The Man From Mars
by Maria Luci
Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus was the breakout book of the ’90s. It was everywhere, selling over 50 million copies and earning the title of “highest ranked work of non-fiction” from CNN. The relationship guide found itself—and its title—seeping into popular culture, and is still recognizable today.
The martian behind the book is author and relationship counselor, John Gray, who made a fortune off of the book’s success. John was the subject of a recent Times Magazine article that dug deep into the more interesting, or dare we say odd, aspects of John’s personality. To bring out this personality, photographer Robert Gallagher was brought in. A long-time Times shooter, they knew Robert can handle just about any subject, even the tricky kind.
Robert says The Times photo editors wanted “visually strong” images that they could use across a double page spread. But, he added, “you really have absolutely no idea what you’re working with until you arrive.” After touring John’s beautiful home, Robert and his assistant Noel Spirandelli scouted in detail for interesting backdrops. Robert had been asked to shoot John in his own “man cave”—a theme from his book—and while Robert found the “cave” (John’s office) and shot there, it wasn’t quite floating his boat. “To me, the concept of someone behind a desk is just an office shot really, I wanted something more dynamic and genuine—less staged.”
Instead, Robert had a different image in mind, one of John diving into his “over-the-top” pool. Once they came across it, both Robert and Noel looked at each other and simultaneously said: “wouldn’t it be great to get him in there!” Of course, Robert knew it would be next to impossible to convince such a well-known author to take a dip—but Robert asked anyway. It was a firm “no” so he continued the shoot around various rooms in the house, ending back at the pool. Robert and Noel coolly brought up how interesting the pool appeared, how dynamically visual it was and how representative of John’s lifestyle. Robert credits Noel’s second voice as being the tipping point—”he may have been my assistant, but two voices against one can often be enough to persuade anyone of anything.” Soon, John was dipping his toe in the water. “I knew we were in!” Robert said of the moment.
He was right, the next thing they knew, John was sporting bright red swim trunks and was diving in. “The diving shot was good,” said Robert, “but then, magically, he just loses himself in the moment, floating around at his own leisure, and adopts the most perfectly iconic ‘Christ the Redeemer’ pose I’ve ever seen. I thought ‘shut up Rob and shoot!’ and ‘just float a little more to your left!’ I think for someone who’s made a killing from writing about the subconscious, it seemed somewhat appropriate.”
The Times loved the images and were surprised at what he was able to get. Robert also added that it was a great learning experience and implores all photographers to, “encourage your assistants to contribute to the creative process. Obviously, this means hiring people who have some confidence in their creativity and their eye. When you walk into these situations, there’s so much going on form the get-go, and everyone comes to you with all their questions, you’re bound to miss something. So having a crew that’s more than a human light-stand can make a huge difference and help you get that one shot that stands out.”
View more of Robert’s work at gallagherphoto.com.