Born 1944. Biloxi, Mississippi
Al Satterwhite started working as a photographer at a major daily newspaper in Florida while in high school, covering major news stories in the Southeast. After a year as the Governor of Florida's personal photographer, he started a career as a freelance magazine photographer. Over the next 10 years he worked on assignment for almost every major magazine (Automobile, Car & Driver, Fortune, Geo, Life, Look, Money, Newsweek, People, Playboy, Sports Illustrated, Time, Travel & Leisure, to name a few).
In 1980 he moved to New York City to form his own production company and concentrate on advertising. For the next 15 years he did a wide range of national and international advertising work, becoming known for his saturated color images and keen sense of design and composition- from action and aerial work, to miniatures in the studio, to major production campaigns in worldwide locations. Some of his advertising clients include American Express, Coca Cola, Dole, DuPont, Eastman Kodak, Johnson Outboards, Kent Int'l, Molson, Nikon, Oldsmobile, Porsche, Polaroid, R J Reynolds, Saab, Sony, Tuborg, Universal Studios and Westinghouse.
He was a consultant to Kodak for digital imaging for a number of years. He has lectured at Boston University, Brooks Institute of Photography, Hallmark Institute of Photography, ASMP, NYU/Tisch School of the Arts, PhotoExpos in Los Angeles & New York. He has given workshops at Dawson College (Montreal), ICP (NYC), Kauai Photographic (Hawaii), the Maine Workshops, the Missouri Workshops, Palm Beach Photographic Workshops, Santa Fe Workshops & his own studio in New York City. He lectures and holds workshops at various facilities around the U.S.
His photographic prints are in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, Houston Fine Art Museum, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), George Eastman House, Polaroid Collection, National Museum of African American History and Culture and numerous private collections.
In recent years he has focused his attention on making films. He has shot commercials, features & award-winning feature shorts as Director/Cameraman. He is currently working on several book and museum projects. Satterwhite lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two Zen-Masters, both cats.
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Al Satterwhite is a Master Printer. His experience in all mediums of photography and large format printing is unparalleled.
Al Satterwhite prints are available in the following sizes: (11x14"); (16x20"); (24x36"); (36x54"); or (48x72") inches
Archival pigment prints; select images are also available as gelatin silver or platinum prints.
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- Hunter S. Thompson: The Cozumel Diary; Hardcover-(2014); by Al Satterwhite (Author, Photographer), Craig Vetter (Foreword, Introduction)
- Carroll Shelby; Hardcover-(2012); by Al Satterwhite (Author, Photographer)
- The Racers; Hardcover-Box set, (2012); by Al Satterwhite (Artist, Author, Photographer), Dan Davis (Foreword)
- Titans: Muhammad Ali and Arnold Schwarzenegger; Hardcover-(January 15, 2009); by Al Satterwhite (Author), Roy Firestone (Foreword)
- Lights! Camera! Advertising!; Paperback-(July, 1991); by Joy Satterwhite (Author), Al Satterwhite (Author)
- Satterwhite on Color and Design; Hardcover-(September, 1986); by Joy Satterwhite (Author), Al Satterwhite (Author)
- Come Fotografa Satterwhite
- The Hennegan Book; Paperback-(1978); by Al Satterwhite (Author)
- A Man and His Words
NikonNet and 'Legends Behind the Lens' Honor Al Satterwhite This November
In the field of advertising photography, it is widely known that photographers must adapt to the changing times. Al Satterwhite chooses to make adjustments while staying true to his own vision through his sense of composition and bold use of color. It is for this reason that NikonNet’s inspiring monthly showcase, "Legends Behind the Lens" will honor his work this November. Satterwhite is an esteemed advertising photographer who works with both still photography and film.
Satterwhite has had a busy career. While still in high school he shot for the St Petersburg Times, then moved on to ten years of freelance magazine work, shooting assignments for Fortune, Car & Driver, Life, Time, Newsweek, People, Sports Illustrated and Travel & Leisure, among other top magazines. In 1980, he began a 15-year run of national and international advertising photography. His clients included American Express, Kodak, Porsche, Saab, Coca Cola and Nikon. He also found time to lecture, conduct workshops, work on book projects, including A Day in the Life of Spain, Lights! Camera! Advertising! and Satterwhite on Color & Design.
