The Photography of the Z-Man

49ers team photographer Michael Zagaris is a man of many images

There is certainly a method to the madness of a true Bay Area original, the San Francisco 49ers official team photographer known as ‘Z-man.’

“I’ve always approached what I do, not so much as a photographer or even an artist, but as an actor,” Michael Zagaris told me in a recent interview at his studio.

Years ago while covering the 49ers, I saw Zagaris emerge from the showers in the locker room at Candlestick. I couldn’t exactly wrap my brain around why the official photographer was moving around the team’s inner sanctum just like one of the players.

Here’s what I didn’t know. Z-man has a history of melting into the scenery that he is documenting. Music, art, fashion, sports and politics have provided the canvas for a man with unusual vision who becomes one with his subjects.

After years on the road shooting music tours for the likes of Rolling Stone magazine, Zagaris found a champion in 49ers Head Coach Bill Walsh who gave him unlimited access to Camelot.

“I went to Bill right after he became head coach,” said Zagaris. “I knew his background. I just had a feel for him and I knew he was more than a football coach. He was a historian and a man of letters. He was an archivist and I really had a feeling something special was going to happen and I said, ‘I want to document this.’”

Zagaris did just that by immersing himself into the world of the 49ers while helping create the mythology of a dynasty via his unique backstage pass.

He's been San Francisco's official photographer since the '70s. Bill Walsh had said the photo with he and Joe Montana kneeling and drawing up a play was his favorite.

I hope you enjoy my take on the Z-man’s story.

Photo Credit: 'Walsh and Montana', Copyright Michael Zagaris.

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