TOPOP was founded by famed photographer Nelson Jones. Nelson, is a naïve Californian in the truest sense as he grew up in the mountainous hills of Oakland.
He quickly became comfortable with both the Pacific Ocean and nature by swimming, surfing, archery and horseback riding.
In an extremely competitive fashion atmosphere of Nelsons’ high school at Saint Elizabeth, he was encouraged by his peers to read a magazine which would ultimately change his life called Gentlemen’s Quarterly (G.Q.). After he discovered the Port to which the magazines were delivered he would often travel across the Bay Bridge into San Francisco the very day they would arrive, to feel the warm pages cling to his face and be the first to have a copy in the Bay Area.
His love for fashion grew quickly from visiting his first High fashion runway show in San Francisco and viewing the pages of his first G.Q. magazine back in 1979 to soon reading Vogue magazine from cover to cover. Nelson then began to draw amazing clothing design sketches’ and show them to his friends at school.
During the summer break of his sophomore year in college at Tuskegee University, Nelson meet his first photographic challenge. The sister of his girlfriend at the time would continually nag him to take photos for her to present as her own in her High school photography class.
Always in love with the pages in the magazines, the models, especially the clothing and the lifestyles they presented, he also developed a love of photography as a hobby.
Nelson did not take her assignment seriously and unfamiliar with a professional camera but eager to shoot, he photographed randomly.
He would take photographs of clouds in the sky, ant’s on the ground or a sunset over the East Bay Area.
Once he lay down on the ground to align himself underneath the neon lights, of the local Dairy Queen, shooting upwards near dust at the lights. Nelson once jumped on someone’s newly brought Mercedes-Benz with his back facing the windshield to zoom in on the classic Mercedes-Benz emblem atop the hood.
Needless to say, she was excited to tell both Nelson and his girlfriend that she had won honors from Nelsons’ photographs; this was the very first time Nelson thought of photography as a possible career.
After leaving Tuskegee abruptly near the end of 1986 he nearly immediately married his college sweetheart named Belinda-Faye in 1987. That year they moved to Oakland, Ca. where the couple regularly found themselves on Alameda Beach.
The couple pondered their future life and decided with a flip of a coin that the loser would agree to live or relocate where the winner chose. Nelson, definitely not a serious young man at the time whose life metaphor would easily be defined as “Life’s a Beach” lost the coin toss and the couple moved to Atlanta, Ga. in 1988.
The city of Atlanta, Georgia in 1988 was a completely different landscape than the international city of Atlanta today.
Once while the couple was walking home from the grocery store they were yelled at by the classic stereo type, a truck load of young white males, waving a confederate flag screaming “Niggers go home!”
Nelson from that point basically practiced on his extremely beautiful and shapely young bride. Sometime he would photograph her while she slept or while using the restroom or a common theme would be to catch her off guard. One photo shoot was done while she would prepare a meal or another successful shoot could consist of her feet alone.
Between the years of 1988 and 1995 there was a tremendous cultural revolution in the city of Atlanta spawned primarily by it’s growth and by the Hip Hop music community.
Record companies and musical artist alike gravitated towards the city and descended on it changing the city’s landscape forever.
The Black college Spring Break celebration originally called Freedom Festival was quickly nicknamed “Freaknik”. With it came as air of utter and complete pandemonium of which had never been seen before nor since. The entire city for one week had complete grid-lock traffic and was shut down. The Mayor Bill Campbell on television called for a State of Marshall Law, simply to curtail the huge amounts of traffic.
Young people were literally, having Spring Break, parting out of their cars on the freeway, in the middle of the streets, sometimes drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana, sometimes having sex outdoors, other times chasing scantily dressed females down the street in a frenzy mob type of atmosphere. Nelson practiced within this atmosphere and perfected being quick to capture provocative images.
Meanwhile a barrage of musical artist like Jermine Dupri, T.L.C.,LA Reid, Babyface, Pebble, Toni Braxton, Kriss Kross, Dallas Austin, P!nk , OutKast and the Goodie Mobb among others were descending upon the two new record companies called SoSo Def and LaFace.
Never before had Nelson ever felt so thankful to be in the right place at the right time than this. Armed only with his persistence and ambition in his heart he sought out a mentor in Carlton Cook whim owned a successful company called BackStage F/X and was invited for a yearlong internship where he later was introduced to Annie Leibovitz.
By 1995 Nelson had photographed and or met many top entertainment artist and published in various magazines.
While honing his profession Nelson always remembered what his mother preached and her insistence to “have something to fall back on Sonny…”
Before becoming a professional photographer in 1995 he excelled in his trade in the restaurant industry as a professional award winning Waiter.
Working a string of the most fashionable restaurants, in then the only party district in Atlanta called Buckhead, Nelson’s ever positive demeanor and excellent communicational skills propelled him. These talents often caused management to use Nelson both as a Trainer waiter and exclusively to wait on most celebrity patrons. Nelson would instruct new server to always treat celebrities like regular people and treat regular people like celebrities and they’d never go wrong.
