Photographing rock stars and celebrities (part 1).

Wednesday, 9 March 2011 When one gets hired to shoot rock stars or celebrities, there are a whole host of unexpected and sometimes quite bizarre intangibles which can trip up the unwary photographer.  And, come to that, often the wary one too.  It sometimes seems that whatever potential scenario you try to take account of, another unforeseen one will rear it's ugly head.

I was once hired to shoot the singer Luther Vandross for the English music magazine NME.  He was well known to be slightly unreliable in matters pertaining to the press, so there were quite a lot of transatlantic calls made and assurances given before myself and a journalist set off from London.  As we boarded the plane, everything was fine.  About half way across the Atlantic, unbeknownst to us, Mr Vandross started to eat.  And when we touched down in Atlanta, Mr Vandross had decided he'd put on too much weight and could no longer be photographed.  Much pressure was brought to bear on him by his UK record company but he wouldn't budge.

So I just had a few days off, wandering around seeing the sights in Georgia.

The weight problems of the stars are obviously not the only intangible to scupper a shoot.  Occasionally the subject, the actual star or stars themselves, are the least of one's problems.

I once had a mobile studio set up in one of the rooms at the Dorchester Hotel in London and I was just about to do a shoot with Stevie Wonder.  I'd even got as far as doing a few polaroids or him.  He was perfectly happy and seemed in a great mood.  Then someone from his management walked in and, possibly because we'd arranged the shoot with Stevie Wonder's record company and not run it by this particular individual, the shoot was immediately cancelled.  Again there wasn't anything I, the record company or even Stevie Wonder could seem to do to change this guy's mind.  All the more odd because the shoot had been arranged in order to promote Stevie's next record.

One time, I'd been asked to shoot an English rock band in Los Angeles (it was a long time ago but they'd still best remain nameless).

On the day of the shoot they all turned up at my hotel in a big van with their girlfriends and the band’s manager and his boyfriend.  We all drove off to look for somewhere good to do the photos and it quickly became clear that the manager was under the mistaken impression that he was the one that had commissioned me and therefore he was the one calling the shots.

He started going on about what he wanted and what he didn’t want, without any reference to what the magazine that had commissioned me might want.   "I want to do this" he was saying “and next I want to do that" etc., etc.

His ideas for what shots I should do were mind numbingly unoriginal.  Like having his band photographed in front of the Hollywood sign and then doing something with them sprawled next to the stars on Hollywood Boulevard.

I told him that I was not keen to do photographs that would just amount to standard tourist type stuff.  I explained to him that the magazine wanted some interesting and original photos and they would not give a shit about what he wanted.   Obviously I didn't put it exactly in those words.  To begin with I was charm personified and I was doing my absolute best to get him to see things my way and yet allow him to save face in front of his band and the various partners.

But he wasn't seeing my point of view at all.  As far as he was concerned, he was the manager of the band, they did what he told them to do and, as far as he was concerned, so did anyone who worked with them.  So, at this point, I did have to make myself a little bit more blunt.   So then it degenerated into a full scale row.  And the manager's boyfriend and some of the girlfriends started unhelpfully chipping in with their ideas as well.  So we were driving around getting nowhere.

All the while, the band themselves just sat there in silence.

So we drove about like this for a bit, the band looking more and more depressed and then the manager went into a bit of a sulk.  At this point I decided to keep my mouth shut to prevent things getting any worse.

On the suggestion of the van driver of all people, we drove up to Griffith Park and I shot a few rolls of the band posing amongst some rocks.  But by this time they looked far too hot, tired and dejected.  So it was decided, I don't recall by whom, to call the whole shoot off and try again the next day.

The next day the band turned up without their manager or his boyfriend.  Or any of the girlfriends, who'd conveniently all had to fly back home.  This time the band were talkative and positively cheerful. There were no arguments.  We wandered about and did some photographs not far from the hotel on Sunset Boulevard.  It was enjoyable and we a few laughs along the way.  And the pictures came out great.

Afterwards, I learnt that the day before, everyone had been in a terrible mood before they’d even got to me.  My arguing with their manager (which they'd found quite funny) had had very little to do with it.  It was the fact that the girlfriends where there that had made them so moody.

Apparently the girlfriends had all flown out to spend a few days with the band in LA and it had stopped the band having of the sort of fun that all British bands like to have when they're on tour in the US, especially in LA (whatever sort of fun that may be?).  As soon as the girlfriends had left, everyone cheered up no end.