Photographer Max Aguilera-Hellweg was first entranced by photography when, as a boy playing hooky, he came across his father's World War II photo albums. After exhausting his father's collection, he went to the library and sought out history books and old magazines—anything with pictures in it. "I was mesmerized by the power of photographs to reveal the unknown," he says.
After high school, Aguilera-Hellweg moved with his mother to Berkeley, California, where he attended photography workshops at the University of California, Berkeley, the Art Institute, and the Friends of Photography.
Just a month shy of his 18th birthday, he was hired by Rolling Stone magazine to work in its darkroom and assist chief photographer Annie Leibovitz when she was in town. Aguilera-Hellweg began to take his own photos, including a shot of a young bodybuilder named Arnold Schwarzenegger. That photo now hangs in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
After a year and a half at Rolling Stone Aguilera-Hellweg moved to Los Angeles, where Schwarzenegger, now a friend, got him a job photographing for Joe Weider's Muscle magazine. He also took acting classes. After three months, he sold his car, packed his bags, and left the U.S. to hitchhike around the world.
After six months overseas he returned to the U.S. intent on making films. In 1981 he was awarded an Independent Filmmakers Grant from the American Film Institute. He went on to make A Perfect Couple, a 16mm, 15-minute short. He also worked on the film The Unbearable Lightness of Being, taking stills shown in the movie.
Aguilera-Hellweg's clients have included Fortune, Time, Esquire, Rolling Stone, GEO, Stern, Discover, Scientific American, Details, Connoisseur, Newsweek, the Washington Post Magazine, the Los Angeles Times Magazine, the New York Times Magazine, Texas Monthly, New York, the New Yorker, and many other magazines. His first story for National Geographic was on stem cell research in July 2005.
He has lectured about photography at the University of South Carolina, the New School in New York, Cal State Fullerton, the Art Center in Pasadena, the International Center for Photography, and Columbia University.
His work has been featured in Nikon World, Photo Design, American Photography, and Communications Arts. In 1991 his work was awarded a Gold Medal by the Society of Publication Designers. In 1999 and 2000 he was awarded the Eisenstaedt Award for Science Photography administered by the Columbia School of Journalism.
Aguilera-Hellweg has two books, Breaking 100, a series of portraits and interviews with centenarians, and The Sacred Heart: An Atlas of the Body Seen Through Invasive Surgery, a book of surgical photographs.
In 2004, Aguilera-Hellweg received his medical degree from Tulane University in New Orleans.