Gered Mankowitz: Snapping the Stones

'Setting fire to my hotel room in New York was pretty amazing...'

Gered Mankowitz: Snapping the Stones

Still from the 'Between the Buttons' album shoot with The Rolling Stones. By Gered Mankowitz/MANKOWITZ.COM

Gered Mankowitz/
To look through the lens of Gered Mankowitz is to peer into the world of legends. Born in London in 1946, the photographer was encouraged to take his interest in photography more seriously by none other than Peter Sellers, and spent his formative creative years assisting Tom Blau at Camera Press. He established his first studio in Mason's Yard, London, doors away from the Scotch of Saint James, a nightclub frequented by members of The Beatles, The Who, The Stones, and anyone else who had any influence. On September 24, 1966, an up-and-coming American musician called Jimi Hendrix made his UK debut there – Gered Mankowitz couldn't have been closer to the heart of so-called Swinging London if he tried.

His work with Mick Jagger's girlfriend Marianne Faithful inevitably led him to the dream gig, and between '65 and '67, he worked as the official Rolling Stones photographer, shooting classic covers and accompanying the band on major tours of the States. Mankowitz is currently exhibiting photos from these years, both rare and classic, at the Traumaris gallery in Ebisu. We caught up with him between photography classes in London (he's giving, not taking) to roll him a few Stonesy questions.

You were the Stones' 'official' photographer, which must be a period ripe for anecdotes. Are there any particular memories that pop up when you think back to these particular Stones sessions?
I think that being on stage with the band during their autumn '65 tour of the USA was a fantastic experience. 'Get Off My Cloud' was number 1 in the US charts, and the response from the audience every night was fabulous – to be on stage during those moments was something that I will never forget! Setting fire to my hotel room in New York was pretty amazing as well, but that is another story…

Were you ever given a chance to listen to the music on the albums to help perhaps inform the images you were about to put together?
Being in the recording studio while the band worked was a regular occurrence, so I knew the music as they were making it, and I was also often with Andrew Loog Oldham when he was mixing or listening to early pressings of the discs. Consequently, the music was with me all the time and must have helped me visualise how I wanted to portray the band.

You must've been asked this a million times, but to what extent was the Between the Buttons cover influenced by Rubber Soul?
To be honest, I don’t think I have ever been asked that question before. Rubber Soul had been released a year before I shot the Between the Buttons cover, and as much as I might have liked it at the time, it would have been seen as 'old' by November 1966, and out of my mind when I conceived the blurry, stoned vision I was after for Between the Buttons. Since you asked the question, I have looked at Rubber Soul again and I really don’t see any similarity. And, in fact, that strange distortion [on the Rubber Soul cover] was actually a fortuitous mistake that occurred when Robert Freeman first printed the image – or at least that is what he told me years ago!

I was reading a Paul McCartney interview recently in which he spoke of certain Beatles songs being 'work' songs – pieces that he wrote more out of chore than inspiration – and yet they're now considered absolute classics. Have there been sessions that have had a similar feel for you; sessions that yielded classic images, but that were just part of getting paid?
I think that most sessions are 'work' sessions if you are a professional photographer – it is what you do for a living and I have always been motivated by getting paid! However, you realise that you are booked to shoot something that could be important to you, and my first session with the Stones was extremely important, and I worked very hard to try and produce a range of images that would convince Andrew Loog Oldham that I should work with the band on a regular basis. However, I had no idea that one of the shots would be an album cover at the time we did them. I just hoped that some of the material might work for a cover, and I shot accordingly.

When I first worked with Jimi Hendrix in '67, I knew that he was likely to have a hit or two, although 'Hey Joe' hadn’t been released at the time. But he had such charisma that you couldn’t avoid thinking that this could be an important moment. But nobody had any sense that he would become such a phenomenon, and in many ways it was just another shoot.

Of the more recent bands you've photographed, are there any that you think have even a ghost of a chance of surviving in the way that the Stones have?

Can you name three album cover shots that aren't yours but you wish you had taken?
They would be Ry Cooder, Into The Purple Valley; Bob Dylan, The Basement Tapes; and The Beatles, With The Beatles.

And lastly, the question you probably get asked every single day: Which three covers of your own are you most proud of?
The Stones, Out Of Our Heads; Kate Bush, Lionheart; and The Nice Ars Longa Vita Brevis.

Gered Mankowitz: Rolling Stones, 1965-1967 runs at the Traumaris gallery, Ebisu, until July 3

Interview by Jon Wilks
Please note: All information is correct at the time of writing but is subject to change without notice.



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