During the 12+ years I worked at Apple I never met with Steve Jobs for work purposes. Of course like all Apple employees I saw Steve in Caffé Macs or walking with Jony Ive around the courtyard inside the Infinite Loop campus. And of course there were Comm meetings that he would run. But I didn’t have any direct contact. Until…
In March 2010, just a couple of weeks before the iPad was due to be released publicly, I had a reason to contact Steve. A friend of mine was dying of liver disease and I was going to San Francisco to hopefully see and communicate with her while it was still possible. She was a friend from my Adobe days and was very much into technology. I thought it would be a treat for her to see an iPad. And I had one. But until the product was officially released I could not show it to anyone without permission from Apple management.
There was no way I was going to take the iPad with me unless Steve personally approved it. I knew that asking anyone in my direct management chain was a non-starter. I knew that nobody would take the risk. Only in the higher levels of iOS development would they be able to approve such a request and it seemed like a waste of time to bother trying. The easy answer was “No” and that is what I would hear. Nobody would care.
So I wrote Steve.
I shot Steve Jobs on a magazine assignment, in 1989, at NeXT Computer in Palo Alto, California (before he reconnected with Apple). I arrived on location early to look around for props. I found a replica of theRosetta Stone hanging on his office wall. Perfect! Consider it the original tablet computer. I took it to the lobby, where I had more room to set up lights and cameras, and I wouldn’t have to drive Jobs out of his own workspace while making Polaroid test shots with a stand-in. (In the analog era we called them “Paranoids.”)
But there were several huge windows in the lobby. I sent my assistant out to bring back yards and yards of opaque, black velvet drapes to block the daylight, so I could control my lighting effects. It took a few hours to seal out the sun and turn the lobby into a makeshift studio. Everything was ready to make this photo shoot as convenient as possible for Jobs.
He arrived accompanied by an entourage that included musician Stephen Stills (of Crosby Stills Nash & Young), whom I already knew from an album cover shoot we did in 1977. Jobs brushed right past me, took a perfunctory look at my set and said, right In front of everyone, “Who’s stupid f%∞&@¢# idea was this?” I said it was my stupid f%∞&@¢# idea, and if he didn’t like it he could go f%∞& himself because I went to a lot of trouble just to make him look good—for me to look good for my client, too.
I don’t remember the details, but while some huffing and puffing went on among Jobs’s acolytes, I went over to say hello to Stephen Stills. I was prepared to pack up and leave without a picture. But Jobs came over, all smiles, and apologized.
Only recently, after reading his posthumously-published biography, I discovered that such startling outbursts of invective were not reserved for visiting photographers, like me. Apparently, they were pretty common. Jobs used shock and awe to separate the meek from those with more mettle. Anyway, we got down to work. Several different setups and wardrobe changes later, we finished with The Nose.
Steve and I spent more time negotiating the social issues than we did the economic issues. He thought maintaining the culture of Pixar was a major ingredient of their creative success. He was right.
Periodically he would call and say, “Hey, Bob, I saw the movie you just released last night, and it sucked”. Nevertheless, having Jobs as a friend and adviser was additive rather than the other way around.
Apple chairman Arthur D. Levinson spoke at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business on February 19th, 2013.
I’m still not to the point where I walk into that boardroom and don’t miss Steve, He was a one of a kind guy. The Steve Jobs that was in the public eye was not, for the most part, the Steve Jobs that I knew.