The Man (ny) Behind the Lens

Posted by Mary Jo Almeida-Shore On December - 20 - 2009


If you have glanced at the pages of the Miami Herald, Ocean Drive Magazine, People, Vogue, Rolling Stone, US Weekly, Paper,, or the New York Post over the past two decades, chances are you have come across Manny Hernandez’s photos. And if “beauty lies in the eye of the beholder,” then you are lucky if you have been “beheld” by Manny’s eyes and lens. A lens that has captured such beauties as: Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, Jennifer Lopez, and Sharon Stone.

For the past two decades, (What, did he start in kindergarten?) long before the advent of the digital camera, when taking a photo required an actual scientific skill set and artistic view (beyond that necessary for pushing a button), the Miami native born to a Cuban father and Chilean mother, was photographing icons of Miami life, including: Gianni Versace, Celia Cruz, the Estefans, and 90s fixtures: Madonna, Sylvester Stallone and Prince.

The mild mannered, humble and all-around-nice guy shared his experiences as a photographer within the continuously changing Miami social landscape and the inspiration behind his exhibit, titled This is It by Manny Hernandez, on display through January 3 at the Palms Hotel on Miami Beach.

Tell me about the exhibit. What was your inspiration?  What should we expect to see?

The last exhibit I did was in 2006.  I have so much material from the 90s that I thought I should do one more exhibit before I start showcasing the last 10 years. “This Is It” and my 2006 exhibit, “It’s Never Going to Happen Again,” have only images from 1990-1999, all shot in negative film. (I switched to digital in 2000). I selected 23 photos out of thousands, 7 images are from the 2006 show just because I love them. These include: Gianni Versace posing in front of his Ocean Drive mansion, Celia Cruz, Christy Turlington in a photo shoot with Herb Ritts, Hugh Hefner, Prince at Glam Slam, Martha Stewart, and Jennifer Lopez.

This show is special because part of the proceeds benefits Diabetes research, the disease that took my brother recently.

How has your job changed over the past decade?

Well with digital cameras anyone can take a photo, see what they shot, and reshoot what they don’t like, over 1,000 times with an 8 gig card.  Before the digital camera, a photographer had to possess camera knowledge and photography skills, such as: aperture, ISO readings, flash settings, etc.  Now cameras do everything.  Since photography has become a lot cheaper, the business as a whole is oversaturated.  So-called “respectable photo agencies” have destroyed the business, giving photos away for really cheap, if not free. Also there is currently little respect for copyright. Blogs are constantly stealing images. Another big change is that several large magazines have closed in the last decade.

How has Miami changed since you started shooting?

Celebrity culture has changed.  Before you had movie and TV stars, now you also have reality stars, Food Network personalities, and anyone on cable (laughs). I remember on any given week we had Madonna, Sharon Stone, Sly Stallone, Versace, Jack Nicholson, Elton John, Naomi Campbell, or Cindy Crawford as common sightings. Now I get Lil John, some random baseball player, or the star from that Bravo show…

Which celebrities have most inspired you? Do you have favorites?

One of my favorite subjects was Madonna, whom I photographed many times- whether I was invited inside to her party or saw her on the street. I also loved photographing Celia Cruz and her husband, Pedro Knight.  For a while I created a series of shots of celebrity couples kissing, such as the Estefans, but Celia and Pedro wouldn’t kiss for a photo. One day I insisted and Celia laughed and said to me “Manny, si ‘el’ quiere” (basically if Pedro Knight wants to).  I asked Pedro, who in his Cuban accent told me “Manny estamos muy viejo pa eso- eso es de jovenes.” (We’re too old for this, that’s for young people).  He finally obliged and gave his wife a sweet kiss on the cheek. This photo is displayed as part of my current exhibit. (It happens to be this author’s favorite shot.)

Other celebrities I have enjoyed photographing: Jennifer Lopez, since the beginning of her career, and Marc Anthony, back when he sang freestyle and acted in a movie in Miami with Tom Berrenger, called The Substitute.

One who stands out is Selena, I had many opportunities to photograph her, up to her last Miami performance, a week before her death. Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls, also seemingly passed away right in front of my lens.

Are there any celebrities who have been difficult to photograph?

I didn’t have as much difficulty shooting celebs in the 90s as I do now.  For a while when Stallone was in town I had problems with his bodyguard, until one day I found him (Stallone) not working at an event.  I went up to him and we had a beer and chatted.  He and I became friends and I never had a problem again. That happens often. Sometimes bodyguards have the wrong impression of me- misinformation perhaps- but then I befriend them. I have many celebrity friends who understand what I do and now they call me.  I guess it has taken awhile for them to see I’m not a monster (laughs).

Are there people in the community who have helped you along the way or with whom you particularly enjoy working?

I have many, many people who have helped me throughout my career. (Insert facetious font here) I guess working as Tara Solomon’s photographer covering all the coolest events helped a bit.  I have covered the Miami and Palm Beach society scene, the South Beach party scene, the Latino celebrity scene and almost every Miami boutique grand opening for fashion’s top designers. I have many dear friends in this town whom I love as family…you know who you are.

If you weren’t a photographer, what would you be doing?

I would probably be working in television or in the entertainment field.

Where do you see yourself in five years? What’s next?

I love photography so I will keep shooting.  I eventually want to teach at a college. I have a few offers to do some photography shows in NY, LA, Toronto, Mexico City and Hong Kong which are pretty exciting.  I also see myself publishing a series of books solo and in collaboration with other projects.

What philosophy guides you, personally and professionally?

I’ve never taken “no” for an answer- there is always another way to reach your goal.  I believe that it is important to get to know a person to then make your own personal judgment.

One Response to “The Man (ny) Behind the Lens”

  1. Mariana Loumiet says:

    Coolest photographer I know =) <3

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