Chris Carter: Hi, everyone. This is Chris Carter, Executive Director at Livermore Valley Arts at The Bankhead Theater. And today I am talking to Michael Collopy, a photographer who will be here with our Rae Dorough Speaker Series on Thursday, May 11, at 7:30 p.m.. And if you’re interested in getting tickets, you can go online at So Michael, I’m Chris, we’ve emailed before.


Michael Collopy: Yes. Nice to meet you over the Internet, Chris.


Chris Carter: Yeah, please. Yeah. Get a face to the name. Or, is that right? And get the name to the face. And then Ruth is our Director of Marketing.


Michael Collopy: Nice to meet you.


Ruth Egherman: Nice to meet you, too. Thank you for doing this.


Michael Collopy: Of course. Of course. Happy to.


Ruth Egherman: I was putting together some marketing materials and the event page and all that kind of stuff, I was like, wait, this guy has taken some of the most famous photographs ever and he lives right here in the Bay Area.


Michael Collopy: Well, thanks.


Ruth Egherman: And he’s going to be on our stage and it’s like, wow, this will be very interesting. And I instantly recognize obviously the Mother Teresa one and the Dalai Lama and stuff. And it’s just fascinating to see all of that. Really cool. Really cool.


Michael Collopy: Oh. Thank you.


Ruth Egherman: So it’s a pleasure to put a name and a face to the person behind the camera.


Michael Collopy: Oh, thank you. Well, it’s been a lot of fun through the years, for sure.


Chris Carter: You know, I I’ve been to your website several times now. I was getting ready for this, and I kind of have a hard time believing that you took all those pictures. So I you know, I’m looking at it and I see Mother Teresa, I see the Dalai Lama, Jane Goodall, Jimmy Carter. When I was a kid, I used to tell other kids, Jimmy Carter was my grandfather, by the way. That was just because we share the same last name. Gloria Steinem, Willie Nelson, Ella Fitzgerald. I mean, the list goes on and on. And I just need to know who, who was the first person, public figure that you photographed and how did, how did you really get started with this career?


Michael Collopy: Well, I think in terms of what you just said there, that only makes me old. Chris. I’ve been photographing for about 45 years and how I got started, you know, I actually was thinking that I would go in the direction of my parents. Both of my parents were artists, grew up in a big family, six of us. And I thought that I would follow in the direction of my dad, who was a graphic designer. I ended up going to various schools, the Academy of Art, College of San Mateo, College of Notre Dame. And then I finally graduated over at Saint Mary’s College with a fine art degree, looked for a job that was graphic design oriented. But in those years prior to the computer age, all that was available to a young graduate, art graduate was something that’s called a paste up person that would paste up different kinds of advertisements for design firms and, you know, the jobs that were available to me at that time, Chris, were not really creative jobs.


So I was pretty discontented that here I went through all that schooling and, you know, never came away with something that was really creative as a as a career or occupation. And so it was around that time that I saw an exhibit of Ansel Adams work at the Oakland Museum, and I had never taken photography in school. I had always loved photography, and somebody had given me a Brownie camera when I was in high school.


So I would tool around with that and take, you know, sunset pictures at Folsom Lake and those type of things on our camping trips. But I never really looked at it as a serious profession. However, having seen the Ansel Adams exhibit, I remember talking to one of the docents there at the museum who said that Ansel had a house in Carmel, and that’s where he lived, that’s where his darkroom was. And so the next day I called 411 information up for a listing on Ansel Adams. And sure enough, he was listed. I called and he answered the phone and I told him that I was interested in photography. And he said, Well, that’s great. I oftentimes meet with young photographers on Wednesday nights for a, for a glass of wine, and we watched the sunset and talked for a little bit.


So that’s really how I got into photography, was learning from Ansel Adams and I befriended him and would go down quite often over the course of about three or four years and work with him in his darkroom and talk to him about a variety of things in regard to photography that really stick with me today. So that’s really how I got started. I realized that I could never make a living making, you know, environmental pictures on the scale that Ansel Adams was doing. So…


Chris Carter: Yeah.


