Photographing women is a specialty in the photo business, and like any specialty, the temperament and skills required are not easily found in everyone. There are many fine photographers in the world today, but just like it takes a certain "eye" to be an architectural photographer or fashion photographer or even wedding photographer, it takes a special eye to shoot women. Being a good photographer does not necissarily make a good photographer of women. Even more specialized is the photography of a Playboy centerfold. In fact, since the magazine started, there have been less than 15 photographers that have ever shot a centerfold. And Hooper won the first award given to a photographer by the magazine for his very first centerfold. That, and several other things is an example of what makes him a Master photographer of women.
It is not my intent to do a history of Robert Scott Hooper here. There is a full bio and a list of his published works on his other website, RScottHooper.com for those who are interested. I'd rather try and give you a sense of the man and what makes him a master of his art. I admit, I've known him a long time and I may be slightly prejudiced, but if you don't want to take my opinion, read his own words (in quotes) or read the article he wrote for Nevada Woman Magazine as well as some testimonials from women he's photographed.
By the time Hooper hit Las Vegas, he knew shooting glamour was his forte. A rather small town then, where Sinatra and the Rat Pack still reigned, Vegas was the perfect place to hone his skills. Showgirls, dancers and starlets, all within a background of glamourous lights by night and desert sands by day
When Hooper started at the Las Vegas News Bureau it was a division of the Chamber of Commerce that supplied publicity about Las Vegas in the form of stories and pictures that went out on the AP wire worldwide every day. Hooper quickly became their glamour specialist with the hotels and PR people requesting him for their girl shoots. He seldom took the usual "cheesecake" (showgirl on a hotel diving board) pictures popular at the time. His was a more natural approach, using Gods light, softer edges and less 'posing'.
But it was the Vegas Visitor, a popular weekly tabloid, was his real training ground for photographing women. Once the paper decided to put a picture of a beautiful girl on the cover every week and make Hooper the exclusive photographer of that cover, he really started learning fast. Photographing a new cover pic every week, of a new girl, in an extreme vertical format, striving for variety and meeting deadlines, was not always an easy job. The "cover girls" were not just showgirls or dancers, but often, cashiers, cocktail waitresses, visiting starlets, young models and sometimes "friends of friends".
"Usually I had no idea what the girl looked like, let alone what she was going to wear, until the shoot. So I had to decide quickly what to do with her to get the best shot with what we had. Sometimes we'd take a ride to the mountains if she was an outdoor girl, sometimes we'd just shoot in her apartment or hotel room and use whatever light was there to her best advantage. I knew I just had to get one great picture of her for the cover, whatever that took. It wasn't too difficult, as long as you remember, it's all about the girl. Not the background, not the clothes, not the furniture, but whether I could get that 'look' from her that is as pretty and sexy as she could be."
By the time Playboy gave him an opportunity with his first pictorial "Sex and the Automobile" Hooper was well known as the premier glamour photographer in Las Vegas and had already been published in magazines around the world. But Playboy being the "best of the best" was another school of sorts for him. No other magazine spent the money, had the style and demanded the perfection that Playboy did. He learned new lighting skills, how to create rich backgrounds and sets and how difficult it is to shoot a living, breathing girl with an 8x10 view camera. Contrary to popular belief, the perfection that Playboy demanded was from the photographers, not the retouch artist. They did not retouch the centerfolds to make them perfect but rather gave the photographer a chance to do the photos over, changing the lighting or whatever else it took to make the picture perfect. Even though he did not always agree with the editors choices, he realized the value of the lessons.
Even at Playboy his "style" was more natural that most of the other photographers. His first centerfold of Debra Jo Fondren was shot outside on location, something that hadn't been done at the magazine in years (or since). Some of the other photographers thought he was nuts because a gatefold was difficult enough to do in a controlled studio set but going outdoors with an 8x10 camera made the difficult nearly impossible. Nevertheless, Hooper felt that Debra Jo, being a farm girl and horsewoman, would be more comfortable in a natural outdoor setting. The readership must have agreed because Debra Jo became the most popular centerfold of the time and went on to be Playmate of the Year.
"I don't think I have a style. A style is what Helmut Newton did, fitting women into his particular vision. I fit my style to the girl. She's more likely to let me 'discover' the real her if she's comfortable and, let's face it....it's all about the girl."
Hooper's "no style" has been a part of his success over the years. His photos have appeared everywhere from billboards and bus backs to magazine covers all over the world, a variety of which you can see on his other websites, VegasRetro.com and rscotthooper.com. But many of his best can only be found in the private collections of the women he's photographed, where there are no accolades or fame, just the appreciation of his work by the women and their partners.
"I really enjoy the private work I do. I have worked with a lot of editors and art directors and found I can usually do ok pursuing their idea of beauty, but there is nothing as satisfying as making one woman and her boyfriend 'insanely happy' with her pictures."
What Hooper does, in his easygoing manner, is create a space for discovery. Both he and his subject get to explore the possibilities, and find that moment in time when she is perfectly beautiful, perfectly sexy and perfectly her.
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