Gered Mankowitz – Exclusive Interview
Louder Than War’s very own David Gleave interviews legendary photographer Gered Mankowitz and gains access to exclusive images from his private collection which we feature below!
In a career spanning almost seven decades, Markowitz has photographed a huge number of well known artists but is particularly known for his images of The Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix. Many of his photographs became the covers for the artists’ most successful albums, others feature them live or at play. He has worked in all parts of the photography industry including fashion, music and news including covers for Rolling Stone Magazine.
Louder Than War: How and when did you come to photography? Peter Sellars was involved I understand?
My father Wolf Mankowitz was quite the showbiz celebrity back in the 50s & 60s and we had been photographed as a family on numerous occasions and I had always enjoyed it and found the process fascinating. One weekend the actor Peter Sellars visited for lunch and, being an amateur photographer nut, brought with him a complete Hasselblad kit as well as a large format Polaroid camera. He took some extraordinary photos of myself and my brother on the Polaroid, which was magical, and then proceeded to take me through the intricacies of the Hasselblad whilst speaking in an insane, Goonish type Swedish accent – I was in tears of laughter and was forever smitten and wanted my own Hasselblad!
LTW: Which photographers have inspired or influenced you? Are there any of your contemporaries that you have particular respect for?
Historically I would say that Irving Penn and Richard Avedon were the most inspiring, but David Bailey, Robert Freeman, Norman Parkinson, Moshe Brakha and Norman Seef have all had an impact.
LTW: I think it was 1965 you became involved with The Rolling Stones. How did that come about?
I had met Marianne Faithfull socially and immediately started to photograph her. She and I got on really well and my portraits were used for her first record covers and as a result, I came to the attention of her manager Andrew Loog Oldham who asked me to work with the Stones who he also managed.
LTW: You opened your first studio aged 17 in Masons Yard. Quite a cool place near the Indica Gallery and bookshop. People like Miles, Robert Fraser, Paul McCartney knocking about. You were in the thick of it from the start, to say the least?
Well, it was always a cool place to be, but actually, I was ahead of both Indica and the Scotch of St James, both of whom followed me into the yard! But it was a lot of fun and for a while, we did seem to be the centre of Swinging London!
LTW: You shot a lot of documentary style images on tour with The Stones between ’65 – ’66 I’m guessing you were using available light and grabbing what you could when you could? You’d probably also become “invisible” to them by then also which is a good thing, right?
Back in those days, concert lighting was terrible, and we were completely dependent on the venue’s lighting and staff. Most of the time it was a follow-spot plus footlights if we were lucky, and on some gigs, the light levels were so low that I simply couldn’t get an exposure! I never used flash because the guys hated the stark look that it gave to photos and found it too disturbing, so I was always working with available light, pushing the film to its absolute limits and hoping that something would come out!
As far as being invisible is concerned, I was treated like one of the band and Mick and the others didn’t have any sort of issues with me being on stage as long as I didn’t get in anybody’s way!
LTW: I think I heard you say that most of the images you brought back from the ’65 & ‘66 tours were never really seen as there was no real outlet for that kind of material at the time. There is now of course and this kind of stuff gets devoured. Will we ever see it?
Well I have recently published a very large format book of my 1965 backstage material which can be seen and bought here: http://www.snapgalleries.com/product/backstage-the-rolling-stones-by-gered-mankowitz/. Apart from that, I am always showing prints of the images at my exhibitions and on my own Website: www.mankowitz.com
LTW: What cameras were you using for this on the fly work?
I used my Hasselblad 500c as much as I could and if I did need to resort to 35mm then I had a Nikon F as well.
LTW: Do you shoot digital today and if so how do you like it compared to film ? There are benefits and drawbacks I suspect ?
I don’t think I have mastered digital image making because my commercial career hasn’t really been active enough since I sold my London studio and moved to Cornwall around 12 years ago. Nobody seems very interested in me as a working photographer anymore and so I, very happily mind you, concentrate on my archive which keeps me extremely busy! But I do love technology and embraced Digital Imaging for post-production back in the mid-1990s long before digital cameras were viable, and I continue to work on personal projects that utilise the latest technology!
LTW: Did The Stones become harder to shoot the bigger they became or did they cooperate throughout?
