Nose Jobs: The Story Behind The Most Incredible Steve Jobs Photo You’ve Never Seen

Steve Jobs & Nose Jobs. Photo by Tom Zimberoff.

Tom Zimberoff doesn’t make his living as a photographer anymore, but in the 80s and 90s, he was the go-to guy in Silicon Valley to take magazine shoots of the upcoming techno-elite.
A commercial photographer and photojournalist, Zimberoff stopped being a pro strobist back in 1995 when he created an app called PhotoByte that photographers could use to automate their back office paperwork and maximize their time doing what they love most: taking pictures.

In the eighties, though, Zimberoff was still working doing photo shoots. He had a fun little side-hobby that he would use to promote his work: at the end of every magazine photo shoot, he’d take one picture, just for him, of the celebrity he was shooting wearing a pair of Groucho Marx glasses.
“Back then, at the end of the photo shoot, I’d just always do something silly,” Zimberoff said. “I asked everyone to put on the Nose. Then I’d send the photos out at the end of the year as Christmas cards. It got me a lot of work.”
“Jamis told me that Steve had an aversion to Groucho Marx glasses,” I said to Zimberoff during our photo interview. “So how hard was it to get him into ‘The Nose’?”
Zimberoff’s response was just a chortle. “Very difficult,” he told me, in a tone that suggested an ocean of understatement.
The photograph of Steve Jobs wearing the Groucho nose came about in 1989, when Zimberoff was hired to do a cover shoot for a contemporary magazine, which was profiling Jobs’s latest company, NeXT Computers, in their forthcoming issue.
The way Zimberoff tells the tale, he arrived at the NeXT offices early that day to scout the location and find some props. Steve Jobs hadn’t come in for the day yet, but Zimberoff was immediately shown to Jobs’s office. It was a small room, with no space to shoot, and Zimberoff wrote it off as unsuitable. The office did have one notable thing about it, though: an enormous replica of the Rosetta Stone hanging above Jobs’s desk.
As soon as Zimberoff saw it, he knew he had the prop that was going to define his shoot. “It was perfect. The Rosetta Stone was the first tablet computer,” Zimberoff told me. “Think about it.”
“The Rosetta Stone was the first tablet computer. Think about it.”
Zimberoff immediately took the Rosetta Stone replica off the wall and moved it to the front lobby, which he converted into a make-shift studio by lining the ceiling to floor in black drapery.
Several hours later, Steve himself walked in, in hellfire mode.
“I’d been working in the lobby to turn it into makeshift studio for hours when Steve walked in with his entourage,” Zimberoff recalled. “Jobs didn’t even acknowledge me, but just walked in and asked the room, ‘Whose stupid f***ing idea is this?’ So I told him it was my stupid f***ing idea, and if he didn’t like it, he could go screw.”
Jobs smiled, and apologized. “It was just his M.O.,” Zimberoff graciously observed.
After that, over the course of the next couple hours, Zimberoff and Jobs worked together on a series of photographs, one of which was destined to be used for a magazine cover, and another — Steve Jobs as Groucho Marx — destined to twenty-three years of relative obscurity.

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