The career of accomplished celebrity and advertising photographer Michael Grecco, who has taken photos for People Magazine, Forbes Magazine, TIME Magazine, Sports Illustrated and several other outlets, started at the age of 19 with a Boston-based internship at The Associated Press. Though the final year as a teenager started his career, it was the first year as a teenager that developed his love for photography.
"I learned the dark room at 13," Grecco said. "I was always into photography, was a big follower of the Time-Life photography books, their photography series where I saw a lot of the masters. Irving Penn or my now friend Bruce Davidson and a lot of great photographers." It wasn't just taking the images that inspired Grecco to pursue a career in photography, it was the science behind it too.
"I was always sort of a mechanical-inclined kid and science-oriented. As soon as I watched the magic of a print coming up and the chemistry... That sort of magic just fascinated me."
After growing up in New York, Grecco moved to Boston in the late-Seventies as a film student. It was then when his career got off the ground. His skillset turned heads shortly after, presenting him with the first of several opportunities in the photojournalism world.
"I was 19 years old; I was in my sophomore year at Boston University. My instructor thought I was promising, so he set me up with an internship with the Associated Press." It came during the blizzard of 1978, which shut Boston down for several days, though it didn't shut down Grecco, and it didn't stop him from snapping his first pictures for the AP.
"I'm a skier, so I put on my ski gear and skied into the office with three rolls of film and had my first image on the Associated Press wire." The internship led to Grecco becoming a stringer and freelancer with the Associated Press from 1978 to 1981. From there, he became a staff photographer for The Boston Herald until December of 1986. It was through these experiences, Grecco elevated his skills, but also figured out what he wanted to do next.
"I came from more of this fine art, magazine background. I didn't think I was a photojournalist, but it was interesting and it was a way to leverage my limited experience."
Though he was on staff at The Boston Herald, Grecco always kept his eyes and his lens open for new opportunities. In the summer of 1986, Grecco out-shot Mike Fuller and Ken Regan, two very well-known names in the photography world, during the Maria Shriver and Caroline Kennedy weddings. His style caught the attention of People Magazine, which used his images on more than one occasion. People Magazine was so impressed with Grecco's style that Beth Filler, the associate director of photography at the time, told him if he were to ever leave The Herald, a job with People would open up.
Not long after, Grecco moved to Los Angeles and collected on that offer. For the next handful of years, Grecco continued on his photojournalism path. Now established in Los Angeles, more opportunities presented themselves for Grecco, who at this point in his career was looking for a change of pace, and he was in the right place.
"I wanted to be creative," he said. "I wasn't the concerned photographer. I was more inspired by Annie Leibovitz even in the Eighties and Nineties to be creative. That was really where my focus was. I could be creative and shoot portraits of people that are creative, but they'll have more of a historical significance if they're celebrities. Doing books will be easier and doing exhibitions will be easier. That was kind of the game plan when I wanted to transition into more creative photography. LA was a logical choice."
Grecco's clients grew and he began building relationships with classic names including Rene Russo, Michael Madsen and David Duchovny. Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Will Smith, Kathy Ireland and Patrick Dempsey are just some of the other famous names Grecco has worked with throughout his career, but recalled his first big name he photographed. As a father of three, Grecco prioritized his time when he needed to, and let his prior images work for him.
"My first big shoot was Johnny Depp. It was right after he had broken up with Winona Ryder, but he was still really big. I didn't play the game of going to dinner and socializing in the celebrity crowd and making sure I was the only photographer attached to a celebrity. I got my work because the magazines liked the pictures I took."
It was in 1993 when Grecco's career took another leap forward. So much so, part of a show was altered thanks to the look of his images. He joked that a few classic TV shows helped get him to Southern California, where he had a career-defining moment.
"The Beverly Hillbillies and Starsky & Hutch made me move to Los Angeles," he laughed. "The thing I became rather famous for was my 1993 advertising, or what you would call a gallery shoot, for The X-Files. [It] was a game changer for me because you would always wonder what the client thought... In some ways you were second guessing yourself and from that moment on... I realized someone wanted what I had. There was a certain level of fear that was just dissipated at that moment."
Years later, Grecco found out that X-Files writer Chris Carter wasn't fond of him prior to shooting a special edition for People Magazine. Not knowing Carter, Grecco was confused. Apparently, Grecco's '93 shoot was so successful, the network began advertising the series with his pictures. The network then made Carter take the look of Grecco's images and adapt them into the show. For that, Carter was resentful, Grecco said.
After the X-Files shoot, Grecco would team up with People Magazine once again to do special colored pages that followed a series theme such as "top fifteen" lists and other photo shoots. Shoots that, this time around, he felt he was meant for.
"Those were the jobs that got looked at differently than the weekly, tabloid kind of feel of People Magazine. Those were the color, somewhat of a budget, beautiful photo shoots and I started getting those photo shoots which was just fabulous."
Recently, Grecco's Days of Punk book has been the focus. It's made up of images Grecco shot while he was a stringer for the Associated Press in Boston. According to the Days of Punk website, the book "depicts the history of the US punk rock scene through stunning and intimate photography of iconic artist in their prime." For Grecco, the project takes him back to the days when he felt was a part of the punk family.
"I had this dual life. I was a stringer for the Associated Press in '78 and I was a club kid all night. I wasn't just shooting pictures for Boston Rock and WBCN radio station, I was part of the scene. It was this accepting family that was just really progressive and great." Now, he's showcasing the world the moments he captured.
"This Days of Punk project has been taking me to London a lot. I have like five galleries in England that represent the Days of Punk work. That's been more of a business place that I've been in lately and I'm focusing on promoting my stock archive. I'm focused on different things at this point of my career. I'm in my third trimester," he laughed. "I was a photojournalist for the first, a celebrity portrait photographer for the second and now I'm a little bit more of an entrepreneur and working in the fine art field, and things like that."
Throughout his career, Grecco has always searched for his own style when it comes to photography. He used all of his experiences to find it, and he found it in lighting. Now, he's known for pushing the boundary with lighting and using that technique in his pictures, getting the most out of every frame.
"I brought in this idea of light and dark and shadow and not lighting everything the same. I took my newspaper experience and photojournalist experience... Using light to move your eye and to shape the photograph became very important to me."
It's evident his unique technique worked. So much so, Grecco's colleagues began calling him "the light master."
"It's a compliment I take to heart and try to live up to every day," Grecco states on his website. "I really wanted to develop my own look and my own style. I did that by developing my lighting. I realized this could be my brand and I made sure that was my expertise."
Again, Grecco's work speaks for itself. In the lighting category, his expertise can be called upon with two best-selling books, The Art of Portrait Photography and Lighting and the Dramatic Portrait.
From a 13-year-old child inspired by the dark room, to a multiyear career in photojournalism, to photographing celebrities and creating his own publications, the career of Michael Grecco is certainly multifaceted. If his career to this point is any indication of what is to come from the celebrity and advertising photographer, the possibilities are endless, and there's no telling what projects, images or galleries the world might see next.
For more on the career of Michael Grecco, including his client list, photo examples and social media information, visit his website, Grecco.com.