Clive Cussler Photographs: Author Portraits
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Clive Cussler

Clive Cussler Photographs: Author Portraits

Clive Cussler is a best-selling novelist with more than 75 books to his credit.

In addition to Clive's work as an author, Cussler is also the Founder and Chairman of the National Underwater and Marine Agency (NUMA). Although a fictional NUMA is featured prominently in Cussler’s novels, it’s also a real-life non-profit organization credited with discovering more than 60 shipwreck sites around the world. One of NUMA’s most famous discoveries was the final resting place of the first submersible to sink a ship in battle—the Confederate submarine, C.S.S. Hunley.

Also particularly noteworthy, Cussler has assembled and restored a spectacular collection of more than 100 classic and significant automobiles. Again, mixing fiction and reality, cars from the collection are often featured in his novels. You can visit the collection at the Cussler Museum in Arvada, Colorado.

I've been photographing Cussler since 2004 and my photographs of Clive appear on 17 of his novels.

Cussler Bio

Born in 1931, Clive Cussler grew up in Alhambra, California and attended Pasadena City College. Both locations are only a few miles from my Pasadena photography studio that’s located near the corner of Hill Avenue and Orange Grove Boulevard.

During the Korean War, Cussler enlisted in the United States Air Force. After he left the military, he worked as creative director for several advertising agencies where he received awards for his radio and television work.

Dirk Pitt Origins

Cussler began writing in 1965 by imagining his most famous character, Dirk Pitt—a marine engineer, government agent, and adventurer. For someone unfamiliar with his works, Pitt can be described as a James Bond, Doc Savage, and Jacques Cousteau mashup.

Novels in the Dirk Pitt® series most often include great stories about evil villains, missing ships or planes, and attractive heroines (or damsels in distress).

Films

Two of Cussler’s novels were made for the big screen. And, given the number of novels available, studios have always felt that Cussler novels offered a great franchise opportunity.

The first film was Raise the Titanic! (1980) starring Richard Jordan as Dirk Pitt with a supporting cast including Jason Robards, David Selby, and Dana Seagram. One fun film fact was that a $7,000,000 prop ship built for the film, but there was originally no tank large enough to hold it.

The second film Sahara (2005) starring starred Matthew McConaughey as Dirk Pitt with a supporting cast including Steve Zahn, William H. Macy, and Penélope Cruz. I generally liked the film, but it failed at the box office.

Cussler was not a fan of either film.

Discovering Cussler

I discovered the novels of Clive Cussler in 1983. From my earliest childhood days, I’d spend my savings on books. To help stretch my meager funds, my mother would (sometimes) patiently wait for me as I shopped at used bookstores.

On one visit to a hometown bookstore, the cover art on three worn paperbacks grabbed my attention. Those titles were Night Probe, Raise the Titanic, and Vixen 03. After reading those books, I was hooked on Clive Cussler and he quickly became my favorite adventure-fiction author.

Book Collecting

I’m an avid reader, but I’m also a book collector. Many of the 3000+ books in my collection are signed first editions written by my favorite authors.

In addition to his collecting Cussler’s first editions, I also sought out popular and obscure variants. Those variants included UK editions, book club editions, large print editions, collector’s editions, and even foreign language editions. With Cussler sometimes publishing up to 4 titles every year, my collection grew quickly.

The sheer number of those editions posed a problem. With hundreds of books in my Cussler collection, I struggled with how I could ask Clive to sign them all. If I visited a book signing and asked for his signature on all those books, the bookstore owners would kick me out and call me funny names.

Then I had a crazy idea. If I worked for Cussler, it would be far easier and more reasonable for me to ask him for signatures on every book in my growing collection.

NUMA Webmaster

As a dotcom veteran, I knew how to build websites. Really good websites. So, I came up with that idea that if I volunteered for pro bono work on his NUMA website, I’d be in a great position to ask Cussler to sign my books.

