To truly capture Pau Gasol, his personality, his private life, his hobbies and his basketball skills, freelance photographer Lori Shepler spent four years with the Lakers’ forward, traveled with him all over Los Angeles and Spain and snapped nearly 12,000 photos along the way.
That all morphed into a 268-page photography book titled “Gasol: Life/Vida,” showing what former Lakers coach Phil Jackson described in his foreward as “the breadth of Pau Gasol.” There’s photos of Gasol’s 5 1/2 years with the Lakers and stints with the Spanish national team. The book shows Gasol visting Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and impoverished nations as a UNICEF ambassador. There’s Gasol as a supportive teammate, cheering up Kobe Bryant as he rehabs his left Achilles tendon or talking with his brother, Marc, of the Memphis Grizzlies. There’s Gasol in his most private moments, ranging from taking karate lessons to reading, from hanging out by the beach to singing in the shower.
Such moments showcase the kind of life Gasol yearns for, full of energy, positivity and balance. The book also shows his concern for others. Hence, why all of Gasol’s proceeds from the book’s sales will go to the Gasol Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded by Pau and Marc Gasol to help reduce childhood obesity by promoting healthy lifestyle initiatives.
Below the jump, Shepler talked with me on the project as well as the concept behind some of the photos in the book.
How did the idea for this book come up?
Shepler: It first started when I was at the L.A. Times and I met Pau and shot an hour or two of behind the scenes with him so Laker fans could get to know him. We became friends. I got laid off at the L.A. Times in May of 2009. It’s been okay. It’s been one of the best things that happened to me. I was ready to start new projects. It worked out. I proposed it to him after the summer of 2009. I had an idea and thought to myself, ‘Why don’t I do a book on Pau?’ I texted him and he said, ‘Let’s meet up.’ He always said that anytime I have an idea, he thinks it’s going to be a good one. He always has a positive attitude. He’s always up for what I’m going to say. So we had lunch and I told him about it. He thought about it for a week or so, got back to me and said that he’d do it.
I told him that I wanted it all to be natural. So whenever he did something, went out to eat or did things, he’d let me know. When I’d go over there personally to hang out with him, I got some photos that way too. It was a very natural process. That’s how it had to be so I could get candid photos. There were times I felt like I’m just going to take a couple photos. I wanted to give Pau his space. But he never seemed to be uncomfortable at all.”
So with this four year project where you were in Los Angeles and Spain and took 12,000 photos, how did you narrow all that down?
Shepler: It wasn’t the easiest. There’s over 200 photos here. It started out open ended. I was going to take photos of him mostly of his private life. I started getting photos and thought I should put more into the book as far as what he thinks and how he feels. I started thinking about what I’m going to ask him about and started thinking about subjects we go through in life, such as challenges, the values he has and lighter moments with his hobbies and what he likes to eat. I was interviewing him and started getting lots of texts for the book and ideas and thoughts he conveyed to me when I asked him on questions about certain topics.
Little by little, it started taking shape in my mind because I had no idea how I would put these photos together. I didn’t have all of these 16 chapters from day one. I started with whatever. Then it started to fall into place. I saw stacks of his thoughts after I interviewed him and transcribed it. That’s what’s reflected in the text. I’d interview him on separate days on different subjects. We then grouped it into chapters. His number was 16. It worked out. Thank goodness, he stayed with the Lakers.
[Two-time Pulitzer Prize nominee Phuong Nguyen Cotey, a former reporter at the San Diego Union-Tribune and St. Petersburg Times, also helped with the book, re-interview, organizing, editing and writing. Howard Shen helped the book’s design.]
Shepler: This sunset photo is one of the first ones we took. It was so interesting. We went out to the beach and it was an amazing sunset. He wanted to go walk on the beach. We went out to Hermosa Beach and had milkshakes. Pau likes to get away from things by going to the beach. The sun was setting and he stretched his arms. I thought it was very touching. It was the start of the whole project. We both had positive high hopes about it starting. It reflected in this. You don’t see sunsets like this too often. To me, this picture symbolized that the world is in Pau’s hands. He’s going to make the most of it. He’s one person that does that and embraces every moment of his life.
How did you get such intimate photos while respecting his privacy?
He got used to us being everywhere while I had a camera. I’m stealthy to where my years working at the L.A. Times, I’m used to situations where you had to go to places where people are grieving and things like that. You learn not to be right in their face and respect their space enough to make the photo, get what you need and not stay. That’s what I did. When I got the photos I needed, I put it down. There are a few times I’m hanging out where I put it down and then I need to get it back again because there was something coming up. There’s so many outtakes to this book. It’s pretty cool. It became so natural because we’re friends. I know he’s a big star. But to me, he’s a good friend. If I looked at him as if he’s the superstar that he is, I would be intimidated taking these photos. He knows I respect him enough where there’s photos I’m not going to take. I’m not going to take that and he trusts me 100%.