They were fabulous to work with up until the mid-1967 crises with Andrew, by which time it was clear to me that being with them was simply not as much fun as it had been, whereas working with Andrew on his other projects like Immediate Records was endlessly rewarding. I socialised with Mick a little bit after then, because he was going out with Marianne whom I was still close to, but I didn’t work with the band again until 1982, by which time they were huge as was the enormous team of people who ran their empire and it was difficult to get close to them. I was so lucky to get almost three years with them at the very peak of their original success and to be part of their “gang” was a great privilege and remains incredibly important in my life.
LTW: Have you ever taken a shot of a person or a band that you have loved and thought to be one of your favourite shots only to discover that one or more of the subjects didn’t like it ? You can’t budget for egos and vanity?
Well, I did discover very recently that a session I did with Cerys Mathews and Catatonia, which I always loved and thought it had produced a really great portrait of them, was actually hated by them all, and that they felt I had been hoisted on them by the record company!
LTW: You had the studio, but it seems that the album covers you did, certainly with The Stones, “Out of our Heads” and “Between the Buttons” were shot on location. Any particular reason for that?
I always wanted to be studio based because I wanted my subjects to come to me and commit to having their photograph taken, but that didn’t mean that I didn’t shoot on location when it was required. In the early days all my studio sessions were supplemented with a few rolls taken outside the studio, usually in Mason’s Yard or Ormond Yard and that was where Out of Our Heads was shot. Between the Buttons was always planned to be taken on location on Primrose Hill……
LTW: In 1967 your relationship with The Stones came to a natural end when Andrew Oldham parted company with them. By then you were firmly established and that was only really the start. You went on to shoot some of the most iconic images of that era with Jimi Hendrix, Small Faces, Free, Traffic, Yardbirds and so many more. Tell us about that please.
As I mentioned earlier, Immediate Records was the source of endless inspiration, great fun and some marvellous artists to work with, but I had great relationships with other important labels and Chris Blackwell at Island was very central to my early career. Chas Chandler asked me to work with Jimi for which I will always be grateful, but then he also asked me to work with Slade who I went on to shoot over 40 sessions with as well as most of their album covers! It was a very creative period and I felt I had tremendous freedom with all my subjects and I really only have positive memories of them all.
LTW: Most of your subjects have had iconic looks. Did they just have that anyway or did your shooting methods bring that out or enhance it in any way?
In general I have always preferred to work with artists early in the careers so that I can have an impact on developing and evolving their image. For instance, with Jimi, who looked fantastic when he first arrived at my studio, I felt that my job was to try and represent him with as much dignity and gravitas as I could, which at the time meant concentrating on black & white and keeping it all very simple and getting him to address the camera in a direct, honest and open way. The portraits weren’t particularly successful at the time but subsequently, they have become amongst the most iconic images of the great musician ever taken. I have never tried to consciously develop a style and never wanted my work to have a “look” that people recognised, instead I always hope the heroes of my photographs would be the subjects themselves and that any technique of mine wouldn’t get in the way!
LTW: Who was the last great Rock’n’Roll star?
I have no idea………………
LTW: You never shot The Beatles even though you were in their orbit. Why was that?
I’m not sure, but I always assumed it was because they were very happy with Robert Freeman and that my close association with the Stones somehow got in the way!
LTW: is there anyone you didn’t shoot but would have liked to? And anyone you did shoot you wished you hadn’t?
Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, Ry Cooder – the list could be endless… I tend to block out any really ghastly experiences and consequently I don’t have any regrets that easily come to mind, and anyway there is always something to learn from every experience!
LTW: You are perhaps best known for your work in the 1960’s but you have been consistently prolific throughout the decades from Kate Bush, Slade and even Oasis among so many others. What are you doing now? Have you slowed down?
My archive keeps me really busy all the time, selling prints, producing exhibitions, making books and experimenting in trying to find new ways to present the work. I am currently collaborating with my old chum the Royal portrait artist Christian Furr and we have created an exhibition called 45RPM which is an ongoing project www.furrmankowitz.com. I always have uncompleted personal projects on the go which are endlessly pushed to the back burner because of time constraints. I have 3 gorgeous grandkids and the grass needs mowing…
Louder Than War and David would like to sincerely thank Gered for his time and for all of the images he provided for this piece!
All photographs are owned by Gered Mankowitz© – please do not copy or reproduce without his express permission. Photographer David Gleave is on Instagram and his personal website is davidgleavephoto.com.