2013 marks 50 years of rock and roll photography for Gered Mankowitz, whose lens captured era-defining images of the world’s greatest rock stars including Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, The Eurythmics, Phil Collins, Kate Bush… We caught five minutes with Gered whilst on his busy promotional tour for his new book, Gered Mankowitz: 50 Years of Rock and Roll Photography, to ask him a few questions about his star-studded career, touring with The Stones and just who was responsible for him reaching for the camera in the first place…
- What inspired you to take up photography as a career?
Actually it was who rather than what – the great comic actor Peter Sellers was a friend of my father’s and an enormously enthusiastic amateur photographer. On a Sunday lunch visit to our home in the late 50s he brought along a complete Hasselblad camera kit and proceeded to explain all about it in a mad and goonish Swedish type voice, which, being a big Goon Show fan, had me in hysterics and completely hooked on the idea of being a photographer!
- What was the first photograph you ever took?
The first serious photographs I took were on a school holiday to Delft in Holland with a camera my granny had given me for my 14th birthday, where I took some photos of the famous cathedral, which were seen by Tom Blau who offered me an apprenticeship at his agency Camera Press.
- Were there ever times when you considered an alternative career to music photography?
In the last couple of years at school I was very keen on acting and took several roles in school productions, but my Dad talked me out of taking it up professionally. Throughout my career as a photographer I worked in different genres including editorial and advertising but music photography was always a constant across the 50 years.
- You toured America with the Rolling Stones in 1965 what was that like? Do you have any stories you can share?
Actually it was everything a 19-year-old North London boy could imagine plus a lot of hard work! There were moments of complete insanity – setting fire to my room at the Lincoln Square Motor Inn in New York during the infamous East Coast power blackout was one highlight! There were some amazing concerts and being on stage with the band every night was exhilarating and touring would never be the same again for me. There were brief moments of pretty wild sex and a few drugs, but generally it was a grueling experience and after 48 cities I was pleased to get home.
- You’re particularly famous for your work on the Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix, but what is your favourite portrait?
After 50 years it is almost impossible to select just one but working with the Stones and Hendrix were obvious highlights and I loved working with Kate Bush, Annie Lennox, Marianne Faithfull and many others as well. If I had to choose just one I suppose it would have to be my Classic portrait of Jimi in his military jacket as it has become such a global icon and has a life all of its own!
- Were there any artists that you photographed in your career that surprised you or were not what you expected?
Bing Crosby was unexpectedly grumpy and unhelpful, George Harrison was remarkably normal and supportive, Elton John was less confident than I expected, Annie Lennox looked wonderful whatever she did…………………………
- 7. What’s the most unusual location you’ve ever shot in?
Photographing the supposed supergroup Thieves in a brothel in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico was pretty weird!
- Who do you regret not shooting for a portrait?
So many people – the young Elvis Presley, Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, Ry Cooder and many more.
- Do you listen to music whilst you photograph?
I had a pretty insane sound system in my studio – four, huge, round Grundig speakers hanging in each corner of the room and music was always playing, usually pretty loudly as well!
10. Do you have a top five favourite tracks of all time?
I couldn’t begin to limit myself – but the Stones, Dylan, Marley, Cooder, Motown, soul & blues would all be in there somewhere!
11. What are your thoughts on social sites such as Instagram that make it easy for people to upload and share their photos quickly? Is this devaluing professional photography in any way?
Digital technology has been chipping away at the profession for many years now and the ease with which people today can take and share their images has compounded the problem. I am greatly relieved that my career is over and I am no longer competing in the business anymore, because it is really tough out there!
12. Why did you decide to publish this book at this time?
50 years in the business seemed like a pretty good reason to celebrate with a beautiful book and I couldn’t be more delighted with the result.