Interview: DELWYN MALLETT.
Photography: DAVID MONTGOMERY, KEVIN CUMMINS & GERED MANKOWITZ
CHANCES ARE THAT THE IMAGES THAT YOU SEE REPRODUCED IN YOUR FAVOURITE MAGAZINES AND ONLINE WERE TRANSFERRED FROM PHOTOGRAPHER OR FILMMAKER TO PUBLISHER BY THE FILE TRANSFER SERVICE WETRANSFER. FOUNDED IN AMSTERDAM IN 2009 TO FACILITATE THE EASY TRANSFER OF LARGE FILES, THE COMPANY NOW HANDLES ONE BILLION A MONTH FROM USERS IN 195 COUNTRIES, TO US THAT SOUNDS VERY MUCH LIKE EVERY COUNTRY IN THE WORLD.
Of the extraordinary total of a billion files that WeTransfer handles each month three quarters are from the creative community, artists, photographers, musicians and designers. To support, encourage and promote creative endeavour almost a third of WeTransfer’s full-screen backgrounds are dedicated to promoting the work of individual artists. A full-time team of curators select the work on a three-week rotational basis and try to feature artists from each continent and on a 50/50 gender split. WeTransfer also has its own blog, This Works, which relates the stories behind the images.
Renowned British photographer, Rankin, a self-confessed photography ‘fanboy’, has now finished his second collaboration with WeTransfer Studios by producing a series of three short documentaries featuring the noted music photographers David Montgomery, Kevin Cummins and Gered Mankowitz. Titled The Backstage Sessions the photographers discuss working with some of the legendary names from the music world, David Bowie, Jimmy Hendrix, Morrissey, The Who and The Rolling Stones amongst them.
The videos, commencing in September 2017, will be available exclusively on WeTransfer but Make Magazine has been privileged to have a sneak preview and also to pose a few questions of our own to the featured photographers and Rankin himself.
For the sake of simplicity and comparison we asked each photographer the same four questions:
Musicians are used to performing for crowds, in your experience do they turn their ‘performing’ instinct on or off for the camera?
Have you ever had any major disappointments or calamities with any of your subjects or sessions? If not, are there any stories or high jinx events you can share with us?
Of all of the people and bands that you have photographed which individual or group has given you the most satisfaction? The ‘glad I did that’ or ‘wasn’t that great’ factor?
In the days of film, the photographer had the opportunity to edit the images before showing them to the client. Now, in the digital age, do your subjects want to see the images for instant approval? Do you allow this? And do you have any nostalgia for film as opposed to digital? Or maybe you still work with film? Or is it all just history now?
WeTransfer Studios presents a video series with prolific music photographers, David Montgomery, Kevin Cummins and Gered Mankowitz — discussing their most recognisable pictures of icons like Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie and The Rolling Stones. This short documentary series curated by Rankin, produced by creative agency The Full-Service premieres on the 26th September on WeTransfer
Rankin is a true child of the sixties, being born in Paisley, Scotland, in 1966. He first came to prominence in the early 90s where his intimate approach and playful sense of humour tapped into the consciousness of the irreverent times. After co-founding the seminal magazine, Dazed & Confused,
he immersed himself with bands, artists, supermodels and politicians, rising to acclaim with his natural ability to elicit emotions and create iconic pictures. Like a surfer catching the perfect wave Dazed & Confused sped into the zeitgeist of the 1990s and still hasn’t hit the beach. Over the years Rankin’s images have become part of contemporary iconography. Evidence of his frankness and passion for all aspects of modern culture characterise his photography, which seeks to push and provoke, asking questions which others may not ask.
You have to understand most of them are very unique; from Thom York to Liam Gallagher there are massive differences in personality and approach. BUT all are being versions of themselves and inherently most need to be show-offs to be successful so they have to turn that on and off or they’d probably go mad.