In hindsight, this was an admittedly insane plan. But crazy sometimes works. After dozens of e-mails and phone calls to Cussler’s PR agency, I was finally brought onboard as the NUMA webmaster.

The Signatures

On Cussler’s next book tour after the first time I redesigned the NUMA website, I joined him for a unique signing experience. Putnam had arranged for an exclusive signing on an Amtrak as Cussler traveled from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

I boarded the train with two large suitcases full of hundreds of books. It turned out that I wasn’t the only fan with hundreds of items awaiting signatures. Many other fans were also huge collectors. As Cussler was the most gracious author I’ve ever met, he generously agreed to sign everything for every collector.

During that trip, I realized that Cussler would have signed my books even if I hadn’t worked on the NUMA website. But it didn’t really matter. I loved working for NUMA. I loved the idea of promoting shipwreck conservation. And I loved the idea of doing work on behalf of one of my favorite authors.

It was my privilege and pleasure to serve as the NUMA webmaster until late 2017.

Favorite Inscriptions

Over the years, I’ve only had a few Cussler books personally inscribed to me, generally because signed books are more valuable to other collectors without an inscription.

On one of the books that Clive did inscribe, he wrote, “To Rob Greer, a great photographer who is super creative.” That was certainly a nice thing he said about my work, but my favorite personalized inscription was penned by his son Dirk Cussler. He wrote, “To the real Hiram Yeager of NUMA.” Dirk Pitt fans will understand the great honor and significance of that statement.

Photographing Cussler

It has been my privilege and honor to photograph Clive Cussler and his family many times over the years. Although my skills have advanced far beyond these early attempts at portrait photography, the photographs that I’ve taken of Cussler are some of my most personally meaningful images.

2004 Portraits

As the NUMA webmaster, I admittedly took advantage of my position and arranged to visit Clive’s Arizona home to capture a few photographs for his website. Besides the photography, I was most excited about seeing the office where Cussler had created so many of my favorite stories.

During my first visit in 2004, I tried to create nice photographs. However, my efforts were professionally disappointing. I was nervous and inexperienced. And I didn’t know how to direct subjects or photograph a celebrity I deeply admired.

2006 Portraits

In 2006, I returned to Paradise Valley, Arizona as a better photographer. Although I was still a beginner, I arrived more prepared. I brought an assistant, studio lights, and a 9’ black cloth background. My assistant for that visit was fellow Cussler fan, Morgan Yeates.

It’s here in our story where we arrive at one of the most embarrassing moments in my career as a professional photographer.

For this visit, I wanted to use studio lights to create a traditional, well-lit portrait of Cussler. As there wasn’t enough room to set up lights and a background inside his home or office, we set up our mobile studio on Cussler’s back patio.

I was making photographs, and everything was working fine until a gust of wind arrived and blew down my cloth background—right onto Cussler’s head. Given my relative inexperience, I hadn’t thought to bring sandbags for the background stands. My embarrassment and horror were deeply real.

We quickly pulled the background off Cussler. He seemed unfazed and laughed about the mishap. I was incredibly grateful for his graciousness. I’ve never forgotten the lesson I learned that day; since that stressful Saturday, every background I’ve used has been heavily weighted with sandbags.

From this 2nd visit came one of my most well-known photographs—at least to many Clive Cussler readers. That photograph is the main image featured with this caption. This image has appeared on millions of hardcover dust jackets and on the back covers of countless paperback novels.

The G. P. Putnam and Sons titles where this image appears include:

  • The Chase
  • Plague Ship
  • Corsair
  • Medusa
  • Spartan Gold
  • The Adventures of Hotsy Totsy
  • The Wrecker

2008 Portraits

I visited Clive and Dirk Cussler at Wilshire Beverly Hills Hotel immediately before their signing at The Mystery Bookstore in November 2008 promoting their latest Dirk Pitt novel, Arctic Drift. This never-before-seen photo was never used for publicity purposes.