Michael Collopy: I had always been interested in people I used to draw and graphically design individuals of note, most often out of great photographs. So I was aware of some of the photographers that had taken those pictures, but I was more interested in graphically kind of designing these, these images. And so the other person that I thought would be very instrumental in my career was Richard Avedon. So I saved my money up and I went to New York and I went to his studio, I think every day for about two weeks prior to the opportunity of being able to meet with him face to face via his studio manager. And that was really the epiphany moment that I came back with Chris that, you know, really gave me the inspiration to pursue this career as a photographer, as mostly a portrait photographer in those years. And the first, let me think who would be the first individual of note? Well, in terms of a world leader, it probably was Mikhail Gorbachev. I was one of the first photographers that had been able to do a portrait photograph of he and Raisa Gorbachev when he was still…


Chris Carter: What year would have that been?


Michael Collopy: That would have been in the I would say it would have been in the early eighties, early to mid eighties. And prior to that, I, I guess my big break was meeting Frank Sinatra as a 20 year old. I was working in a theater much like The Bankhead Theater, was a little bit bigger perhaps, and I ended up photographing a lot of their entertainers. I was their house photographer for about ten years, and one of the individuals that came to perform was Frank Sinatra. And I ended up doing a few pictures of him that he liked. And then a few years later, he hired me to do some of his photography for about 8 to 9 years after that.


Chris Carter: I can’t believe the first question I ask you, the names that come out are Ansel Adams, Frank Sinatra, Mikhail Gorbachev. It’s–I it sounds like, though, you were–it’s not just right place, right time, but you really made an effort to go out there and meet these people.


Michael Collopy: Absolutely. Well, you know, Chris, I think it’s very important. I think in those years I was very much fired up to meet individuals that I thought could be an inspiration and bring me further into this career or a little bit down the vocational path. And I say that only because I think there’s a lot of us who want to pursue a particular career and, you know, it’s all a matter of just reaching out and connecting with somebody that perhaps you admire in your life, in your same vocational career path and more often than not, I think people are willing to meet with you for coffee or for a short meeting for those that won’t meet with you. Certainly there will be some that will and it could be one of those individuals that would, you know, incite, that inspiration that you would need for that vocational discernment.


Chris Carter: That’s such great advice. Does anybody, I mean, are you that person for other people now?


Michael Collopy: I really try to be, Chris, because you know, I came up that way and I think whatever I’m asked to speak or whenever somebody, some young photographer calls me, I’m always available and want to be there for them in the same way that Ansel and Richard Avedon were for me.


Chris Carter: Yeah. And Michael, you know, I just think so many of those figures that you’ve photographed over the years, you’ve got to have a few that are really memorable for you. Was there one or two that just really stand out? I mean, yeah, I wouldn’t know where to start if I was you, but I mean, there’s gotta, if you could pick like one that you were absolutely–would do over again in a heartbeat, who would it be?


Michael Collopy: Well, there have been so many as as you said, you know, I’ve been blessed in my life, I think, to meet most of my heroes because, you know, I had a great affinity to individuals who are changing the world as well as it was for individuals who maybe influenced me with music or could be politics or, you know, entertainers, artists.


I would say that, you know, there were a number, if one was to come out at me, as, as probably my favorite was probably Mother Teresa because I had seen a movie about her life prior to her being world famous. And that really influenced me to get to know her and to have that opportunity to meet her and photograph her. But I would also say, you know, growing up in the sixties, Chris, you know, I was very influenced by The Beatles. And I think the opportunity that I had later in life to meet Paul McCartney and get to know him and Ringo Starr, that was really a wonderful experience. And sometimes, you know, when you meet your heroes, they can be a letdown in some way.


Certainly these are two individuals that are very, very humble people and, you know, not caught up with their fame, not presumptuous. And, you know, take time to talk with you and get to know you. And I’ve gotten to know Paul and his family, as I first met his brother. And then I got to work with Paul. And now I keep pretty often contact with his oldest daughter, Mary, who is a photographer as well.


So, you know, those individuals stand out. I think I was very much involved with loving the Apollo program and NASA as a young kid and having been able to meet and photograph a lot of those NASA astronauts, such as Neil Armstrong and John Glenn and Jim Lovell, that was really extraordinary experiences as well in my life.


