Michael Richards, Julia Louis-Dreyfus
and Jason Alexander.
I photograph history for a living. That's been my profession for over thirty years. I've documented...some of the biggest events of my generation. When I heard that Seinfeld was ending, I knew I had to be there!
I then suggested the idea of shooting an in-depth, behind-the-scenes photographic essay of the final days of Seinfeld to Newsweek magazine, but I met with some skepticism. Everyone was clamoring for pictures of this big television event, but nobody was going to get inside.
I decided to go directly to the source, so I sent Jerry Seinfeld a copy of my book Photo Op, a volume of photographs I had taken over a twenty-five year period. To offset the wars and disasters it contained, I included a funny picture that I had taken of Hillary Clinton wincing. Underneath the photo I jokingly wrote, "No more Seinfeld?" I explained to Jerry that I would shoot the finale from a historical perspective. Jerry liked my approach and invited me along for the last ride. It was quite a trip.
I photographed the final days of Seinfeld the same way I would a big political story. The elements were similar - famous personalities doing something extremely difficult under tremendous stress and intense public scrutiny. My challenge has always been to show the human side of people. I tried to capture a sense of what they were thinking and feeling as they won or lost an election, signed a pardon, sent men and women into battle, or in this case, gathered for the last time to finish a long-running hit series.
America watched Seinfeld for nine years. Fans knew all about Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer, but what about the real Jerry, Jason, Julia, and Michael? How did they feel about walking out of Jerry's living room set for the last time? Did they really like one another or was there tension on the set? Pictures, in this case anyway, do help tell the story, particularly when accompanied by the insightful comments by those who lived through it.
The surprises started on the first day I arrived on the set. I was expecting the Seinfeld actors to be suspicious of me since I had virtually unheard-of access to take pictures anytime, anywhere. I expected them to bolt whenever I approached them. But they didn't. Everyone on the set was friendly and down-to-earth.
I found Jerry Seinfeld warm, professional, and one of the most well adjusted people I have ever met. Jason Alexander (George), the only one of the group I'd met before, always had a mischievous gleam in his eye and a quick smile for friends and strangers alike. Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Elaine) balanced her duties as a mom with one of the most eccentric women's roles on television. Meeting Michael Richards (Kramer) was the biggest surprise of all. He is nothing like his character on the show. Michael is a shy, quiet-spoken man and one of the most talented and hardest-working people I have ever run into. He pours every ounce of his energy into his acting.
The only hint of suspicion toward me came from Seinfeld cocreator Larry David. He had left Seinfeld two years earlier but had returned to write and oversee "The Finale." He was understandably nervous and had no time for interlopers. Larry didn't want any outsiders inside, and that included me. In a lighthearted attempt to put him at ease when we were introduced just before the highly classified table reading of the final script, I said "I'm probably the only person in this room who has had a top secret clearance. I didn't talk about Brezhnev, and I sure as hell ain't discussing Seinfeld." He laughed. After that I was in the clear.
The astronomical ratings that Seinfeld garnered in its final year suggested that many Americans cared more about what Jerry & Co. were doing every week than even the trials and tribulations of the president. The pictures in this book take a serious look at the end of an important chapter of American cultural history. This is the first time that a popular television production has been documented in this fashion. It's a shame that no similar record exists of I Love Lucy, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, M.A.S.H., and Taxi, and some of the other great shows of this century.
David Hume Kennerly won a Pulitzer Prize for his Vietnam pictures, was personal photographer to President Gerald Ford, and has traveled to more than 140 countries on assignment. He is a contributing editor for Newsweek magazine, where he shoots wars, politics, and the demise of popular sitcoms.
all the photos in this feature.
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