IN the mid 90’s through 1996 with the Olympic Games, Nelson worked through a lot of stardust both shooting live concerts and waiting tables. He waited on Madonna while she dated Dennis Rodman, Sugar Ray Leonard, James Brown, Liza Minnelli, LA Reid, Lynard Skynard, Greg Allman, T.L.C., Hootie & the Blowfish and many others.
In 1995 two consequential meetings helped Nelson, shaping him and the foundation of his new business. While waiting tables one of the most beautiful and glamorous women in the world walked into the restaurant, naturally management sat her and her bodyguard into his section.
Ever strikingly attractive and articulate Nelson confidently walked over to the table and welcomed them to the restaurant. He introduced himself and immediately suggestively sold a bottle of Kendall Jackson Chardonnay for their enjoyment while dining.
The beautiful and glamorous guest asked in her thick accent “What do you do?” Completely stunned, Nelson stood for the first time ever star stuck, becoming rather nervous as if the guest didn’t hear his introduction as their waiter. The guest repeated her original question for the second time asking him again, “What do you do?”
Immediately Nelson began to shutter while slowly and softly stating, “My name is Nelson, I’m your waiter… Please, please Ma’am you’re very beautiful and I’m nervous, people are looking at me, please just let me get you something to drink…” With that the guest looking directly into his eyes, repeated for the third time more forcefully saying, “What do you do? I know, no waiter is just waiter, I wait tables before in New York City…”
Sensing that she was speaking to him as an equal as tough he was a person and completing expecting an answer, she continued to glaze into his eyes.
The shuttering stopped and he replied, “I’m Nelson Jones. I’m an entertainment photographer, all I really care about is shooting live Rock ‘n Roll and I just started photographing some Ethnic models.”
With this response the guest said “I knew it! You have Star in your eyes; you’re going to be very important!”
She invited Nelson and his wife to visit her for a weekend at a local Shopping Mall where she was debuting her new cosmetics line. She said she would answer any and all of his modeling question; her name is Iman, the Supermodel.
Nelson is indebted to Iman to this day for her wealth of knowledge shared and her encouragement.
Later that same year ever persistent Nelson was blown away by the amount of attractive young people that continuously came to him for photographs. Some wanted to hear his many Rock stories or to be around him, a real Rock ‘n Roll photographer while others simply wanted excellent photographs and they all appreciated his autograph on the back of the photo.
Nelson sought out another mentor whom was successful in the modeling business to train him as a Model & Talent agent.
Maddie Pimemetel, was the owner of Collage International Talent agency a very busy and successful woman in her own right.
Nelson, ever persistent would call Maddie at home while she wondered where he had got her home number. Nelson once followed her and her family to a restaurant, quickly jumping out of his car to open the door for them as if by coincidence they met.
After quickly wearing Maddie down, she took one summer to train him as a professional agent. Maddie gave Nelson her energy she gave him all his original paper work, taught him the importance of getting a Booking Confirmation Form [Contract] signed before you sent out talent, every time.
Maddie, gave and took the time to teach him all the essentials of running a Modeling Agency and becoming an effective booking agent. Most importantly of all Maddie encouraged Nelson that with his natural gift of articulation and charm it would serve him well to study and learn the history of the Modeling Industry, she said, “Nelson- someone like you! Nelson I’m sure it’ll make you important!”
Nelson immersed himself in the study of the Modeling industry from it’s origin’s to today. From the beginning with Mr. John Robert Powers, his famous Hat boxes and the founding of his self titled agency back in 1923 onto Eileen and Jerry Ford and the Ford Modeling Agency.
Nelson took note of how they started teir agency and what was important for them I their era to why their agency was called the “White House” in the 50’s and 60’s by younger generations onto their decline in the late 70’s.
Nelson took great care to understand who Wilhelmina Cooper was and her importance to our industry also how she became such a power house. Willy is credited with being the first to break away from the Ford’s system and start her own agency, she is also credited with discovering both Gia Carangi and Beverly Johnson, the first African American female to be on the cover of American Vogue in 1974.
Nelson studied carefully the rise and fall of John Casablanca’s and the formidable ELITE Model Management. How John took a bite out of the monopoly that Ford built while injecting sex appeal to the industry by dating models and young as 15 years old and partying with tem at Studio 57 in the late 70’s, his coining the term “Supermodel” and promoting the concept of the “Holy Trinity” who were Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington and Naomi Campbell.
John will always be a powerful name in the Modeling industry having discovered both Stephanie Seymour and Giselle Bundchen and having created ELITE.
Nelson, then turned his attention to the study of the greatest photographers he admired and why including Richard Avedon, Herb Ritts, Helmut Newton, Gordon Parks, Annie Leibovitz and Sante’ D’Orazio.
Nelson Jones, continues to study and keep himself abreast of everything related to this field to continue to stay worthy of being called an expert on the history of and entrance to the Modeling Industry.