Clive Cussler has authored and co-authored 80+ international bestsellers.
Two of his novels are now films—most notably Sahara starring Matthew McConaughey, Steve Zahn, and Penélope Cruz.
When I was shopping for used books in 1983, the cover art on a worn paperback titled Vixen 03 grabbed my attention. When I bought that book, I never could have guessed that twenty years later I would become Clive Cussler’s official photographer.
I’m a book collector with a library of 3000+ first editions—many of them signed.
Years ago, in addition to collecting Clive Cussler’s first editions, I also sought other printings. Those variants included UK editions, book club editions, large print editions, collector’s editions, and foreign language editions.
I prefer owning signed books. But I couldn’t ask Clive to sign every edition in my collection. If I did, I’d need his signature on hundreds of books.
But then I had a crazy idea.
NUMA is a fictional government agency featured in many Cussler novels. It’s also a real-life non-profit organization founded by Cussler credited with discovering more than 60 shipwrecks around the world.
The real-life NUMA organization had a website. And as a dotcom veteran, I knew how to build websites. I came up with the insane idea that if I offered a NUMA website redesign, I’d be in a great position to ask Cussler to sign my books.
After dozens of e-mails and phone calls with Clive’s public relations agency, I was accepted as the new NUMA webmaster. I loved the idea of promoting shipwreck conservation. And I loved doing website work for my favorite author. I served as the NUMA webmaster until 2017.
After I redesigned the NUMA website, I joined Cussler on his next book tour. Putnam arranged for an exclusive Amtrak-based signing as Cussler traveled from Los Angeles to San Francisco.
I boarded the train with two huge suitcases—both heavy with books. Other collectors brought similar quantities. Cussler generously agreed to sign everything for every collector. Ironically, I then realized that Clive would have signed all my books even if I hadn’t worked on the NUMA website.
It has been my privilege and honor to photograph Clive Cussler and his family for decades. It’s no exaggeration to mention that millions of printed novels feature my photographs.
I first visited Clive’s Scottsdale, Arizona home in 2004. I was a newly minted professional photographer and I hoped to create a nice portrait for the NUMA website. But I was nervous, inexperienced, and I didn’t know how to light or direct a book-world celebrity whom I admired. My photography that day was disappointing.
In 2006, I returned as a better photographer. On this visit I brought several Profoto studio lights, a 10’ wide black-cloth background, and an assistant named Morgan Yeates—also a Cussler fan.
This my most personally embarrassing story as professional photographer.
Without enough room for studio lights and a large background inside, we created an impromptu outdoor studio on Clive’s back patio. The one thing I didn’t consider was that wind can be an issue for outdoor photography—especially when you’re not using sandbags.
Naturally, almost as soon as we began the photography a gust of wind blew the cloth background down, covering Clive completely. After we pulled the background off, Clive was unfazed and laughed at the mishap. I was incredibly grateful for his graciousness. But my embarrassment and horror were deeply real.
One portrait from this session appeared on seven G.P. Putnam's Sons titles including:
I photographed Clive and Dirk Cussler at Wilshire Beverly Hills Hotel before their signing at The Mystery Bookstore in November 2008. They were there promoting their latest Dirk Pitt novel, Arctic Drift.
These publicity photos were never used.
My third visit to Cussler’s Arizona home was in 2009. On that trip I created a natural light portrait that later appeared on nine G.P. Putnam's Sons titles including:
My early Cussler portraits only appeared on co-authored series titles from The NUMA Files, The Oregon Files, Isaac Bell Adventures, and Fargo Adventures. Those portraits never appeared on Dirk Pitt® series novels. As Dirk Pitt is Cussler’s best known, most-beloved character, that’s an important distinction.
Except for a few early titles, every Dirk Pitt novel features a photo of Cussler alongside an automobile from his personal classic car collection. Each car also has a starring role in the book. The best photographs were by Paul Peregrine.
I couldn’t have been more thrilled when Dirk Cussler called and asked me to fly to Colorado so I could create the dust jacket photograph for Clive Cussler’s and Dirk Cussler’s novel, Poseidon’s Arrow.
This photograph was created when I was raised high above the car on a battery-operated scissor lift.
After creating the dust jacket photograph, I also photographed headshots for Clive, Dirk, and the entire Cussler Museum staff.
I was again asked to visit Denver so I could photograph Clive Cussler’s and Dirk Cussler’s for their latest Dirk Pitt adventure, Celtic Empire.
I created this dust jacket cover photograph standing on a ladder precariously positioned in the bed of a lifted pickup truck owned by Clive’s grandson.
Unlike my previous visit, the grass was no longer green. It was winter and the grass was dead, brown, and patchy. However, taking inspiration from older Cussler jacket photos, I contacted my favorite retoucher and we used the magic of Adobe Photoshop to add our own snow.
After we created the cover photo, I photographed the Cussler family around the Cussler Car Museum and created a few natural light headshots for Clive and Dirk.
In 2008, I was holding a party at my photography studio, then located in downtown Los Angeles. I had invited Clive’s daughter Dayna to the party. She was having trouble locating my studio and suggested that I meet her outside. Imagine my surprise when she arrived and her passenger was Clive Cussler!
I invited them inside and I promptly forgot my other guests. I showed him around our 4000 square foot studio. During that tour Clive said, “This looks just like Dirk Pitt’s hangar.” That was one of the greatest and most thrilling complements that I've ever received. I still get tingly inside when I think about that day.
Photographing Clive Cussler and Dirk Cussler has been a huge honor. And to have my photographs appear on millions of books around the world has been an amazing experience. But to have my name forever associated with Cussler novels, even in this small way, is a dream come true. I’m truly grateful and humbled.
If you’d like to use any of my Cussler photographs for editorial or commercial purposes, please contact me for further information. I’d love to hear from you. Using these copyrighted photos without my written permission is strictly prohibited.
After authoring 18 books on his own, in 1999 Cussler began a co-writing career with other authors including Dirk Cussler (his son), Grant Blackwood, Russell Blake, Graham Brown, Jack Du Brul, Robin Burcell, Craig Dirgo, Paul Kemprecos, Boyd Morrison, Thomas Perry, and Justin Scott.
Cussler’s novels and non-fiction works include:
* book titles featuring author photographs by Rob Greer
‡ author photograph misattributed to Robert Greer