Although that haven for book lovers is now closed, history buffs might like to know that the bookstore signing occurred in Westwood near UCLA at 1036-C Broxton Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90024.

2009 Portraits

My third visit to Cussler’s home near Scottsdale, Arizona was in 2009. On that trip that I created several natural light portraits. And one of those portraits replaced the 2006 portrait.

The updated photograph thereafter appeared on the dust jackets and back covers of the following titles:

  • The Silent Sea
  • The Spy
  • Lost Empire
  • Devil’s Gate
  • The Jungle
  • The Race
  • The Kingdom
  • The Storm
  • The Thief

2012 Portraits

Up until this point, my portraits of Cussler only appeared on titles in his co-authored series (The NUMA Files, The Oregon Files, Isaac Bell Adventures, and Fargo Adventures).

However, my photos never appeared on novels in the Dirk Pitt® series. And Dirk Pitt is Cussler’s best known, best-beloved character. This is an important distinction for any Cussler fan.

When was reading Cussler’s early Dirk Pitt novels, I always began my journey by turning over the book and admiring the back-cover photo. Those author portraits fueled my imagination as a young teenager.

Each Dirk Pitt novel featured a photo of Cussler with an automobile from his classic car collection. Each one of those cars also had a starring role in the book. The best photographs were by Paul Peregrine.

Over the years I had struck up a friendship with Dirk Cussler, Clive’s son. I couldn’t have been more thrilled when Dirk called and asked me to fly to Colorado and create the dust jacket photograph for their next novel, Poseidon’s Arrow.

Having admired those dust jacket photos for more than 30 years, I was admittedly terribly excited about this opportunity. As I had always admired Peregrine’s photos best, my goal was to create an image that honored the style he created. I hope that my efforts were successful.

For the full story detailing how I created that photograph, check out Behind the Scenes: Poseidon’s Arrow – A Novel by Clive Cussler.

Here are a few other headshot portraits of Clive and Dirk that I captured on my visit to Arvada.

Bibliography by Publication Date

Cussler is one of the most prolific authors of the last century. After authoring 18 books on his own, he began a co-writing career in 1999 working with a host of 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 include:

