Tuesday, November 13
And then I met the Rolling Stones
In his four decades of shooting the stars, from Keith Richards to Catatonia, Gered Mankowitz has come across some shocking behaviour.
The Rolling Stones’s Brian Jones was "difficult and dark" and spent shoots "messing things up, alienated from the rest of the band". Oasis were "horrid, really rude and aggressive and intimidating". But the worst, the baddest of them all, the one person Mankowitz never cared if he ever met again, was about as far from the sullen young men with guitars as you can possibly get: Bing Crosby.
The old reprobate crooner was "the worst, most miserable subject I had ever photographed", says Mankowitz.
Pop. Another showbiz myth explodes.
Best-known for his work as the unofficial photographer for the Rolling Stones in the late 1960s, Mankowitz didn’t just take pictures, he created some of the most enduring images of that era. Working with talents such as Jimi Hendrix and the Stones, he produced the kind of photographs that led nice teenagers astray to worship at the altar of rock.
An exhibition of his work, Rock Icons by Gered Mankowitz, is being held in Scotland for the first time at The Phoenix Contemporary Gallery in Glasgow, opening on Thursday.
Now 55, the photographer has been creating pop images for so long he has become part of the mythology himself. As integral to swinging London’s music scene as flowing hair and weed, Mankowitz’s studio was deep at the heart of it all. Mason’s Yard, in SW1, was squeezed between the hip nightclub, Scotch of St James, where Hendrix and other stars played regularly, and the Indica art gallery and bookshop, where John Lennon first met Yoko Ono.
Sitting in his studio, now in Willesden Green, London, surrounded by images of the Stones in their heyday, he talks of "Jimi" dropping in for a joint before gigs.
The son of author and playwright Wolf Mankowitz, Gered loved show business and the theatre and when, at 14, his grandmother gave him a camera, that was it. A year later, he left school, which he hated, to work as an apprentice at the Camera Press photo agency.
His lucky break came when he met "the divine" Marianne Faithfull at a TV show party where he was working. The meeting led to a grainy black and white image of the young and beautiful Ms Faithfull in a pair of white pop-socks, taken in a London pub called The Salisbury. It remains his most popular image of her and so impressed Faithfull’s manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, that he commissioned Mankowitz to photograph an album cover for a band of five surly young men he managed. It was the Stones’s Out of Our Heads album.
For the next three years, Mankowitz toured with them, partied with them, got stoned with them and took photographs of their heady rise to fame. The resulting images defined the look of one of the biggest bands in the world.
Mankowitz doesn’t launch into one of those, "Oh, you know, touring with the Rolling Stones in the 1960s wasn’t as great as it was cracked up to be," speeches. He admits he spent a lot of that particular decade "in the back of Rolls-Royces".
"It was fantastic, with loads of high-level parties in places like New York and Chicago with lots of girls, drugs, booze and a lot of fun, a topsy-turvy time."
But even as a naive 17-year-old he harboured no illusions about the rock’n’roll lifestyle. "Of course it was extraordinary, and it was lovely to be associated with something like that. But it all felt terribly transient. The vast bulk of the tour was incredibly hard grind - coming off stage, going to the airport and then arriving at these one-horse towns in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do and no-one to talk to. It could be soul destroying. I had a very realistic view of what being a rock star was all about. I enjoyed a great deal of the hedonism but I realised from a very early point that I couldn’t afford to live that lifestyle myself."
Besides, both the Stones, in the first flush of their success, and Mankowitz, who had a studio to run, were concerned with building an image, breaking new ground: "Suddenly, I was working in what was a very young business dominated by young artists, run by middle-aged men who were willing to listen. We were the same generation as our market, so I would take photographs that could communicate with that generation. We didn’t have to conform. We wanted to escape the bow ties and glittery shirts of showbiz to make new images that broke boundaries - images of discontented youth that were angry and sexy and dramatic."
