“They both said, ‘Yes!’”With great excitement, I reported to Henry that Sparky Woods, head coach for the University of South Carolina, and Ken Hatfield, head coach for Clemson, agreed to a joint feature about their upcoming football season in Columbia Metropolitan for Fall 1990, our second issue.
Robert Clark, who had started taking photographs for our inaugural issue four months earlier, agreed to take the cover shot of the coaches together at his downtown studio. I explained to him that the only caveat was that the coaches had limited time, very limited time. We were all in a twitter of careful planning to make sure no hitches occurred so the shot would be taken with seamless effort.
Ahead of time in his studio, Robert drew playbook images on a blackboard, the backdrop for the shot, and asked Henry and me to “stand in” for the coaches to make sure the chalk marks were perfectly placed. He tested the lighting, prepared a table with a black cloth for helmets from each team and a football, and even did an in-depth cleaning of the studio to make sure that first impression was perfect.
Henry offered to pick up Sparky Woods at USC, and I arranged to pick up Ken Hatfield at the then Sheraton on I-20. On the much anticipated day, Coach Woods told Henry he would meet us at Robert’s studio, reminding him again of his time restrictions. After checking over my carefully planned outfit — a cream sweater with massive shoulder pads and a black mini skirt with those stylish black zebra tights — I headed off from our first office on Marion Street toward I-26. Being brand new to the Columbia area, I had learned how to reach I-26 with no worries, but without a cell phone or a GPS (again, the year was 1990), I had detailed directions written down about merging on I-20 in the right direction to find the Sheraton. For someone who is directionally challenged, Malfunction Junction is like the brim of Hades. My bebopping down I-20 took a nosedive when I suspected I was headed in the wrong direction. I leaned over the steering wheel willing the Sheraton to magically appear on the horizon. Panic set in. I had three minutes to get there.
After pulling over to several gas stations, I found no one who knew where the Sheraton was. The minutes continued to zip by. I don’t know what speed limits I broke that day as I zoomed from exit to exit before returning in the right direction on I-20. Arriving 15 minutes late, I finally found the Sheraton … and a most upset Ken Hatfield waiting outside the hotel. My cute outfit didn’t help one iota to appease a very annoyed head football coach.
Mercifully, by the time we arrived at Robert’s studio, we were laughing over small talk and in a good frame of mind. My concern over how Sparky Woods was faring in waiting for us was emphatically confirmed upon walking in. He was standing by the blackboard with his arms folded across his chest. The silence was deafening. Robert was sweating in his handsome coat and tie while fiddling with his camera, and Henry stared at me in utter disbelief.
“Photographing people was always hard for me,” says Robert, an acclaimed wildlife photographer. “Nature and home interiors don’t fold their arms and stare at you. So imagine the added pressure I felt of photographing two people of prominence, the head coaches of major football teams.”
So what was it like having the head coach of USC in his studio held up because of my poor navigation skills?
“It was like sitting in an emergency room, anxiously waiting to hear about the health of the person you care about,” Robert says. “In that time of waiting, I knew I was going to get through it, but the minutes seemed like hours. It was stressful!”
Turning on the charm, Robert positioned the coaches in their respective places and asked about star players on whom both teams were counting for a successful season. “To get people to relax in front of a camera,” he explains, “I always ask about what they know best, so at that photo shoot, it was natural to talk about the Clemson and USC teams and how they prepare for a game. It’s what these guys love to do, so it put them more at ease. And it helped me capture a better expression.”
While Robert mastered a stunning shot that day, it took a toll on him! “Photographing Hatfield and Woods was the most stressful assignment I ever had from CMM,” he says. “I had these archrivals in my studio who not only needed to smile but also at the same time!” He certainly did manage to have them smile at the same time, creating a cover that was a real coup for a fledgling magazine.