Chris Carter: Yeah, I see. Ruth has her hand up. So I’m wondering if she has a question.


Ruth Egherman: The question I have is sort of the opposite of what Chris just asked you. Is there anybody that you would really like to photograph that you haven’t been able to find your way into to get that sitting with them?


Chris Carter: Oh, that’s a great question.


Michael Collopy: I think that’s always a question that I grapple with, because definitely there are so many you know, I have a sense, a curiosity about certain individuals and an admiration, of course, and, you know, I’ve always sought in my career to document individuals who were of note of accomplishment in some way. And that’s probably a long list. You know, going back to the fact that I wish I was a little younger or a little bit actually older in the sixties to have been able to document some of those wonderful bands that were playing in those years.


And, you know, maybe the thought of photographing Robert Kennedy as a ten year old, I got a chance to meet him. And with my family, who my parents were big supporters of his run for presidency. So that was a big inspiration as a young ten year old. And it probably prompted me to document these individuals of note going forward, because two months after I met Robert Kennedy with my parents, he was assassinated and I realized that this was an individual who was changing the world and a selfless service really to other people, and especially the poor and those who are marginalized.


So I think that made a big impression on me that whatever I ended up choosing in my career, I would try to give back in some way to the community. But to answer your question, you know, there’s a number of people I’m working on a book, Ruth, called “The Influencers”, which is a book about musicians that have influenced other musicians.


And I would love to get, for example, somebody like Keith Richards to probably do the forward because he’s sort of a sideman that, you know, had influenced generations of artists. I started out documenting a lot of the Rock and Roll Foundation, people like Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Everly Brothers, Fats Domino. And of course, all of those individuals would be documented in this book.


But I would love to bring it up to date in terms of the young artists that are out there today who were influenced by that second tier of musicians such as The Rolling Stones and The Beatles and others. So, you know, I in my career have been blessed to have photographed a lot of different genres of music. So to be able to put a lot of those influences in one book and to try to go forward, it’s going to really incite me to try to go after a lot of these artists of today and people who slip through the cracks who I wasn’t able to get a portrait of.


So that would be pretty high on my list. The other thing, Ruth, is I’ve, I’ve spent a lot of years documenting the Nobel Peace Laureates, and I’m up to 41 Nobel Peace Laureates that I’ve photographed. And I there are a couple there’s one individual who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 19, I think it was 22. And or maybe it was 21 that he received it with Maria Ressa, the two journalists. So this man is a journalist from Russia who I’d like to document. So just to keep up with that particular archive. But long story short, I could think of so many different people artists, entertainers, actors, musicians that I would love to photograph. There’s never a shortage of that.


Chris Carter: Yeah. Thank you. And you have this nonprofit that you’ve started too Architects of Peace, is that correct?


Michael Collopy: Yes, Chris.


Chris Carter: And tell me a little bit more about that and how that came about and you have a book also.


Michael Collopy: I do. I do. So thank you so much for bringing that up because that’s really at the forefront of what I’m doing today. So I realized that after photographing a lot of these Nobel Peace Laureates and spending time with Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama, individuals that we really put up there on a pedestal in some ways, as our world peacemakers, although I’d have to say they don’t see themselves in that light.


They don’t see themselves in any way being on a pedestal. But they have been very much influencers in our world for the good and I would say that after having a lot of these individuals, I’d put them into a book right before the millennium called Architects of Peace. And so I reached out to the Dalai Lama at the time, Gorbachev, Nelson Mandela, individuals such as Spielberg and Carlos Santana, real wide cultural view of our world in 1999.


And I asked each of these 75 individuals to write a statement on the issue of peace, and that was something that just sort of took off and had a life of its own. Maybe. I think I was really kind of thinking that if I didn’t get too far, I would have to fold the cards on it. But after six months, I had a number of these individuals wanting to participate and I really spent maybe five years on the road documenting these people around the world.


