Master of Photography, Professional Photographers of America
Fellow, American Society of Photographers
It was the ultimate photography dream job.
From photographing under the seas to the top of mountain ranges, Neil Montanus traveled the globe, photographing the world's most beautiful and exotic locations and some of it's most famous people.
Beginning in the 50's, Neil
toured Europe, Africa, Australia, South America, India, Taiwan,
the South Pacific - more than 32 countries in all - and even spent several nights with a former
headhunting tribe in the jungles of Borneo. As a result, his
career has been called legendary and his photographs have been seen by of millions of people
around the world through Kodak advertising.
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 in the world to
hold that distinction when he was awarded it in 1977. He earned the Master of
Photography from the Professional Photographers of America in 1961. And he
won several international photography awards.
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
fitness buff and exercise instructor (before that was a job
description) and an exceptional 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 called the most interesting man in the world:)
was the heyday of corporate America - and the Madmen era of
advertising. And nowhere was this more evident than in the photo
studios at Kodak Office on State Street in Rochester New York.
Beautiful models were everywhere. And corporate travel budgets
were fat, allowing Neil and his fellow Kodak photographers
seemingly unlimited travel opportunities.
Ever since he was 10 years old, Neil knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life after he won a Chicago Tribune photo contest of a little kitten inside the bell of a Tuba.
Growing up in the depression, one of seven children and the son of a Presbyterian minister, he worked whatever jobs he could in order to raise enough money for film and chemicals for processing his own film.
Originally hired by Kodak as a portrait specialist in 1954, he quickly began to aggressively
pursue several new areas of specialization and began 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, New York Times and CBS Sunday Morning. Articles in the
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle 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 Kodak Colorama which hung in New York’s Grand Central Station in
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,
Caribbean and the South Pacific. And just for practice, Neil and his diving
buddies did under-ice dives in winter and night dives in the Finger Lakes
to hone his diving skills and refine his underwater photography technique.
Neil’s crowning achievement was 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.