To celebrate the release of their new book ‘Breaking Stones’, a retrospective of their time spent with the The Rolling Stones during the formative early years of their career, we speak to the world renowned photographers about the Stones, the Swinging Sixties and the concept of superstardom.
What was it about The Rolling Stones that caught your imagination in the early years?
Terry O’Neill: At first, I was surprised at how rough they looked! At the time, you have to remember, bands didn’t have individual looks – bands were clean-cut and wore sharp, matching suits - so when The Rolling Stones came along, they were a whole new look for music. That’s why the press ran the stories ‘Would you allow your daughter to date a Rolling Stone?’. Andrew Loog Oldham, their manager, is a genius and was smart about how to position The Rolling Stones against the other bands coming up at that time. He allowed the band to be who they were – dress in their own style – and this, of course, made for some great photographs.
Gered Mankowitz: I suppose it was their individuality and their rejection of a uniform – they had a sense of naughtiness to them, not vindictive, but edgy.
Could you predict at the time the superstardom that lay ahead for the band?
GM: Absolutely not – back then we all assumed that something hotter and brighter would come along and that the band's career had 18 months or two years if they were lucky.
TO: No - none of us could have predicted what was going to happen – to any of the bands at that time. You have to remember, this was the early 1960s and outside of Elvis, there were no global superstars of this kind. Musicians came and went. What The Beatles did, what The Rolling Stones did – that was entirely new. We would sit around sometimes and have a laugh and try to think about what we’d do next once this was over. What type of proper jobs we’d have to get. No one thought we’d still be at it when we’d turned 30 or 40 – let alone 50 years later.
What was it about youth culture in the 1960s, in London particularly, that inspired you?
TO: I don’t know if we were inspired – we were just doing our jobs, and those jobs happened to be something we wanted to do. If you wanted to be a designer, you designed. If you wanted to be a hairdresser, you opened a salon. If you wanted to be a musician, you got on stage. It was really as simple as that – no one told us we couldn’t do it. I was at the right place at the right time and very lucky to have lived and witnessed the '60s in London. It was a very special time. They called it 'Youth Quake' for a reason.
GM: That is a tricky question, because we were the youth and it was our culture, but we weren’t looking at it like that - we were just being it and doing it!
How would you say music has influenced your photographical careers?
GM: Music was the key to my career and was my focus for the best part of 15 years, before I worked seriously in other genres of commercial photography.
TO: Well, I loved music and yeah, I really wanted to be a jazz drummer. That’s why I took the job as a photographer covering the airport, because there was a chance for me to travel to New York City where I could play. And to be honest, that’s why I would get the calls to photograph the new bands. The editors knew I played drums and loved music – so I was the first person they thought of to go and photograph a new band. It just so happened that the new band happened to be The Beatles.
Unlike your famous subjects, you both have stayed out of the public eye, was that a conscious decision?
TO: I never wanted to be in front of the camera – I was and am quite happy to stay behind it.
GM: Personally, I had absolutely no desire to be in the public eye, and it didn’t ever seem to be an option, until interest in my archive began to build around the late '80s and early '90s. I never wanted to detract from my subjects, who were, and always should be the heroes in my work.
Why do you think people are captivated by the phenomenon of celebrity?
GM: It’s nothing new, but has been exacerbated by new technology and an increasingly competitive media.
TO: It is hard to say. For me, it was the talent behind these famous faces. The Rolling Stones were – and are – a great band. Being a photographer and having images appear in the press only brought attention to them, their shows, their records.
There is a behind-the-scenes, candid element to your photographs; what allowed you both to achieve such a level of trust and intimacy with your famous subjects?
TO: That is how it was back then. When I started, in the early 1960s, there weren't 100 managers and PR and stylists and assistants – it was just you and the band and sometimes one manager – but usually that one manager was working in the office. So the behind-the-scenes and candid shots I was able to take happened because I was there and the band didn’t mind. That sort of access – and trust – just does not happen today.
GM: Although I shot a lot of behind-the-scenes material with the Stones back in ‘65, the bulk of my music career has been studio based. I discovered early in my career that I enjoyed working with my subjects on my own turf, and getting them to commit to a session with me in my studio was half the battle. Trust was key, particularly in the days before Polaroid, and in 99% of the sessions I seemed to be able to achieve it!
With careers spanning over 50 years, has your style or outlook towards your craft changed over the years?
GM: I hope I have evolved over the years both as a photographer and as a person, and I know that my technical skills continue to improve – there is always something new to learn! However, in many ways my approach to working with musicians hasn’t changed much and my current sessions follow a similar path to those back in the day.
TO: The major thing that has changed is the trust the photographer has with the subject – today, it is too controlled and I think you lose something because of that.
Who has been your most memorable subject and why?
TO: Sinatra. Why? Because it was Frank Sinatra – pure and simple. He was ‘the’ star and he allowed me complete access to photograph him. He was a great man.
GM: Another tricky question – I have been lucky enough to work with a lot of fabulous subjects and many spring to mind – too many to list, but The Rolling Stones stand out because I worked with them pretty closely for nearly three years at the peak of their initial success, and that tremendous experience will always remain memorable.
Is there anyone you would still like to photograph, or someone you wished you had photographed?
GM: I would have liked to work with the young Elvis Presley. I have always been drawn to artists in the early stages of their careers, a time when images can be created and nurtured, so I am not particularly attracted to subjects who have already achieved a level of success and fame that requires a gaggle of support teams, that doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t be delighted to work with any number of top 10 artists, but hopefully the best images haven’t been made yet and we don’t know their names either!
TO: I missed the opportunity to photograph Marilyn Monroe. But that’s a story for another time…
The ‘Breaking Stones’ book is available for purchase at The Conran Shop, both online and in-store. Terry and Gered will also be signing copies of 'Breaking Stones' at The Conran Shop Chelsea on 27th April 2016, visit our Events page for more details.