"Al Satterwhite is a unique talent in the world of both still photography and film," notes Anna Marie Bakker, director of Communications for Nikon Inc. "His work is creative, inspiring and irreplaceable. NikonNet is pleased to honor Al Satterwhite for his distinguished work and accomplishments."
Currently, Satterwhite is doing both still and film work. Film, he says, provides him with a new appreciation for still photography. "Film is about images serving a story, telling the story; it’s not necessarily about the image itself," states Satterwhite. "But with stills it’s usually the other way around. You usually have one picture, and you have to get the story crammed into that one picture, and it has to stand out. So it’s all about the technique you use for that one picture."
It is this thought that brings him back to the thoughts of styles, trends and the nature of commercial photography. Regarding his work, Satterwhite comments, "Basically I like what I do, and I’ve pretty much kept on doing it. With advertising photography you can go out of style, and later you get rediscovered and people go, oh, it’s new and exciting. Well, it’s the same vision I’ve had for a long time with maybe a little twist."
Today, Satterwhite’s tools for composites are likely to include a D2X digital SLR camera, an F5 film SLR camera, and a COOLSCAN 9000 to digitize new and older slides. Among his favorite Nikkor lenses are the 28mm f/1.4D AF, 55mm f/2.8 Micro, 85mm f/1.4D IF AF, 135mm f/2D AF, 180mm f/2.8D ED-IF AF and the 300mm f/4 ED-IF AF-S. He also uses SB-800 and SB-26 Speedlights. To learn more about Al Satterwhite, visit NikonNet’s "Legends Behind the Lens" series at http://www.nikonnet.com/legends.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Muhammad Ali and Al: Two Titans and a Legend
Al Satterwhite talks about charismatic characters and 40 years behind the camera
By MARK LAPIN
He may not have the name recognition of Arnold and Ali (whose youthful glory he chronicles in his latest book, Titans (Dalton Watson Fine Books, 2009, www.daltonwatson.com), but Al Satterwhite is a Nikon Legend and a genuine heavyweight among contemporary photographers. ‘For decades, Satterwhite has been at the top of the photo pyramid in journalism, advertising and film,’ writes William McKeen, pop-culture critic and Chair of the Department of Journalism at the University of Florida. McKeen adds that saying Al has done well in photography is ‘a little like saying that Brando kid did OK in the movies.’
A self-taught original, Al Satterwhite is a ‘My Way’ kind of guy who started out with a love of photography in the 60s and has kept the flame alive through four decades in a turbulent profession. He is also a wry raconteur who rattles off photographic insights and celebrity anecdotes at a rate that rivals Ali’s hands and feet. During an illuminating hour with TGP, Al discussed his time with the Titans, his Tom Sawyer start in photography, his ability to move freely between editorial and advertising and film-making (see interview), and his belief in the value of being self-taught.
Al started working with Ali in the late 60s and Arnold in the early 70s. ‘Photojournalism in those days was fantastic,’ says Al, who photographed Ali in training for his epic bout with Joe Frazier and Arnold during his youthful days on Muscle Beach, long before he became either the Terminator or the Guv. ‘Rarely have you seen pictures as intimate as these images of Ali and Arnold,’ writes culture-critic McKeen. ‘These photographs reveal their souls.’
A Couple of Pussycats
Sometimes working for several top magazines at the same time, Al enjoyed unfettered access to his subjects. ‘You didn't have all the handlers running around like they do nowadays,’ he says. ‘When I shot Ali, the magazine would basically call his trainer (Angelo Dundee) and say we're sending a guy down. I would show up (at the gym) and they’d be like: ‘Hi. How are you? Whatever you want.’ Angie was a really easy guy to work with, as was Ali. They didn't ask me any questions or blah, blah, blah. With Arnold, I had his home phone number. I would call him and say: ‘Hey, how about Thursday? Would that work for you?’ Now you have to call the agent who calls the PR person. You have to go through all that crap, and then they want to review all the images. That wouldn't fly too well with me.’