A lot of fans would love to think that stars are there on stage/ video/interview/stills presence all of the time and to some extent they are or they couldn’t do it, but the idea of performance is never simple, as it’s wrapped up in who they are and who the fans want them to be. As musical ‘artists’ their expression is to perform. So yes, they can turn it on or off, I just don’t think it’s as simple as a switch or being on stage. They are human.
I’m kind of like a priest, things that go on during the shoot or on set are sacrosanct. If I was to repeat them to you I would be breaking a trust and people wouldn’t want to work with me. But obviously, absolutely nuts things have happened. For example, I once had male singer touch himself in the mirror before turning to me and saying ‘I’m ready to shoot’, then repeat it between frames. On another occasion, with another singer, he was using panty liners under his armpits to stop sweating, when one of them fell out and he pretended it wasn’t his. I think to be a rock or pop star you’ve got to be pretty nuts, so pretty nuts things just happen when you’re around them.
That’s easy — the Rolling Stones. Not only was I a massive fan but they were the most energetic iconic and cool guys I’ve ever met. My favourite moment was when Mick decided he wanted to be the photographer, took my camera and made me pretend to be him. Obviously, I was terrible at it.
It’s just a different way of working in a different time. I do have some nostalgia for it but I was always very much about collaboration. I always wanted my subjects to be involved in the creation and editing of my work. That was my approach from the beginning. Other approaches work for other photographers. I guess part of me can get a bit irritated when people don’t really like themselves in my pictures but then again, I can be very persuasive. On another note, I find all of the moaning about digital very boring and negative. The world has changed, let it go!
Born in Manchester in 1953, Kevin studied photography in Salford before throwing himself into the music world, documenting the emerging punk scene and capturing memorable images of soon to be internationally famous bands and personalities, Ian Curtis of Joy Division, Morrissey, The Clash, The Stone Roses and a youthful Madonna amongst them. Kevin was associated with the New Musical Express for 25-years, 10 of those as their chief photographer, and he is acknowledged as one of the leading documentary photographers of the era. Kevin has also worked extensively with Manchester’s prestigious Royal Exchange Theatre, the Royal Opera House, the Royal Northern Ballet, and the Oxford Playhouse. Cummins moved to London in 1987 and has contributed to major British publications such as The Observer, Vogue, FourFourTwo, and Esquire.
Still very much a Manchester lad at heart and a lifelong Manchester City supporter, Kevin, in his highly regarded photo book We’re Not Really Here, documented the team’s 2002/3 end of an era final season at their Maine Road stadium.
When performing? Not generally. I don’t think they notice us.
It’s all high jinks. I’ve photographed a female singer climbing along the outer rail on the Brooklyn Bridge. I’ve photographed bands who refuse to leave their hotel rooms for days on end. I’ve flown to Atlanta Georgia to photograph a band who were in New York City. I’ve been taken to New York City to shoot a singer who wasn’t there. I’ve been to Amsterdam to shoot a band who had just left the city for their next gig. I’ve seen my subject arrested live on TV the day prior to a shoot in NYC. So yes. It’s never normal.
I’m almost always happy with the musicians / bands I work with. If I didn’t enjoy it, there wouldn’t be much point doing it. Having said that, I really like working with Morrissey. He’s a great subject.
I still generally don’t show people the shots until I’ve edited them. Digital is great. I don’t overshoot on digital just as I didn’t on film. I work fairly quickly and generally know when I’ve got the shots I want.
Gered Mankowitz was born in 1946 in London and is the eldest of four sons to the late writer, playwright and screenwriter Wolf Mankowitz. Gered dropped out of school at 15 with no academic qualifications but his latent visual skill was spotted by society portraitist and founder of the picture agency Camera Press, Tom Blau, who offered him an apprenticeship.