Shepler: This was Pau visiting Kobe at the Lakers’ practice facility when he was rehabbing his Achilles this summer, and Pau was still on crutches after his knee procedures. Kobe’s face lit up when Pau entered the room. That surprised me. They’re such close friends that when Kobe sees him, he looks so happy to see Pau. They had a private conversation, talking about the season and their injuries. They’re like brothers and seem very close. People don’t realize that about them. But they truly enjoy each other’s company. Pau always wants to see how Kobe is doing. It lifted Kobe’s spirits when Pau walked in the room. Pau tends to do that to people. It’s the same for Kobe when he walks in the room. People light up. It’s their charisma. Both Kobe and Pau have a lot of charisma and a lot of charm.
It’s fun to see the two of them together in private settings like this. They talk about things most people talk about, and laugh at things we all laugh about. Kobe was watching TV a lot during these times and he was watching “The Price is Right” and was worried someone would trip when they walked down the aisle when they had their name called in the show because they’d get so excited. They were laughing about that. Then I talked to Kobe for his foreward and his book. He has a lot of respect for Pau. He definitely looks to him as somebody who has a lot of good qualities. There’s definitely a very strong connection they have together. Both of them have amazing values of who they are as people. Both of them have to walk around with protection up with who they can let in and who they can trust because there are people who want to take advantage of them. It’s good to see the two together. It’s a wonderful interaction. They have a lot of energy.
Pau acknowledged in the book that he and Kobe have had their disagreements with Kobe sometimes shooting too much or Pau not always being aggressive enough. But Pau makes it clear he has so much respect for Kobe and loves playing with him. How have you seen their different personalities mesh together?
Shepler: Pau knows how to deal with lots of different kinds of people in lots of different situations. He seems to be good at that. He’s so worldly. Pau knows when to push and when not to push. He knows what battles to fight and not to fight. He’s smart. Kobe is strong willed, and so is Pau.
The reason it works so well is the respect they have for each other and how they see each other as family members. There’s times you might get mad at them and times you might tell them off. That forms respect when two can look each other in the eye and tell you off and say this and that. After that, they both realize they’re not perfect. But when it comes down to it, they have the same goals as far as winning. They also have a lot of the same ideals and values. The key word is respect for each other. Kobe makes that clear in his foreward how he painted a picture of having dinner with Pau in Barcelona. They just hung out for hours, talking about life.
Shepler: Pau went to see his grandmother in July 2011 in Barcelona during the FIBA European Championships. I don’t know Spanish that well so it was good. If he wanted to have conversations without worrying who’s hearing it, it’s fine. With the type of Spanish they’re speaking, Catalan, it’s hard to understand even when I tried learning it. But you can tell she obviously loves him to death and vice versa. He seems so close to his family members whether it’s his dad, mother or grandmother. It’s nice to see he has such a close relationship to them. His grandmother is such a small sized woman. It’s interesting to see his relatives because he’s super tall. I don’t know where he got that.
He definitely stays close to his family. Family is everything to him. He stays in contact and has a very good relationship. It’s a European thing, but they’re so affectionate. Whether it’s his friends or family members, Pau is very affectionate with them. It’s a nice thing to say. People in America are afraid even to hug sometimes. But Pau has a genuine way of showing affection.
Shepler: This picture is Pau with Juan Carlos Navarro, his Spanish national teammate, in the same year in 2011. I was surprised that the Spanish national team puts them in rooms of two. It was so funny to see two huge basketball players laying side by side next to each other just hanging out. That’s how they roll there. They’re best friends. They have a great time together and are very close. They like to goof around and laugh a lot.
I noticed all the members of the team seem like a family when they’re around each other. It seemed like he’s known these guys for so much longer. It seemed like a very warm and comforting feeling that they’re all together and trust each other. There’s no competition. They’re all together just trying to win. It seemed like they’ve been together for years. This photo also shows how they love to read. He doesn’t limit himself to certain categories of books. He reads different books all the time and tries to expand his horizons and learn more.
When they’re all training together, they fill their schedules with simple things filled with dinners, workouts, downtime and sleep. When they left to the hotel to the training facility, they actually walked. It was four blocks long in Madrid. This wouldn’t happen in L.A. or an American town. Pau and Juan Carlos really enjoy each other’s company.
It’s obvious why Pau is writing in both English and Spanish. But did that come up right away?
From day one, I thought it’d be best to do it in Spanish and English. That’s how he tweets and does everything. Little did I know how difficult it was going to be. All of the chapters had to be translated. Pau did the translations and his publicist [Jorge Badosa Mingueza] helped with some of it too. We did all the translating this summer. Pau also redid some of the writings so it’d be more in his voice.
Shepler: This was really cool to see Pau and his brother, Marc, two of the best basketball players in Spain out on the court. They’re working out together in Barcelona. They worked out pretty hard. It was fun to watch. They played tough defense on each other and weren’t letting up. They were having fun at the same time. I noticed once the balls started bouncing, they were all business. Once it was done and they were resting, they were brothers. There always is a closeness between them. You can tell. They have fun together and they enjoy what they do. They know they’re in this together when they’re on the Spanish team. That’s why they were practicing there.
