Master of Photography, Professional Photographers of America
Fellow, American Society of Photographers
Neil Montanus’ photographs have been seen by hundreds of millions of people around the
world. As probably the most well-known photographer in Kodak's history, his photos had a significant impact on how people take pictures today. When his career at Kodak began in 1954, photography as a recreational or leisurely activity was still in its infancy. His pictures taught people what to take pictures of before they knew what to take pictures of - a day at the beach, Christmas morning, graduations, and more.
During his epic career, Neil traveled around the globe, shooting in some of the world's most exotic locations, traversing more than 32 different countries in the process. He toured Europe on multiple occasions, Africa, Australia, South America, India, Taiwan, the South Pacific and even spent several nights with a former headhunting tribe in the jungles of Borneo. As a result, his career has been called legendary by many in the press and a variety of former Kodak executives.
His resume includes the ‘best portrait ever’ of Walt Disney (still in use today), the official presidential portrait of Gerald Ford, and a fellowship with the American Society of Photographers, one of only 27 photographers to hold that distinction when he was awarded it in 1977. And he won many international photography salons.
Called "Don Draper before there was a Don Draper" by the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Neil was a true renaissance man. Strikingly handsome, with a flair for adventure, he was also a tenor soloist who sang in operas, an athletics coach,
a musician, a fitness buff and exercise instructor (before that was a job title) and a world class athlete. He was also a photography teacher, who among other things taught nude photography for 30 years. There was a time when he could have been
considered the most interesting man in the world.
Originally hired as a portrait specialist in 1954, he quickly began to carve out several new areas of specialization, aggressively pursuing these areas and beginning to form his own unique style outside of the mainstream of typical Kodak advertising shots, which were somewhat formulaic in those days.
Neil’s work quickly propelled him to one of Kodak’s top photographers and arguably he became the most celebrated photographer in the history of the company. His adventures and world travels became fodder for hundreds of articles in local, national and international media outlets and his work has been featured in Vanity Fair magazine and CBS Sunday Morning. Articles in the Rochester Times Union and Kodakery were omnipresent.
Neil excelled and perfected so many areas of expertise - photographing dance, nudes, fine art, fine portraiture, landscapes, underwater photography - too many to name. And when he took up underwater photography, like everything else he did, he excelled in it - pioneering underwater photography techniques and taking the world’s largest underwater photograph ever produced to this day, an 18x60 foot a Kodak Colorama which hung in New York’s Grand Central Station on December 27, 1962 to January 12, 1963. (View a documentary about this:
Neil continued to do underwater photography for Kodak, diving in some of the most exotic diving locations in the world including the Great Barrier Reef, various locations in the Caribbean and islands in the South Pacific. And just for practice, Neil and his diving buddies did a variety of dives in the area, including under-ice dives in winter and night dives in various New York State Finger Lakes to hone his dive skills as well as underwater photography skills.
His crowning achievement was probably his work on the famed Kodak Colorama project, putting him in the same company as Ansel Adams - who shot several - and Norman Rockwell, who art directed one in his iconic style. Once forgotten and recently rediscovered, they are considered an important part of photographic history. Of the 565 Coloramas displayed in Grand Central Station, 55 of them were shot by Neil, more than any other single photographer. This prompted a D&C writer to call him “The King of the Colorama.”
From shooting the ‘best portrait ever’ of Walt Disney to living with a former headhunting tribe in the jungles of Borneo - Neil has seen and done just about everything you can do photographically.
Originally hired as a
portrait specialist, Neil was asked to do
the official White House portrait of President Gerald
Ford, taken in the Oval Office after Nixon's resignation
A little risqué for Kodak's
wholesome image at the time, this ad appeared in Playboy
magazine circa 1971, and features Georgia Durante, one of Neil's all-time
In 1956 - two years after
Neil landed his dream job at Kodak - he created this
Classic image of Kodak's photographic studio on the
floor of Kodak Office in Rochester, NY. Each photographer had their own
studio space as shown. With 22 staff photographers at the
time, this number was eventually whittled down to two people at present.
The famed Kodak
Summer Girl program began around the turn of the century in
Ladies Home Journal. Neil began shooting the Summer Girls in the
mid-60's which included an
Olympic Gold medalist (Mary Decker), Cybil Shephard, Miss USA, and a variety of other top NY, LA, Toronto and Rochester
models. These iconic advertisements were life-sized cardboard
cutouts meant for Kodak film dealers and drug stores around the world to promote
the sales of Kodak film and cameras. The model was always
holding the product they wanted to feature that year.
Rules Football, championship game, 1979.
This portrait of Neil's son
Daniel won "Best portrait" in the Kodak
International Salon of Photography, 1958.
Young boys working in Tea fields outside of Nairobi Kenya, 1989.
After retiring from Kodak, Neil spent eight summers in
Yosemite National Park as a Kodak Ambassador where his
job was to give early morning photo/nature walks through
pristine natural areas, afternoon photo seminars and at
night, slide shows to hundreds of people in a natural
outdoor amphitheatre in Yosemite Village. This allowed
Neil to pursue his other passion: teaching photography.
Rancher in Australian
Brazilian Fisherman, 1978.
Neil shooting in Spain in the late 50's with 8x10 view camera.
Neil became Kodak's underwater photography specialist beginning
in the late 50's and dove in many of the best diving locations
throughout the world. Pictured above is the wreck of the Cali in
Georgetown Harbor, Grand Cayman in the mid-70's.
Model at Chimney Bluffs.
along Lake Ontario in central New
York. Neil was asked by an art director to create
something 'different' for an advertising campaign for
what was then the sharpest color film in the world, Ektar 25. Having recently come into possession of a
giant bubble-making device, this is what he came up
with. Mission accomplished as the art director loved the
Bahia, Brazil, 1975.
In the mid-70's, Neil was
traveling extensively around the world creating
advertising photographs that would eventually be used in
Kodak's foreign markets. He spent several weeks in
Brazil touring the country and created volumes of work
while on assignment there.
Kodak often assigned local
Kodak staff with extensive regional knowledge to
accompany Neil on his travels. But many of them simply
couldn't hack the frenetic self-imposed pace of Neil's
shooting schedule. He often drove his assistants
to complete exhaustion within just a few days and often
had to be replaced. This was especially true in Brazil
with the hot and humid climate.
One of Neil's very early assignments, photographing the assembly
of 35 mm Kodak rangefinder cameras at what was then an enormous
industrial complex known as Kodak Park in Rochester.
Early product shot of Kodak
Stereo camera, 1956.
Talking with children in the Peruvian Andes along what was then
an arduous hike up to the lost city of Machu Pichu.
Neil and Cybil Shephard taking a lunch break on the beach on
Long Island, NY during a photo shoot early
in her career.
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© 2011 Neil Montanus. All rights reserved.