  • The Mediterranean Caper (1973 Dirk Pitt)
  • Iceberg (1975 Dirk Pitt)
  • Raise the Titanic! (1976 Dirk Pitt)
  • Vixen 03 (1978 Dirk Pitt)
  • Night Probe! (1981 Dirk Pitt)
  • Pacific Vortex! (1983 Dirk Pitt)
  • Deep Six (1984 Dirk Pitt)
  • Cyclops (1986 Dirk Pitt)
  • Treasure (1988 Dirk Pitt)
  • Dragon (1990 Dirk Pitt)
  • Sahara (1992 Dirk Pitt)
  • Inca Gold (1994 Dirk Pitt)
  • Shock Wave (1996 Dirk Pitt)
  • The Sea Hunters (1996 Non-Fiction)
  • Flood Tide (1997 Dirk Pitt)
  • Clive Cussler and Dirk Pitt Revealed (1998)
  • Atlantis Found (1999 Dirk Pitt)
  • Serpent (1999 NUMA Files)
  • Blue Gold (2000 NUMA Files)
  • Valhalla Rising (2001 Dirk Pitt)
  • Fire Ice (2002 NUMA Files)
  • The Sea Hunters II: Diving the World's Seas for Famous Shipwrecks (2002 Non-Fiction)
  • Trojan Odyssey (2003 Dirk Pitt)
  • White Death (2003 NUMA Files)
  • Golden Buddha (2003 Oregon Files)
  • Black Wind (2004 Dirk Pitt)
  • Lost City (2004 NUMA Files)
  • Sacred Stone (2004 Oregon Files)
  • Polar Shift (2005 NUMA Files)
  • Dark Watch (2005 Oregon Files)
  • Treasure of Khan (2006 Dirk Pitt)
  • Skeleton Coast (2006 Oregon Files)
  • The Adventures of Vin Fiz (2006) ‡
  • The Navigator (2007 NUMA Files)
  • The Chase (2007 Isaac Bell)*
  • Arctic Drift (2008 Dirk Pitt)
  • Plague Ship (2008 Oregon Files)*
  • Medusa (2009 NUMA Files)*
  • Corsair (2009 Oregon Files)*
  • The Wrecker (2009 Isaac Bell)*
  • Spartan Gold (2009 Fargo Adventures)*
  • Crescent Dawn (2010 Dirk Pitt)
  • The Silent Sea (2010 Oregon Files)*
  • The Spy (2010 Isaac Bell)*
  • Lost Empire (2010 Fargo Adventures)*
  • The Adventures of Hotsy Totsy (2010)*
  • Devil's Gate (2011 NUMA Files)*
  • The Jungle (2011 Oregon Files)*
  • The Race (2011 Isaac Bell)*
  • The Kingdom (2011 Fargo Adventures)*
  • Built for Adventure: The Classic Automobiles of Clive Cussler and Dirk Pitt (2011 Non-Fiction)
  • Poseidon's Arrow (2012 Dirk Pitt)*
  • The Storm (2012 NUMA Files)*
  • The Thief (2012 Isaac Bell)*
  • The Tombs (2012 Fargo Adventures)
  • Zero Hour (2013 NUMA Files)
  • Mirage (2013 Oregon Files)
  • The Striker (2013 Isaac Bell)
  • The Mayan Secrets (2013 Fargo Adventures)
  • Havana Storm (2014 Dirk Pitt)
  • Ghost Ship (2014 NUMA Files)
  • The Bootlegger (2014 Isaac Bell)
  • The Eye of Heaven (2014 Fargo Adventures)
  • Piranha (2015 Oregon Files)
  • The Assassin (2015 Isaac Bell)
  • The Pharaoh's Secret (2015 NUMA Files)
  • The Solomon Curse (2015 Fargo Adventures)
  • The Emperor's Revenge (2016 Oregon Files)
  • The Gangster (2016 Isaac Bell)
  • Pirate (2016 Fargo Adventures)
  • Nighthawk (2017 NUMA Files)
  • Typhoon Fury (2017 Oregon Files)
  • The Cutthroat (2017 Isaac Bell)
  • The Romanov Ransom (2017 Fargo Adventures)
  • The Rising Sea (2018 NUMA Files)
  • The Gray Ghost (2018 Fargo Adventures)

* book titles featuring author photographs by Rob Greer

‡ author photograph misattributed to Robert Greer

Final Thoughts

Meeting and photographing Clive 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.

In closing, I wanted to share one more of of my favorite Clive Cussler stories.

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; her passenger was Clive Cussler!

I invited them inside and I promptly forgot about my other guests. I showed him around our 4000 square foot studio, and then Clive said, “This looks just like Dirk Pitt’s hangar.” That was the greatest and most thrilling complements that I've ever received.

Usage Requests

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. However, using these copyrighted photos without my written permission is strictly prohibited.


Clive Cussler: Los Angeles Portrait

I captured this photograph at his Beverly Hills hotel immediately before his signing at The Mystery Bookstore in November 2008.

Although that haven for book lovers is now closed, history buffs might like to know that the bookstore was located in Westwood near UCLA at 1036-C Broxton Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90024.


CLIVE CUSSLER:

Scottsdale Portrait

I took this photograph of Clive on one of my visits to his Scottsdale home.


CLIVE CUSSLER:

Arvada Portrait

This is one of the headshot portraits that I took of Clive when I was visiting the Cussler Museum in Arvada, Colorado.

Clive Cussler - Arvada Portrait

Clive Cussler - Los Angeles Portrait

Clive Cussler - Scottsdale Portrait

> 1/250; f/4.5; ISO 100; 85.0 mm.