A new exhibition celebrates the photographer who captured a generation of 1960s rock'n'rollers.
28th July 2012
Sometimes, the fledgling fortunes of another’s life can make you a little bit envious. Gered Mankowitz, acclaimed English photographer best know for his candid portraits of the Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix, was born to artistic parents in North London in 1946. He left school aged 15 without qualification but with a passion for photography – a passion (as the story goes) urged on by one of his father’s friends, an actor named Peter Sellers. It was an ambition that could have gone quickly wrong.
But Gered found extraordinary success. He served “short but intensive” apprenticeships under renowned photographer Tom Blau and several others. In 1963, he met folk duo Chad and Jeremy, recently signed with Ember Records. The group used one of his photographs for their first album cover and suddenly Gered was at the heart of an industry that, as he later acknowledged, “desperately needed new, mould-breaking images”. And so later that
year – aged just 17 – he opened his own studio at 9 Mason’s Yard.
Commissions came quickly as Mankowitz made a name for himself in the West End, then the throbbing centre of 60’s music culture. He took pictures of rising-star Marianne Faithfull and chummed up with her manager Andrew Oldham, who asked if he would care to photograph another one of his groups – the Rolling Stones. Gered agreed and soon shot what was to become the cover of “Out of Our Heads”. By 1965 he was on tour in America, capturing the Stones both on and off stage.
Mankowitz's 40-year career photographing an impressive roster of musicians – from Donovan to the Eurhythmics, Kate Bush to Oasis – is a testament to his skill and talent. He is more than due the retrospective (his first) that’s currently showing at Snap Galleries, a music photography venue in Picadilly Arcade. Spare and white-walled, Snap makes an ideal and intimate space for over 100 of the artist’s photographs. “The difficulty we faced,” says gallery owner Guy White, “was that Gered has an archive of such incredible breadth and depth that it was a challenge to come up with a final edit of around 40/50 pictures – a typical size for a gallery show – that did proper justice to his body of work. We came up with double that.”
It’s a glorious spread that reads like a roll-call of the era’s brilliant and beautiful. Gered knew how to craft an image, part beguiling fantasy, part candid accessibility. Marianne Faithful sits lightly in front of the camera, blonde-fringed and big-eyed, while in other corners Kate Bush and PP Arnold gaze soulfully into the lens. You’ll find excellent shots of The Yardbirds and The Small Faces, all velvet flares and floppy hair. This was the era of the band photo, an art form built both on honesty and artifice, and one on which Mankowitz left an indelible mark.
His numerous portraits of the Stones make up a significant chunk of the show, and what a joy they are. On and off stage, in and out of the studio, the boys are as full-lipped, fresh-faced and magnetic as ever. Mankowitz relished the opportunity to capture them amidst the accoutrements of Englishness: late 60s portraits of the group posed in tweet suits, leaning against vintage Aston Martins, sitting cross-legged in country homes and lounging amongst wild hedgerows.
A turning point came in Mankowitz's career when, in November 1966, Chaz Chandler (former bassist of the Animals) invited him to a small club on Kingly Street called The Bag of Nails. Chandler was putting on a showcase for a new musician he’d found over in New York. His name was Jimi Hendrix. Mankowitz, in an interview with NME, recalls the gig:
“There’s no doubt that everybody in the room was completely blown away by Jimi. The performance, his sound, his energy, his appearance, his charisma was just overwhelming. He took everybody by surprise.”
Undaunted, the photographer immediately introduced himself to Hendrix and the band and invited them for a session at his Mason Yard studio.
The resultant images (many of which make it into this show) are some of Mankowitz’s most famous, and rightly so. It’s a sequence of photographs capturing an enigma at the beginning of his journey – quiet, unforced portraiture. Hendrix – who Gered described as “very humble, almost mumbling” – looks innocent, his baby-faced band mates smirking in an effort to appear cool beyond their years.
Perhaps his most iconic portrait of Hendrix (not featured in this show), and certainly the one for which the photographer is best known, is the product of the happenstance fortune that’s followed him like a faithful hound. Mankowitzs says of the 1967 image:
“The extraordinary thing about this picture is it’s actually the last image on a roll of film… I only did that one, so I must have either felt very confident that I got it, or I’m just incredibly lucky.”