By: Ben Lipowitz
Visiting design Assistant Professor and Kansas native Tim Hossler uses what he learned under the guidance of Rolling Stone photographer Annie Leibovitz as inspiration in and out of the classroom
How did you get started?
“Well, I grew up in Dodge City, Kan. From really early on, like age 11 or 12, I really wanted to be an architect. Because I’m an only child, I guess, all of our family vacations were based on Frank Lloyd Wright houses because that was the only architect that they knew of. It became this really great experience of traveling and visiting real architecture. So I went to Kansas State to study architecture. Kind of in the middle architecture school, I realized that I loved everything about school, but it wasn’t what I really wanted to do. I loved all the other parts like doing posters and books and doing all the other models. Then I realized that graphic design and art directing was what I was really interested in. So after K-State, I moved to New York City. After several years of working for various design firms, I made contact with the Annie Leibovitz Studio.”
Who is Annie Leibovitz?
“She started off working for the Rolling Stone magazine in the very early 1970s. She was really young and the magazine was really young. She was just a celebrity music photographer that … through the ’70s and the ’80s became more and more famous for taking portraits, but more unusual portraits where something about the personality with the people would come into the shoot.”
What was your role with Annie Leibovitz?
“I always described it as: I did everything after the photographs were taken. We did a lot of photo editing with her or piecing stuff together with her. We did a lot of compositing of images. And then I would do the layouts for the magazines and for the books. I would go with her to Vogue and Vanity Fair and meet with the editors and art directors, and basically, we would just tell them what she wanted.”
What was working with her like?
“Well I mean it was amazing. It was kind of like the best graduate school I could have ever had because you’re standing next to one of the most famous photographers in the entire world, just hearing her comments about stuff or hearing the stories about the shoots. Sometimes I would actually travel with her and be on set and just see how the photographs were made. She’s just like a genius, and not only is she a genius with photography, but she is very interested in the history of photography and other forms of art such as architecture, which is really why I got the job in the first place. She was such a big fan of architecture, so we had that immediate connection.”
What do you take from that experience with Annie that you give to your students?
“One thing is, hopefully, teaching by example. Like follow your dreams and push yourself to do the best thing you can do, even if that thing might seem super crazy. Find the people you want to work with. Find the cities you want to live in. But then also be flexible enough. There’s going to be your dreams, but then there’s also going to be those paths that come along and be willing to take them and be willing to change your goals.”
What is your favorite thing to design?
“Well I love doing books. I love working with museums, artists and photographers. Last spring I did a book for the Nelson Atkins Museum that was about their anniversary of their sculpture garden, and it was about the new Robert Morris glass labyrinth. The book is made out of the glass panels and then it has this bronze cap on the top of it. Its really exciting and really neat. The projects that have been the best are the ones when you are working with a group of people that are very confident and who are excited about what they are doing. Also the time schedule was super fast and I like working on those faster quicker projects because I feel like the longer ones, you are just kind of spinning your wheels for too long. I don’t know if it was my favorite project of all time, but it is one that I feel really good about.”
What is a day in your life like?
“I have two daughters, so in the morning we’re always rushing around to get breakfast and get them ready for school. My wife also teaches here at KU. She teaches a freshman design class so our mornings are sort of on and off. So some mornings I am teaching, so she is getting the kids ready for school, and sometimes she is teaching, so I am the one to do it. ... And then there’s teaching. The design classes are studio classes, and they are three-hour blocks. I love teaching that way because I love getting to know my students and having one-on-one communication with them. When I am not teaching, I am working on other projects. Right now I am working on a guidebook for Havana, Cuba. So it feels like all my time outside of class right now is trying to figure out what that is going to be and doing research and reading and looking. Feels like most of my day and then I get home and have dinner and prepare for my next day.”
What else are you working on right now?
“I am doing a book for the museum I used to work at before I came to KU, which is called the Wolfsonian down in Miami Beach. It’s an academic journal about souvenirs and photography and about memory. [It] should be out on press in early May, so I’m in the middle of that process.”
Is it tough to balance the outside of school projects with teaching?
“Yeah, a little bit. It’s one of those things that I am constantly trying to figure out the timing of. For 20 years I worked on the outside of academia. I worked for artists or museums, so all of my attention was focused on those projects. And then I feel like with academia, there’s the teaching, the research, the service that it’s never quite as defying timewise.”
What is the main thing you want your students to take away from all of your classes?
“I just hope that I teach to look and look and look as a designer and photographer because you’re making stuff. You’re creating and developing things so you need to look and be inspired by things maybe you’re not even studying. Like if you’re a photographer, look at other photographers and know the history of photography, but also look at art, look at culture, look at films. Even everyday kind of stuff that normal people wouldn’t be looking at. What that will do is enrich your ideas, and that will give you a different point of view that anyone else has.”
— Edited by Yu Kyung Lee