As a photojournalist, I had a nose for news. I had a nose for portraits, too, which led to some remarkable photographs. After I nailed the shot I came for, usually on behalf of a client for publication, I exploited a time-honored demand imposed by almost all photographers just when their subjects think they’re done posing: Just one more! And I signed off with a visual humoresque by asking my sitters to pose with The Nose.
If you don’t know what I meme, those familiar novelty-shop spectacles, lensless with bushy brows, a broad mustache, and big honking schnoz, represent the countenance of inimitable humorist Groucho Marx. Inimitable, yes. But lots of people have fun trying. His character, the duckwalk and rapid-fire non-sequiturs punctuated with a wagging cigar, inspired my silly prop, apropos of a coda for my portraits and recognized worldwide.
The Nose inspired a self-promotional marketing campaign, a series of chucklesome postcards. I mailed a new card to a cultivated list of clients and prospects every few weeks. Each mailing depicted a celebrity wearing a plastic proboscis. Each card was headlined with the same riddle: Who Nose Tom Zimberoff? The answer was printed on the front of each card, upside down and backward. Despite the disguise, the obviousness of the subject’s identity combined with the pun was the joke.
That promo kept my name and phone number under the noses of photo editors and art directors who could hire me. The idea came to me when, in 1987, a magazine called Publish! assigned me to photograph Steve Jobs at his NeXT Computer headquarters in Palo Alto, the company he founded during his banishment from Apple.
I arrived early at NeXT to scout the best place to shoot, to be camera-ready when Jobs arrived. His office was modest, too small to set up lights. But I zeroed in on a piece of decorative art on the wall behind his desk: a full-size replica of the Rosetta Stone.
The Rosetta Stone is a first-century-BCE granite slab, a stele, inscribed on its flat surface with three discrete versions of the same text written in ancient Greek, period colloquial…