself.”