I Shot the Shooter

Tim Mantoani, himself a photographer of acclaim, is working on a picture book of people who’ve shot some of the most famous pictures in the world.

Two years ago, Mantoani had a simple idea -- one that proved ingenious. He began using a rare, oversize Polaroid camera to shoot photographers posing with their own iconic photos. For example, he got a smiling Neil Leifer to pose with his famous 1965 shot of Muhammad Ali standing coiled over a knocked-out Sonny Liston.

To date, Mantoani has shot 110 such images. Through the month of May, 35 prints of his work are part of an exhibit at the Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles.

Mantoani has a studio in San Diego’s Mission Hills. A cancer survivor, he has shot Tony Gwynn for the cover of Sports Illustrated, and his portraits of such athletes as Lance Armstrong, Barry Sanders and Mark McGwire have long graced the walls of Seau's Restaurant in Mission Valley.

Mantoani shot lens legends like skateboard shooter Grant Brittins, 92-year-old LeRoy Grannis and Jim Marshall, whose image of Johnny Cash flipping the bird is ever-enduring. But he won’t name a favorite.

"It’s just been a dream to meet the photographers who inspired me and to collaborate with them,” he said.

Yes, Annie Leibovitz, is still on his wish list. Mantoani is presently seeking a book publisher for the collection of work. And an exhibit in his home city would be nice (are you listening, Museum of Photographic Arts?)

As a whole, Mantoani looks idealistically at his labor of love.

"I want to show a balance between the image and the photographer," he said. "This will stand as a catalog long after we're gone. So often you don't look at an iconic image and connect that there was a person who captured the image. Usually, a photographer gets credit for their work in a small, six-point font at the bottom of a picture. And what they're doing, basically, is helping define our society."  

Ron Donoho, formerly executive editor of "San Diego Magazine," is a regular contributor to NBCSandiego.com who covers local news, sports, culture and happy hours.

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