Although his charismatic subjects are famed for egos as overpowering as their physiques, Al calls them a couple of pussycats. ‘I ran into a few ego problems in Hollywood,’ he says, ‘but those guys were pussycats. They were really easy to get on with. Somebody could stop them on the street and get an autograph and it was no big deal. They were like normal people doing what they were doing. Now they’ve kind of transcended that. They’re way beyond everything.’
Asked for anecdotes illustrating the gentler side of the titans, Al recalls an encounter between Arnold Schwarzenegger and persistent paparazzi in the weight pen on Muscle Beach. ‘Arnold Schwarzenegger and I were out there taking some pictures, and this paparazzi guy showed up. So Arnold stopped what he was doing for me, and he flexed for the guy couple of times. Then he went back to doing what we were doing. But the guy hung around and kept shooting. Finally, Arnold turned and said, in his thick Austrian accent: ‘You vant me to stick that camera up your asss??’ It was funny because a guy that big can intimidate just by looking at you. But it was all bluster. He wasn’t really going to do anything. And the same with Ali. He was bigger, taller than Arnold, very impressive. But he never came across to me as angry or using it in any way. And both of them loved kids, loved to sit down and talk with them.’
Of Frogs and Photography
Al Satterwhite has lived on both coasts and in between but he is a child of the South--born in Biloxi and raised in Gulfport, Florida. The hitherto untold story of his start in photography holds more than a hint of Tom Sawyer. It also shows how early he started shooting on assignment. Al first picked up a camera in junior high to document the dissection of a frog for his ninth-grade biology class.
‘Somebody had these three huge frogs that were like a foot long,’ he recalls, ‘and for some bizarre reason, we decided that we would like to anesthetize them, cut them open, take a look inside, sew them back together and put them back in the pond. Don’t ask me who thought this up but it seemed like a great idea at the time. We had surgical masks and little operating tables; and the teacher said like: ‘Hey, Satterwhite, you’re going to take pictures of all this.’
Al got on board with the project and convinced his mom to buy him a camera at Sears. ‘It was one of those little kits that comes in plastic and has a camera and six flashbulbs and two rolls of film. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing but I shot on Kodachrome because that's what came with the kit. The pictures were over-exposed but the experience just sort of got me going.’
Two of the frogs survived the experiment, plunged back into their pond and swam away, apparently none the worse for wear. As for Al, he plunged deeper into photography as soon as he reached high school. ‘We had a school paper and yearbook with a little staff of two photographers and a darkroom. We did all the activities, clubs, gatherings, ball games. I really got into that because it was fun, and you got to hang out with everybody.’
Al’s professional career got off to a fast start when the Saint Petersburg Times visited his school, looking for photographers and writers to contribute to their new high school edition. ‘You only had to take a couple of pictures a week but you got to hang out at their lab or with their staff photographers. It was just a mind-blowing experience,’ he says. ‘They had either just won a Pulitzer or were on their way to winning one. I’d carry light stands or do anything just to be around these guys and watch.’
Despite his enthusiasm for photography, Al graduated high school with his sights set on a higher calling. He wanted to be a pilot. For more on his journey from aerospace to advertising and beyond, read our interview. For Al’s thoughts on being your own best teacher, see his tips.
Shooting Muhammad Ali: An interview with Al Satterwhite
by DAVID DAVIS | October 19, 2014
In 1970, Muhammad Ali was returning to boxing after being banned from the ring for more than three years over his refusal to serve in the U.S. Army. The first opponent he faced during the comeback was L.A.'s Jerry Quarry, the great white hope of the day and a fan favorite at the Olympic Auditorium near downtown. Ali stopped Quarry in Atlanta, Georgia, after opening a deep cut over Quarry's left eye in the third round. Then, not long after dispatching Argentina's Oscar Bonavena, Ali challenged Joe Frazier for the heavyweight championship, the so-called "Fight of the Century," in early 1971.
Photographer Al Satterwhite shot Ali in Miami during his training sessions for both the Quarry and the Frazier bouts. Now based in Redondo Beach, Satterwhite is attempting to publish a book of photographs of Ali from that time, many of which have never been seen, using a Kickstarter campaign to finance the project. His deadline is fast approaching: He must raise a total of $32,500 before Friday, October 24. Recently, LA Observed spoke with Satterwhite about photographing Muhammad Ali at two key moments of his career.