At that time, he says, "everybody worked ... I had some great ideas when I was stoned, but I would never work stoned. The object was to create. We would probably have a joint at the studio, or maybe go to the café on the corner of Mason’s Yard but then we’d work for three or four hours. When Jimi came by, we’d work until around three or four in the afternoon, finish the shoot and then he’d drive off up the M1 to some gig."
Hendrix, belying his wild-man stage persona, was a dream to photograph. Their relationship produced the powerful, bohemian image of the guitarist wearing a military jacket, standing hands on hips, staring into the camera, which became synonymous with the times.
"He was always the perfect gentleman, modest, humble and charming," Mankowitz says. "He’d pop into the studio for a smoke on his way to the Scotch. We’d chat, gossip. I liked him a lot. He had no side to him. He was a good guy."
Mankowitz has an easy-going, generous manner which extends to his subjects. He has few really bad things to say about even the worst of them - Oasis and Crosby, for instance. Years after his shoot with Crosby, in which the singer refused to wear any of the four outfits chosen from specially selected outfitters, and would only pose for one shot, Mankowitz found out that morning the singer had been the victim of a robbery at the Dorchester. "The poor old sod," says Mankowitz, who forgave him instantly. When confronted with the angry brothers, Oasis, for a shoot for Mojo magazine, he said that they came around "once they saw what I was trying to do".
I ask what he sees when he looks at his most famous photograph, the picture taken for the Stones album Between the Buttons. The band, a very young Mick Jagger in the centre, look as though they are dissolving into the misty, medieval atmosphere behind them. He recalls that it started out as one of his most difficult photographs.
"It was taken very early, after an all-night recording session. It was freezing cold, about 6:30am, and we all went up to Primrose Hill in North London. Brian Jones was being really difficult, insisting on hiding in his coat and lurking behind the others, and I was really fed up because I thought we were on the verge of something really special and he was spoiling it. Andrew Oldham, who was very astute, came up to me and said, ‘Don’t let Brian freak you out. He’s just being Brian.’ He was absolutely right, because the way Brian appeared, alienated from the rest, not giving a shit, is exactly what the band was about."
Laughing, he says: "I can still see him, in that freezing park, lurking in his collar."
He had captured the band in transition, with Jones, the guitarist and co-founder, on the periphery and on the way out.
Mankowitz achieved the look that defined them using a home-made filter of glass, vaseline and black card. He got paid "probably about £300 or £400" for it. Life as a rock photographer was ludicrously glamorous, but not terribly lucrative.
"There weren’t any contracts and, on tour, I only got expenses, nothing else. The deal was that they got what they wanted and I kept everything else."
In 1967, the Stones, who wanted more control over their careers, kicked out Oldham as their manager and Mankowitz went too.
"They got looser and looser and would come to the studio later and later. Then, one day, I remember Mick totally ignoring me and saying that he wanted another photographer, Michael Cooper, to decide on the next album cover. I was probably a bit upset, but things had been so unpleasant, it wasn’t even sad, just a bit of a relief."
In the 1970s, he photographed glam rock stars such as Slade, Sweet and a leather-catsuited Suzi Quatro for her first big hit, Can the Can, spent the 1980s shooting stars such as Elton John, Duran Duran and the Eurythmics and the 1990s with bands such as Oasis, Suede and The Verve.
He would love to photograph "the delicious" Kylie, and Bob Dylan - because he looks "amazing now" - but has never pursued artists.
"I’ve been lucky," he says, "that people came to me. Artists that appeal to me generally have a strong sense of image, theatricality and vision. I like artists at the beginning of their careers, when their image is still evolving, so that I can help them to create it."
There are some musical genres, however, into whose territory he would never stray. "Heavy metal bands," he says, with a shudder, "Image-wise, they’re pretty crude, aren’t they? I mean when the image is all about how tight your trousers and how big your bulge is … very limiting."
Rock Icons by Gered Mankowitz, Phoenix Contemporary Gallery, 6 Wilson Street, Glasgow, 15 November to 30 December. Photographs by Gered Mankowitz will also be on show at Fopp, Union Street, Glasgow, between the same dates.