But when Memphis plays the Lakers, it’s business as usual. It’s always fun to watch. I know how much they love each other. But when they get on that court, they have the mindset of, ‘I’m going to take it to the basket and dunk on you.’ Pau loves to win. As he said in the book, he even wants to beat his grandmother in card games. He wasn’t about to let anyone win. I was trying to keep score and I think Pau came out ahead in this match. It may not be that way all the time. But I think Pau won this one.
Is there anything to the imagery with the seats in the arena matching what Pau and Marc are wearing?
With FC Barcelona’s blue and yellow colors, it’s kind of ironic that Pau’s shorts and Marc’s shirt blend in. They always seem to be wearing those colors when they’re over there. I didn’t even notice that at first. But it’s a great background to use. This was a tough workout. When they were done, they were drenched in sweat. It was nice to see. When Pau was done with this, he then went to swim and lift weights. I was very impressed with their workout regime. I don’t think people realize how much truly they work out. They’re both very grateful for what they have. I never have seen any instances where they’re full of themselves or they don’t appreciate where they’re at and the position and opportunities they have and the abilities they have to make a difference in people’s lives.
Shepler: This is a picture of Pau visiting a boy at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles Dec. 2011. It was three days before Christmas and Pau wanted to see the kids that had to be in the hospital around Christmas time. Every time he walked in the room, the patients’ faces lit up. They were so taken aback that their favorite basketball player would come in there. Pau does everything he can to make them feel comfortable. He can tell when they’re nervous. He’ll get closer to them and high five them to make them feel more at ease. Pau’s knees don’t always feel great. But just to be on the same level with this boy, Pau wants to kneel down. To me, that’s so amazing. When he stands over their bed, he’s so tall and it might scare them. This may not feel comfortable. But he’s bringing himself down to Earth. It’s all about them. He doesn’t want a lot of people around. It’s just the two of them in those rooms a lot.
When I’ve covered Pau’s visits to the hospital, I’ve noticed he shows more of his goofy side. What do you see with that?
When he’s at the hospital and around the kids, Pau gets goofy and silly. His main feeling is that when he goes in there, he wants them to get away from what they have to go through. He goes to their level. Being a kid is a good thing. They’re innocent and sweet and always happy. Even these kids under the worse conditions seem to have so much joy in them. You would never know they’re sick because of the light and energy he brings to them. When he gets there, it’s pretty amazing to see. You can actually see a physical change in their demeanor. It’s too bad we can’t clone 1,000 Pau Gasols and have them visit them every day in the week. This gives him joy and a great satisfaction that what’s taking time to do is changing people’s lives for the better. He doesn’t do it in a small fashion. He jumps in and commits himself toward making a difference. He wants the hospital visits to be about them. He’ll give autographs, jerseys and photos.
How did this book wind up helping out his foundation?
Shepler: From the beginning, it was 100% for sure, all of Pau’s proceeds from our book would go to charities. It then evolved to where he and Marc decided to do the Gasol Foundation. It was a perfect thing to fit right into the foundation and what they stand for. It’s all about kids. It evolved to where the timing of the book coincided with the timing of the foundation. It was a win-win situation. This was all a coincidence. It has evolved. It’s amazing how it played out with him staying with the Lakers and then helping his foundation. For me, it’s karma and it was meant to be.”
With Gasol’s ongoing cloud of uncertainty regarding trade rumors, what did that do for the book?
Shepler: I lived this for four years. My worry factor was up and down. I always said, ‘Please don’t trade Pau.’ This book is my blood. My life was attached to Pau’s life. This book was my baby. I knew the best-case scenario was for him to stay in L.A. Every time I thought these thoughts, it happened. It was so weird. So many people were calling me out saying I was crazy and that he wasn’t going to stay. I still remember the day I was at that practice when Pau traded him and I rode with him to sneak out the backdoor to get his tests. When he found he was traded and then it got stopped, I rode with him that day.
I’m a positive person. If he was traded, there’d be another layer to the book. It’s the nature of being the NBA player. I wasn’t opposed to it. But I knew Pau really wanted to stay here and I really wanted to stay here. But no one has lived this possibly more than him. He doesn’t listen to the radio and read everything. It got to the point where one of Pau’s friends told me I need to stop listening or I’m going to go crazy. He was right. I was internalizing it all too much and worrying. There was nothing I could do. I told him, I knew you weren’t going to leave. I didn’t know how or that [NBA Commissioner] David Stern would overturn the trade. But to me, it was the karma that was meant to be. Sometimes I do that. I think these thoughts, focus on them and then it happens.
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All photos courtesy of Lori Shepler, photographer of Gasol: Life/Vida. Copyright Pau Gasol, 2013