I think one year I logged in, 250,000 travel miles, air miles, photographing them. So I was very happy that they took the time in a free way, you know, unpaid to write a statement about peace. And I realized that having all of these individuals together under one book roof, that I should bring this out to the schools. So that’s been my journey ever since that time to be able to bring these individuals. And I haven’t stopped photographing the latest peacemakers that arise in our world and document them to bring them out to the schools so that students everywhere can get an opportunity to learn from these individuals, from the examples of their lives. So we oftentimes have exhibits in the schools and we have educational curriculum that’s tied in with these individuals at places like Stanford and Marquette, the National Civil Rights Museum, various schools in the Bay Area and across the U.S. and in Mexico.


And so, you know, it’s been really gratifying to see that this work and these images and the statements of peace that are associated with the picture and various exhibit even outside the classrooms in these schools, that it has influenced students, you know, it kind of dictates their day a little bit. And having a word like kindness or compassion or acceptance, you know, there are certain words and quotes that I think can really influence us, especially if we see them on a daily basis and we’ve been told with the professors at various universities where these images and quotes lie, that it has helped the students kind of navigate their personal relationships on a daily basis. And it also has helped them to discern their vocation, you know, in life. And it all really ties back to the fact that I think first of that quote by Gandhi, that if you really want to find yourself, you should lose yourself in the service of other people. So I think ultimately our goal with Architects of Peace is to not only raise the bar and kind of bring these individuals into these homes of these students and have them learn from them. But also to realize that probably the greatest fulfillment that they’ll ever get in life is to be able to spend time working in their community, spend time in service to others.


Chris Carter: Maybe that’s something we can work on with you out here in Livermore, so.


Michael Collopy: I would love it.


Chris Carter: Put that in your pocket for the future.


Michael Collopy: Well, I would love to be involved.


Chris Carter: Yeah. And you do have some photographs that are going to be on exhibit here. We do have a gallery and we’ve been working with you on a music musical exhibit around art and rock and roll. And so you’ve photographed a lot of great musicians over the years, too. So is there anything you want to share about what we’ll have here?


Michael Collopy: Well, I’m honored that Anne and you had asked me to bring some images, so I printed up some images of the people that I really had great times with and admired through the years, one being John Lee Hooker. So John Lee Hooker, you know, when you think of his importance in music, he wrote some songs back in the late 1940s that really were a precursor to rock and roll.


And when you ask, say, Keith Richards or Mick Jagger or Paul McCartney or Eric Clapton, they’ll always cite John Lee Hooker as being a great influence of their. So I have an image of John Lee Hooker. I have B.B. King, who was just this wonderful man who was also quite an influence on on rock and roll. I have Gregg Allman and I also have Buddy Guy. And Buddy Guy may not be a household name for a lot of people, but, you know, Buddy was greatly admired and considered to be a mentor for Jimi Hendrix, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, and a host of others. So those are the individuals that and Carlos Santana, I think I’m bringing as well. So many of those those particular individuals, I had a relationship, a friendly relationship over many, many years. Carlos I still see and work with and that’s going on 45 years. And John Lee Hooker, I knew very, very well for, for many years as Buddy Guy and Gregg Allman, well Gregg is unfortunately gone.


Chris Carter: Yeah. Well, we’re certainly excited to have those photos here, so thank you for being a part of that. I do have to mention we’re both St Mary’s alums,


Michael Collopy: Oh fantastic!


Chris Carter: If you see my oh, right there.


Michael Collopy: Oh, that’s great. Fantastic, Chris. I knew we were brothers.


Chris Carter: Yeah, I knew a couple brothers, but I feel like I have a connection to you already.


Michael Collopy: Definitely.


Chris Carter: I had one other question I was going to ask you maybe two, but you’ve been doing this, you said for 45 years. How has technology kind of changed your profession? You know, are you are you using digital or have you moved on to digital photography or are you still kind of doing it the old fashioned way?


Chris Carter: Or is it? I don’t know. Is it do you ever do you take pictures with your iPhone ever? I mean, I don’t know, like, what’s your how it’s been, It’s so different nowadays with photography than it used to be. And it’s so prolific and a lot of in our lives now. What, what’s your–have you, have you changed at all or have you kind of really focused on the way you’ve always done it?


