Photographer Jeff Vespa held a private viewing for his first coffee table book, “The Art of Discovery,” at a cocktail party Thursday at Brooks Brothers in Beverly Hills, hosted by “Hunger Games” actress Jena Malone and “Sin City” actress Jaime King.
Guests including Jeremy Renner, Evan Rachel Wood and Joel Edgerton enjoyed food and drinks as they took in portraits, including looks at Shailene Woodley (who graces the cover of the book), Kristen Stewart, William H. Macy, Elijah Wood, Naomi Watts, Jared Leto, Laura Dern, Seth Rogen and Justin Theroux.
The book, published by Rizzoli, features portraits of celebrities, paired with stories they told Vespa and the Creative Coalition CEO Robin Bronk about the moment that inspired them to pursue their chosen career and life. The Creative Coalition, which will receive some of the proceeds of book sales, brings “together artists and entertainers to learn about pressing issues so they can better inform and influence the community in nation.”
Bronk conceived of “The Art of Discovery” when reflecting on a new slogan from Renaissance Hotels – “Live Life to Discover.” Bronk saw the opportunity for a corporate sponsor on a new art project.
“I went to them with an idea: ‘How about living life to discover through art?’” Bronk said. “Because the Creative Coalition’s whole mission is the arts, the efficacy of the arts.”
After they agreed to partner on the book, she brought the concept to Vespa, a co-founder of WireImage, and came up with the idea of asking actors about their epiphanies and backstories.
“We knew that we would get different moments and stories that people haven’t heard before, because that’s not something you ask someone on a press line at a premiere,” Vespa said. “We got some really cool stories that are kind of intimate moments in people’s lives.”
Many of the actors featured in the book are Vespa’s personal friends, and he said those relationships create a trust that makes a project like this possible.
“I feel like being friends with people, the more you know someone the easier it is going to be to get a great picture of them,” Vespa said. “I think it’s just making people feel comfortable with you, and then they give you something because they’re comfortable with you, rather than you forcing them to give you something.”
His photography style, too, is well-suited for a behind-the-curtain look at the stars.
“I just try to capture the person,” Vespa said. “This book is very stripped down. There’s no sets or anything, just super simple, no props, just the person.”
Malone said that sitting for a photo shoot with Vespa was a joy.
“(It was) intimate, soft, beautiful,” Malone said. “I’ve known Jeff since I was 14 years old, and he’s actually a really good friend of mine. I think Jeff definitely discovered some things that he didn’t even know about me and maybe I discovered them as I was talking about them, because it’s a question that not a lot of people ask.”
Vespa and Bronk interviewed actors after the photo shoot, which Bronk described as an attempt to hone down on a specific moment of inspiration for each of their subjects.
“We had one question: What is that moment in time that you had the epiphany that arts would change your life?” Bronk said. “My whole thought process was I want it to be a look under the kimono of celebrity. What’s the backstories, what’s your personal backstory that makes you who you are?”
Though Vespa said his shoots were generally prop-averse, at least a few made it into the book – one notable example being Jason Alexander, who fixed a stuffed bird to his head. It was David Arquette’s choice of prop though that truly surprised Vespa when he was shooting.
“(David Arquette) and I have done many projects together, and he always wears great clothes so I knew he going to bring an amazing outfit,” Vespa said. “But he also brought butterfly confetti. Confetti is one thing, but butterfly confetti? I didn’t even know it existed. And he throws up this butterfly confetti and he’s standing there and it looks like he’s in this field of butterflies, it was pretty amazing.”
“The Art of Discovery,” already into its second printing, is available for purchase at Brooks Brothers and other retailers, and selected portraits from the book will be featured in the Beverly Hills Brooks Brothers store and store windows through Nov. 2.