While Robert started with the first issue of CMM, we often laugh that it took forever for Jeff Amberg to join our photography team as he didn’t start working for us until the second issue, the same issue with Hatfield and Woods on the cover. “I remember my first interview with you, Emily — sitting across your desk and talking. There was definitely a connection,” Jeff says. “I don’t know how to explain it. It just clicked, it felt right. I had just left the paper, so I was pretty green as far as shooting for magazines.”
Without a doubt, the one photograph that still captures our team’s complete attention for each issue is the cover shot. We have always brainstormed with Robert and Jeff before and during photo shoots, preparing several options.
“Shooting a cover for the magazine gives me boundaries because of having to produce a vertical shot,” Robert says. “It also motivates me to put some glamour in the shot as I compose it to fit the masthead and cover blurbs. So cover shots are always a challenge, but I love having them.”
“For me,” Jeff says, “shooting the cover is about creating a composition that will hold the reader’s eye in the picture longer, leading the eye to travel all the way around the picture and then come back and start around again. And the beauty of a cover is that you have blurbs in the ‘dead spaces,’ so it all works. It’s a very cohesive drawing of both graphics and photography. A lot of times though, we don’t even know that we are shooting the next cover!”
At times the cover just dropped into our laps, while at other times, we had our heart set on something specific, as with the case of Ken Hatfield and Sparky Woods. Some years after that shot, another such opportunity arose in the spring of 1994.
A new band in Columbia that was positioned to play on the national stage had just won Best Local Band in our 1994 Best of Columbia contest. We decided to write a cover story on these young guys as a way of celebrating their win in BOC and their recent recording contract for Atlantic Records. The band? Hootie and the Blowfish.
We contacted Hootie about winning BOC, assigned Laurie Bishop to write the article, and arranged for Jeff to take the portrait at his downtown studio on Lady Street. As an avid music lover, Jeff was excited, suspecting that Hootie was on the cusp of fame beyond USC and Columbia bars. “When I first found out about the shoot, I mentioned it to Gay, my wife, and she said, ‘Oh yeah, I just read in The New Yorker that they just had a gig on the Letterman Show.’ I thought to myself, ‘If they are on the Letterman Show, then this is the real deal — this is big.’”
Jeff called me daily a week ahead to discuss the multitude of ideas he considered for the shot, from the color of the backdrop and ways to angle the camera in his small studio to possibly having Champagne as props. “The whole idea for the theme was celebration, so I went and got a bunch of confetti,” Jeff says.
When Mark Bryan, Dean Felber, Darius Rucker, and Jim “Soni” Sonefeld arrived for their first ever magazine cover shoot, we were ready. The white backdrop, the Champagne, and the camera were all in perfect position. Jeff asked me to kneel to the side of the setup so I could throw confetti as he was taking each shot. He set a slow shutter speed so the confetti would add an element of action to the shot. With the huge bag Jeff plunked in front of me, I was able to throw two full handfuls each time he said, “Now!” As the confetti rained down on the guys, Jeff clicked away.
“Okay, Emily,” Jeff said. “Now take just one handful of confetti and lob it hard when I say go.” On cue I did as instructed, but the lob landed in the most unfortunate place in Jim’s lap, and the guys broke into hysterics. I will spare writing the comments that were made, but suffice it to say I was quite embarrassed at the unintended target of the confetti.
Jeff didn’t care about my mortification as he clicked away. “When they all cracked up,” he says, “to me it was like, ‘Yeah, this is the picture I want to take.’”
Sometime during the next week, Jeff brought over the color transparencies so we could review them on our lightbox. Henry and I pulled out the loupe (a magnifier) and poured over each shot. They all looked fantastic, except one that was rather blurry, capturing the moment the band members threw back their heads in laughter. “Is that the one with the confetti mishap?” I asked Jeff. He nodded enthusiastically and said it should be the cover.
Jeff recently recounted his mission to sell me on selecting this shot as opposed to the many choices in which the guys were in perfect focus and smiling straight into the camera. “You gave me some pushback initially when we looked at the final images,” Jeff remembers, “but I told you that this was ‘the one’ because of the blur and motion with the musicians due to the slow shutter speed. Fortunately, I was able to convince you that it actually added to the photograph and made it even more fun and alive.”
