www.hastingsonlinetimes.co.uk     Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper
© Andrew Catlin

© Andrew Catlin

Rock Contacts on film

The Lucy Bell Gallery is showing contact sheets of famous rock musicians. The contact sheet is an unedited sequence of negatives or roll of film that provides a behind-the-scenes history of a photograph. HOT’s Lauris Morgan-Griffiths went along to see them and found them fascinating.

The first time I saw contacts I was really surprised: that a photographer was brave enough to show their thought processes and that they were prepared to show that not every frame was perfect. However, photographers do say that to get one image out of a roll of film is pretty good going. Yet in these contacts it showed that a shoot was not always meticulously planned; there was a certain amount of experimentation and, dare I say, luck.

For photographing famous people time is often limited. You have to set up, gauge the light, hopefully get a rapport with the individual – and sometimes persuade them to strike poses, use props that they might not want to do. Not everyone is Annie Leibovitz who can demand several days for a shoot.

Lucy Bell has curated the show with Rock Archive and it is great to see familiar, and not so familiar, images of David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Oasis, Sinéad O’Connor, Iggy Pop, Jimi Hendrix,  Bob Marley, Joy Division, Chrissie Hynde.

(c) Jill Furmanovksy/RockArchive - Charlie Watts

(c) Jill Furmanovksy/RockArchive – Charlie Watts

Some photographers  have a definite idea of what they want.  Everyone works in their individual ways. Jill Furmakovsky seems to have in mind Charlie Watts’ impressive, high forehead which she catches in a strong profile. Now a well known image but at the time things were not going well and Furmakovsky was about to pack up her studio and with it her photography career. The image rekindled her career and enthusiasm when it won the Observer Jane Bown Portrait Award, together with some welcome prize money, and a hand written letter from Charlie Watts.

Some celebrities are always going to be tricky. Furmanovsky shot Oasis on a Paris bridge where Liam was drunk, chasing Parisian cyclists before hurling his drink at a wall. Yet the two stayed for the shoot and although there are some brotherly images you can see the vibe between the two brothers as they stand apart, not connecting.

Photographer Andrew Catlin goes to a shoot with an open mind, flexible, prepared to catch that revealing moment. “I try to avoid structuring it as much as possible. I want to make it into something flexible, create an atmosphere and environment the person wnts to be in, to allow the person to show who they really are.

“I see my role as seeing something and capturing what I have seen. Not to illustrate something that some else has written about I want to show something of the way that they feel”.

Catlin photographed Sinéad O’Connor early in her career for her first magazine cover. After a few hiccups in setting up the shoot, she came to Caitlin’s flat.“She arrived on her own, with the biggest eyes in the world and no hair or make up. We sat in the kitchen, drunk tea and talked for a long time. I hadn’t met Sinéad before. Her face was lively and expressive, completely captivating, with an indefinable air that encompassed fragility, strength, experience, intensity and something feral.”

And that is what the portraits capture. Some images are serious, her large, eyes boring out of the frame and others more reflective, as she looks askance, thinking, zoned out. They show different sides of her personality, tender as well as tough.

c) Jill Furmanovsky/RockArchive - Chrissie Hynde

c) Jill Furmanovsky/RockArchive – Chrissie Hynde

There are a few contact sheets of David Bowie, one of  a young Michael Jackson, Iggy Pop, Mick Jagger with Bob Marley and Pete Tosh squished onto a sofa in a backstage dressing room. Jimi Hendrix comes alive on stage plucking his guitar in whichever way he feels, yet a shoot in a London flat didn’t seem to show a great reaction between the photographer and Hendrix. For that remark I was roundly berated by Lucy Bell –   didn’t I know that that was an iconic shoot? Evidently not, and the flat, a bowl of fruit and Hendrix sitting there with little reaction didn’t do much for me – unlike the images of Allan Ballard’s 1977 playful shoot of Bob Marley in Ballard’s Primrose Hill studio.

It is informative and interesting when the photographer chinagraphs his or her contact sheets with a tick or indicates where it should be cropped. Some of the sheets are not marked up – so you can play editor and guess which is the preferred image.

A young Bob Dylan was photographed by Don Humstein, reflective, playing his guitar and just sitting. Another in 1963 is a touching portrait with Dylan’s American girl friend Suze Rotolo. After the shoot Humstein took some extra shots outside of the two of them which appeared as The Freewheelin’ album cover.

All of them are a treat to see. Some tender, serious and others made me smile – particularly Carinthia West’s contact sheet of the Pink Floyd’s inflatable pig, Algy,  going AWOL over London when it slipped its mooring from the Battersea Power Station. Eventually, landing deflated in a Kent field. A slice of rock history.

Contacts runs until 17 May 2018 at the Lucy Bell Gallery,
6 Norman Road
St Leonards-on-Sea

TN38 0EJ

Open Tuesday–Saturday 11am–4pm

Posted 15:05 Wednesday, Apr 11, 2018 In: Photography

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