Skin, Chelsea 1999.

Monday, 28 February 2011 Skin, the singer with the British rock band Skunk Anansie, is certainly one of my favourite ever subjects. The photograph above was from the second session I did with her.

This time, before the shoot, Skin insisted that she wasn't going to do any photographs on her own.  She said that all my photos had to feature the entire band.  

With someone like Skin, most photographers will always tend to concentrate on her, to the exclusion of the rest of the band.

And I’m no different.   I’d always far rather photograph one remarkable looking human being alone, than one remarkable looking human standing next to several average Joe’s.  And more often than not, that’s what the publications want too.

If the band needs the publicity, the better and more interesting the photographs are, the more they’ll get used and the more prominence they’ll get.  So there’s a pay off.

But the musicians themselves won’t always see things this way and that’s completely understandable.

Often the bands handlers will decree that their charges can only be photographed with each member having a very carefully, predetermined amount of prominence.

I don’t know whether it’s internal politics or in their contracts or what but the degree to which some bands stick to such a rigid hierarchical arrangement of their personnel is quite bizarre.  It certainly doesn’t seem very rock n’ roll.

You only have to look at photographs of Oasis or the Rolling Stones to see what I mean. It’s no accident that the same people are always on the edge of the frame or always peering over someone else’s shoulder.

Once, before a shoot, I was taken aside by the lead singer of a certain band that I won’t name and quietly asked to make sure the drummer was always right on the edge of the frame, because they were “thinking of sacking him.”  The shoot was being done on the cliff edge at Beachy Head, where there’s a 600ft drop.  It did cross my mind that maybe the singer had something more permanent in mind.  He was notoriously unpredictable and was certainly the sort that might have had.  But as it turned out the shoot was quick and fairly painless...for all concerned.

But the drummer was indeed sacked soon afterwards.

These are the sort of issues one runs into with rock band photography.  It’s hard enough taking good photographs of (usually) four or five scruffy young men as it is, without having to worry about all that nonsense.

To be fair, some bands, like REM or U2, have a genuine knowledge and respect for the art of photography and they’ve both worked with some real greats.  So it can, occasionally, be very much easier by the time the rest of us get there.

But if you want to be able to do the job, you have to learn to deal with it either way.

Regarding the image above, as it happened, after a while the rest of Skunk Anansie got bored with standing around being photographed and just wandered off.

Leaving me to do the sort of photos of Skin that I'd really wanted to do all along.