In the time it took for the magazine to be printed, locals continued to flock to Rockafellas on Saturday nights to enjoy Hootie’s concerts. While the recording contract was a huge deal, no one quite expected their fast rise in becoming an international phenomenon. We were and still are proud over their tremendous success.
So just how did the band come up with their name? Our 1994 article states that the name was created while the foursome were in college at USC. The name originated from nicknames that Darius Rucker called two of his friends. “One of them wore glasses and had big eyes, so Darius named him Hootie,” Mark Bryan said, “and the other one had big cheeks, so Darius called him Blowfish. The two friends walked into a party one night, and Darius said, ‘Hey, there’s Hootie and the Blowfish — Hootie and the Blowfish, that would be a great name for a band.’ For lack of a better name, we used it for our first show, and it stuck.”
We recently reached out to Hootie to ask about memories they have of being featured in CMM. “We said in that article that we hoped to be making great albums 10 years later … 25 feels even better,” Mark says today. Since our 1994 magazine feature, Hootie has sold more than 25 million records worldwide that included their signature songs Hold my Hand, Let Her Cry, and Only Wanna Be With You.
As Jim, or “Soni” to many, reflects back on the CMM feature, he says, “It’s crazy to read that we were just about to go out to LA to record what would become Cracked Rear View when that article was written. We had no idea what was in store for us and how that record would completely change our lives.”
Photography always has been and always will be a defining signature of Columbia Metropolitan. In the 1990s, our magazine team was restricted by having black and white signatures separate from color signatures, meaning that there were only select sections of the magazine that were four-color. The two different signatures required us to plan the articles that ran in the color section so that we could let Robert and Jeff know if the photography needed to be shot in color or black and white, which required different film.
“In the early years of the magazine, my car was always filled to the brim with camera equipment and lighting tools,” Robert says. It was certainly different with shooting film.
“We had a Polaroid adapter that we put on the back of the camera,” Jeff says, “which is just instant film. We usually shot those in black and white since it took 30 seconds to process whereas color took a minute and a half, which felt like an eternity. Everyone would start whistling the Jeopardy theme while we were waiting on it to process.”
The digital world certainly ushered in a vastly different experience. “Digital cameras allow me to travel and pack with minimal gear, yet provide the magazine the highest quality image possible,” Robert says. “Now I look back and ask our team, ‘Do you remember when we were proofing on a two-inch Polaroid sheet of film with a magnifying loupe?’ I contrast that with today when we proof and zoom in on images on our laptops. The amazing thing is that even with those limitations in that time, we still did some great work.”
The tireless efforts that Robert and Jeff make to provide such fine photography and to make the process creative was and still is a fulfilling experience for all involved.
“Over the years, I have photographed the people of Columbia and enjoyed every person and their story along the way,” Robert says. “Columbia has an abundance of friendly, genuine, and outstanding people from all walks of life.”
Jeff adds, “What has meant the most to me working for CMM is creative freedom. To me that has been everything. And also I like that I continually get to meet different people. I learn something on every assignment I shoot for the magazine — about someone, about something, or about myself. And that is what keeps me going.”
“When I started with Columbia Metropolitan,” Robert says, “it was the high time of magazines in Columbia because a lot of competitors were coming in left and right every six months. I could tell CMM was going to succeed because you both treated me with respect and dignity. I have loved working for the magazine. It’s what happens when you work together for three decades. We’re like family now.”
“The past 30 years have been really fun,” Jeff says. “Columbia Metropolitan has definitely been my longest running client. I don’t have another client who has been with me 30 years, which is how long I have been in business. So, thanks for putting up with me.”
Henry and our entire staff join me in extending our heartfelt gratitude to these two fine gentlemen. It’s been our very great pleasure to work with them these past 30 years, and we are looking forward to making many more memories in the years ahead.