A precocious talent, Gered was soon working as a professional in his own right and in 1963 had the good fortune to open his London studio just as the ‘60s music scene was exploding and London was ‘swinging’.His big break came the following year when, still only 18, he was asked to photograph The Rolling Stones, the most controversial band of the day and second only to the Beatles in fame. Mankowitz would be the band’s official photographer for several years, touring America in 1965 and producing publicity shots and cover artwork for several of their albums — he even shot the band’s visa portraits for their ’65 tour! Mankowitz’s famous black and white images of Jimi Hendrix passed almost unnoticed when taken in the hyper-colourful 60s but were rediscovered and reassessed when Gered exhibited them in his first solo exhibition in 1992. Although now living in Cornwall, where he devotes much time to his archive, Gered is still a frequent contributor to major publications like The Sunday Times Magazine and Mojo.
Performing your music in front of an audience is very different to the kind of performance needed to make the difference between an ordinary photo and a great portrait. Part of my job is to try and bring out that performance and capture it.
There have been a few difficult moments — the first hour or so of my session with Oasis was an absolute nightmare, but they pulled themselves together and we got some great shots in the end! Most of the bad ones I put out of my mind and forget about.
Fortunately, there have been many such great moments — otherwise, I wouldn’t have stuck it for over 50 years! Jimi Hendrix had fantastic presence and was a lovely chap to be with, Kate Bush was exhausting but endlessly inspiring, Slade were always a great laugh to be with, Eurythmics were extraordinarily creative to be around, and for a few years back in the 60s I was in the Stones’ gang, and you can’t get much better than that!
I try to avoid showing my subjects too much and attempt to establish the trust that existed back in the day when your subject had very little idea of what you were shooting. Pre-Polaroid there was complete trust and that was very positive in many ways, once Polaroid arrived there was more collaboration, which could also be very positive. But once it all went Digital, and everybody with a phone thought they were photographers, trust disappeared and that has made it much harder to communicate and to control a session sufficiently to get the performance from the subject that is needed to make a great portrait, and we are back to where this interview started!
Legendary photographer David Montgomery is the elder statesman of our group. Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1937, he came to London in the 1960s as an assistant to photographer Lester Bookbinder and stayed. David is probably best known for his portraits of the rich and famous, frequently contributing to the likes of The Sunday Times supplement, Nova, Rolling Stone, and Vogue. Montgomery has photographed famous faces including Queen Elizabeth II, Bill Clinton, Mick Jagger, Sir Paul McCartney and Pierce Brosnan. Musicians would have felt they were in sympathetic company, as a corner of David’s studio was for many years occupied by his drum kit. His 1968 cover shot for Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland, featuring 19 naked women lounging on a black ground, gained a whole load of notoriety and controversy.
David still lives in London and, when he’s not behind the lens, currently dedicates his time to teaching the next generation of photographers.
It varies because the camera strips you bare. And being a musician instead of having the adoration of thousands of people they have the stare of one piece of optical glass, which can either transform you beyond your wildest dreams or reveal a snivelling insecure wreck.
I was photographing Willie Nelson in Tulsa Oklahoma in his dressing room he was lovely but his bodyguard was a bit psychotic and decided to kick my camera across the room. All the musicians in the dressing room froze. I went and picked up my Hasselblad and saw that it was working and kept shooting like I always do!
I loved working with The Who. And every time I look at Roger Daltry in that tub of baked beans I get that feeling.
I miss film. I miss the smell of the darkroom and the depths that film presents itself with. Nevertheless, I like the immediacy of digital. As far choosing an image I always like to make the final choice.
You can go to WeTransfer, where you can watch and listen as these photographic masters discuss their work.
Ian Curtis of Joy Division by Kevin Cummins
Bjork by Kevin Cummins
Morrissey by Kevin Cummins
David Bowie by Kevin Cummins
Jimi Hendrix by Gered Mankowitz
Marianne Faithful by Gered Mankowitz
The Rolling Stones by Gered Mankowitz
Paul McCartney by David Montgomery
The Rolling Stones by David Montgomery
Keith Richards by David Montgomery