LAO: How did you end up shooting Muhammad Ali in 1970-71?
AS: I was a magazine photographer at the time and worked mostly on assignment. I was living in Palm Beach, and my agency in New York, Camera 5, called and said, "Go down to Miami Beach and shoot Ali."
LAO: Had you shot much boxing before then?
AS: I'd never shot a boxer or a fight. But I went down there and introduced myself to Angie Dundee [Ali's longtime trainer whose brother, Chris, owned the 5th Street Gym]. He introduced me to Ali, and then I sort of disappeared into the wall. You know, they get used to you.
Ali didn't pay attention to the camera. He knew I was there, but he wasn't playing to me. He was playing to the sportswriters. They were always saying, "Ali, what's your secret?" One time, he took an envelope and wrote, "The Secret of Muhammad Ali" on it. And he's flashing it, holding it out to the sportswriters. That was his sense of humor, which I totally loved.
LAO: How often did you shoot at the gym?
AS: I don't remember exactly. I would go down for three or four days, and then I'd wait to go back because Angie would say, "He's going to be something else next week." I ended up shooting about 55 rolls of film. There's no color. It's all black and white.
LAO: Did you hang out with him much outside the gym?
AS: We'd go around after the workout to where he was staying. People would call out, "Hey, Ali!" They'd stop the car and he'd run out and shake their hands and get a picture taken. It was Ali being Ali, not Ali saying, "I gotta do this because there's a camera-man around." He didn't give a shit about me. He was a real person.
One time, we were driving around Miami Beach. He said, "Pull over here." There was a house for sale. I guess he was looking at houses. He said to me, "Why don't you go and ask them what they want." I said, "Why me?" He said, "'Cause you're the only white guy in the car."
LAO: Was the atmosphere in the gym different after Ali beat Jerry Quarry and was preparing to fight Joe Frazier?
AS: If my memory serves me right, there were more spectators and more press. I have a picture of him seated with his robe on, and he's surrounded by seven or eight writers.
LAO: But you didn't cover the actual fights, in Atlanta or New York, did you?
AS: No, because nobody hired me. Hell, Life Magazine hired Frank Sinatra to take pictures [of Ali-Frazier in Madison Square Garden]. I did shoot Ali later, after I moved out to L.A. in the 1970s and he was living here. He had a track meet and I got an assignment to shoot it. I was surprised that he remembered me.
LAO: Did you ever shoot Quarry or Frazier?
AS: No. I don't think I ever shot another boxer other than Ali.
LAO: Do you have a favorite photograph in the series?
AS: I like "The Secret." It's kind of cool because there is no secret. Or, you know, there's a lot of secrets. There's another shot of him that I like. He's in an empty room with a mirror leaning up against the wall. He's sort of looking at his body in the mirror. It's Ali being introspective. That's what I always look for, those quiet moments.
LAO: You've only got a few days to meet your Kickstarter goal. How is it going?
AS: It's not looking good, but it's not over until the fat lady sings or I have to write a check. I just emailed my printer-distributor and told him to think about becoming my partner because, if I don't make the number, he won't have a book to print.
LAO: You were successful with your Hunter S. Thompson book via Kickstarter. Why do you think raising money for the Ali project has proven to be so challenging?
AS: Hunter has a lot of fans who are willing to spend money. Ali may have a lot of fans, but it's possible that there are already too many Ali books out there. Also, a lot of Ali fans only want fight pictures. Mine aren't the fights. They're behind-the-scenes. Other people say, "Well, there's a lot of Kickstarter fatigue." I don't know if that's true or not.
LAO: What else are you working on these days?
AS: I'm working on my book series called "aRound." I have finished "aRound New York," and I have almost finished "aRound L.A." I've got everything shot but I haven't edited it yet. I need to finish London, Paris, Rome, Venice, and then maybe Tokyo and Moscow. They're all fish-eye images. They're 180-degree, round pictures. With digital, they're incredibly sharp.