The man ‘shot’ Hendrix

Jimi Traffic Light Triptych.
Jimi Traffic Light Triptych.

FAMED rock music photographer Gered Manokwitz turned up in person for the launch party of an exhibition of his classic Jimi Hendrix shots in Harrogate and talked to the Harrogate Advertiser about that rock god - and a famous album sleeve he did for the Rolling Stones, writes Graham Chalmers.

Entitled The Experience: Jimi Hendrix at Mason’s Yard, the show at RedHouse Originals gallery last week was part of Harrogate International Festival Fringe.

Though a mild-mannered, likeable sixty-something, Gered’s work remains as rock n roll as his subject material.

Though some of his original black ‘n whites of Hendrix were presented straight, many had been reconstructed with ambitious and imaginative treatments, proving that photography can really be art.

Talking to the man who is still taking photographs of today’s rock and indie heroes, Gered explained how he had won the Hendrix assignment back in 1967 as a fresh-faced 20-year-old.

What follows is the text of the full interview:

1. How did you get the assignment with Jimi Hendrix at Mason’s Yard?

The guy who found JH in NYC, Chas Chandler, was a friend and asked me to work with Jimi soon after he arrived in London in October 1966. Due to one thing and another I didn’t shoot my first session with the band until Feb 1967.

2. What was he like to deal with?

I don’t want to be clichéd about it, but he was terrific to work with – charming, modest, quiet and polite with a great sense of humour and a total ease in front of the camera. I remember the session as being very easy and great fun!

3. Do great musicians have a charisma about them or is it the photographer’s job to help create that charisma on film?

Most of the great ones have charisma and our job is to try and capture that on film. It’s not always easy, because with charisma often comes ego, and sometimes there is a bit of a battle between them!

4. Do you have to like music to take such great pictures of musicians?

I think you have to have an understanding of the music but not necessarily be a fan or even a lover of that music. I found Jimi’s music much too raucous when I first heard him live and most of what he played went right over my head. But I recognised his huge talent and he was so extraordinary to look at that it really didn’t matter.

5. You’ve kept on taking pictures of important music acts across the decades to this very day. For example, The Jam, Kate Bush, Duran Duran, Oasis, Snow Patrol and, more recently, Patrick Wolf for the cover of his Magic Position album. Do current ‘stars’ have the aura about them that you captured in stars of the 60s and 70s?

Well, that’s a bit of a leading question – certainly Patrick Wolf had enormous charisma and was wonderfully creative and interesting to work with, whereas Snow Patrol were rather lacking in visual direction and in spite of having hit records had a rather dull “look” to them and seemed to be a little short in charisma – except for the singer, Gary Lightbody! Paul Weller, Kate Bush and Duran Duran oozed charisma in their own unique and special ways, but Oasis were an entirely different matter, and appeared to have very little charisma and absolutely no charm, but the sibling conflict created an energy that was powerful and tricky to deal with.

6. Have you ever been tempted to make a movie or even a pop video, bearing in mind your father’s career as a film writer?

In the early 60s I always assumed that I would end up directing movies, and as a kid I had some terrific memories of visiting the sets of the various film projects that my father had been involved with. However, after spending several weeks in Sardinia as a stills photographer on a film called BOOM starring Elizabeth Taylor & Richard Burton in 1968, I was so horrified by the appalling pressures and neurosis of, not only the actors, but just about everybody else in the crew, that I never wanted to go near a movie again!

I tried my hand at making music promos a couple of times, firstly in 1975 with Chris Spedding and then in 1978 with the Jam, but both experiences were very disappointing, for differing reasons, and I realised that I wasn’t cut out for the role and decided to consciously concentrate on photography.

7. Tell us a little about the shooting of the cover of The Rolling Stones’ Between the Buttons which is my favourite all-time picture of your’s - and one of my favourite Stones’ albums to play to this day.

Well, a lot of my time with the Stones was spent in all night recording sessions, which were always a social/work experience. One morning, as we tumbled out into the dawn, I looked at them and thought that they appeared at that moment to be the very embodiment of rock’n’roll. So, I proposed to Andrew Loog Oldham (their manager/producer) that we should shoot a session after one of these all-nighters. The band agreed and one morning in November 1966 I took them to Primrose Hill which was in North London and where I hoped that being high up we might get the best of the early light. I had built a special filter of glass, Vaseline and black card which I taped to the front of my Hasselblad camera hoping that it would give the images a druggy and ethereal feel, which seemed appropriate for the music and the time. I managed to keep them interested for the best part of 20 minutes, after which the cold and the tiredness go to all of us and we rapidly ran out of steam.

I had hoped that I was shooting the album cover, but it wasn’t until later that day when I went through the shoot with Andrew that I realised the idea had worked so effectively and the rest is history, as they say!

RedHouse Originals is located as 15 Cheltenham Mount, Harrogate. Opening Hours: Mon to Saturday 10am-6pm, Sunday 11am- 4pm.

The exhibition runs to Sunday, August 29.

More information at www.redhouseoriginals.com