Bob Willoughby began his career as an assistant to photographers Wallace Seawell and Paul Hesse. He was the first photographer retained by a Hollywood studio to take on-set promotional stills for sale to magazines. With the rise of LIFE and Look magazines, a demand was created for compelling photo stills from movie sets. Over a career that spanned three decades, Willoughby had more than 125 motion picture assignments, including A Star Is Born, The Man with the Golden Arm, Raintree County, My Fair Lady, The Graduate, The Lion in Winter and Rosemary’s Baby.
In addition to his work on Hollywood film sets, Willoughby was responsible for a number of technical innovations, including the silent blimp for 35mm still cameras – which became common on film sets. He was the only photographer working on films at the time to use radio-controlled cameras, allowing him unprecedented coverage in otherwise impossible situations, and he had special brackets built to hold his still cameras on or over the Panavision cameras.
His body of work, documenting this historic era of filmmaking, is unsurpassed. He captured with wonderful perception the most famous actors and directors of the time on and off the set, in unguarded moments of repose, vulnerability and high drama. He had a unique ability to capture what was essential to each film.
“Sometimes a filmmaker gets a look at a photograph taken on his own set and sees the ‘soul’ of his film in one still photograph. It’s rare, but it happens. It happened to me in 1969, the first time I looked at the work of Bob Willoughby during the filming of They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” — Sydney Pollack from the introduction to Bob’s autobiography
In 1998, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Hollywood honored Willoughby with a major retrospective exhibition of his work. He was awarded the Lucie Award for Outstanding Achievement in Still Photography in New York in 2004. His photographs are in the permanent collections of The National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.; The National Portrait Gallery, London; The National Museum of Photography, Bradford, UK; Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris; The Museum of Modern Art, Film Department, New York; The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Beverly Hills; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Tate Gallery Collection, London; Théâtre de la Photographie et de l’Image, Nice; and Musée de la Photographie, Charleroi, Belgium.
Phil Stern & Bob Willoughby : Picture’s Up
November 4, 2021 through January 8, 2022
Exhibition Reception: Thursday, November 4th
Fahey Klein Gallery
148 North La Brea Avenue
Los Angeles CA 90036