Michael Collopy: Well, thanks for asking that Chris. Absolutely. I’ve changed through the years. It’s extraordinary when you think of the trajectory of photography in the course of a few decades, how we started out with analog and now we’re into some incredible digital cameras. So I remember in the years where I was friendly with Ansel Adams and would talk with him about photography, and he said to me one day, he said, You know, I wish I was about your age because you’re going to you’re going to see the advent of digital photography.


And he got into it a little bit. And certainly he knew in the early 1980s and I want to say like 1980, 1981, that this was all going to go digital. And he must have had some sort of insight in regard to where it was going to all go. But when it did start going digital, I immediately went into it Chris and maybe that wasn’t the best thing because those early digital cameras were very, very expensive and probably not far off of what the local you know, what our iPhones can do right now, the capacity that an iPhone has and they were very expensive. But at that time, you know, I always wanted to stay up on the latest technology.


So when we were working in analog, it was quite expensive for us young photographers. You know, we really weren’t seeing a huge income because Polaroids were so expensive and film and film development was so expensive and printing, of course, was expensive. So, you know, it was all, you know, adding up after after a while. And, you know, if you shot, for example, four by five or eight by ten, you’d go through a box of Polaroids that were about $100 apiece. And we’d go through that maybe in a half a day. So, you know, that was complicated, you know, to really see, you know, the fruits of your efforts in regard to pay. And of course, I stayed up. I think, you know, I shot so much in the early years in black and white. I always wanted to find the best film to use.


And I started out working with Plus-X and Tri-X which were still even to this day, good films. However, I was always a big fan doing portraits of having the best quality and the best, you know, detail. And I was looking for very little grain in those films, so I went to T-Max as soon as that came on the market and exhausted those particular films and tried to if I was studio lighting somebody, I would want to shoot with a very low ISO. So I oftentimes bought the 100 T-Max film. I guess it was in those days, medium format. Because of those shoots I was using a Hasselblad, but as soon as it went digital, I immediately went into digital and, you know, tried to stay up on the latest cameras. I’m just about to get an R5 Canon camera, and I’ve gone back and forth from Nikon to Canon.


And, you know, as a question exists oftentimes as to what is the best camera, I think it’s really what you can do with any camera and, you know, having said that, you know, when I’m on vacation or I’m in the mountains or hiking, I’ll just use the iPhone and you can really get a pretty decent print off of the iPhone.


I’ve found that it’s all about the apps. You know, I ended up doing a shoot not long ago with Steve Wozniak, and he told me that the great invention wasn’t the iPhone as much as it was all the applications. And I tend to agree with him because, you know, there are certain apps that I can recommend for photographers who photograph with their iPhone one is called Snapseed. And Snapseed is a wonderful app that’s free and you can manipulate your photographs. You can send pictures from your camera or just use the app with your phone pictures and you can make them more dramatic. You can make them artsy, you can change the color, you can turn them into black and white. There’s so many different avenues with Snapseed that you can utilize on that. So it’s it’s almost like another Photoshop that’s basically free to anybody who’s got a phone.


Chris Carter: Wow. Thank you. And last question, when you are here on May 11, what what can we expect to hear from you?


Michael Collopy: Well, what I’ll do is I’ll bring a lot of photographs. And, you know, having had a lot of portrait sessions, the big gratifying thing that I’ve had in my career, Chris, was all the relationships that I’ve had through the years with many of these individuals of note. And I will probably go through a litany of stories and experiences that these individuals and I have a lot to talk about and a lot of pictures to show from way back at my earliest career, you know, start to probably weeks before the actual talk, I’ll bring pictures and, you know, basically tell stories and talk a little bit about the process.


But mostly it’s going to be, you know, stories of these individuals that I’ve gotten to know through the years that made such an impact in my life.


Chris Carter: Well, we are looking forward to it. On May 11, Thursday at 7:30. If anybody’s interested in purchasing a ticket, you can go to and come see Michael Collopyand some of his great photos and we’re really looking forward to it. So thank you, Michael.


Michael Collopy: Thank you, Chris. Thank you, Ruth.