Fenske isn't the only leading creative to lend his talent - not just an endorsement - to Ibid.'s promotional campaigns. For the past 15 years his creative partner on Ibid. has usually been O&M/Chicago GCD and art director Mitch Gordon. "If you can't think of a headline, you can recognize the visual," he says. "Even before I started doing Ibid.'s ads, almost everyone I knew would just start flipping through Ibid. books when they were brainstorming." Milton Glaser has also designed Ibid. ads and Fallon co-founder Tom McElligott and former O&M global creative director Neil French have written a few.
This is not to say that Ibid. images don't appear in finished ads. They do, for clients like Sony, Discover and, most notably, in the lobby poster image for Schindler's List. Ibid. founder Morton Shapiro was widely known as a photographer who thought like an art director, often discarding the art director's idea in favor of his own. This is a style of working better suited to selling stock than trying to wrangle assignments from the dwindling number of art directors who would return his calls. He opened Ibid. in 1967 with a catalog of only 100 images, published one to a loose-leaf page. Shapiro intended the catalog to be a conceptual tool from the very beginning, distributing copies to about 1,000 creatives who paid $225 (about $1,200 in today's money) for an annual subscription of 250 images. He abandoned the subscription model nine years ago and began publishing a more conventional, if sumptuously printed, commercial catalog mailed free to 50,000 creatives in 14 countries. It also serves as a textbook in a conceptual photography course taught by the owner of a rival stock agency. And there's now a website (Ibidphoto.com) with all the usual search tools.
Shapiro died four years ago, and since then the collection has been supervised by his son, executive editor Max Shapiro, who has added 2,000 images to the library, which still numbers only 5,000 pics. About 200 photographers, including Marc Hauser, Henry Wolf and Ron Seymour, are represented in the collection, but Mort Shapiro's portfolio accounts for about 25 percent of the images. Mort trained at the Institute of Design when it was a sanctuary for many of the Bauhaus leaders, like Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and Mies van der Rohe, whose dictum, "Less is more," is still relevant as Max applies the Ibid. aesthetic - absorbed over the dining room table and as his father's longtime assistant, augmented by formal photographic training at Columbia College - as he rejects all but about 2 percent of the photos submitted.
For one thing, all of the images are black & white. "Mort believed that's the color of photography," says Max. The elder Shapiro dressed his models neutrally and believed in getting very close on their faces, so even 30-year-old portraits don't look dated. "We publish images that communicate ideas, concepts, feelings and circumstances in a very real, human and simple way, so that other creative people can collaborate with them," says Max. Mort Shapiro may have been a cantankerous cuss toward art directors who weren't on top of their game, but he knew what he was doing. Just before he started Ibid. he was hired to photograph the Caterpillar tractor factory interiors, but he decided the landscapes outside the plant were more interesting than the tractors inside. The photos were rejected, but one of them was among the first photos sold by Ibid. The buyer: Caterpillar.