Imagine being 19 years old in 1963. You suddenly present yourself in front of a band that plays in the London underground scene. You do not know who they are, but something in the air tells you that something is happening. What is it? Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll is precisely a very complex political way to make the world look towards England. It is not easy. Many things are happening but still missing some time for May 68’ to come. Maybe you are brewing it within yourself, but you don’t know what is going on. Imagine, today, finding yourself facing such a thing. Would you be part of it?
About the media revolution and the musicians who changed the world when everything was about to explode.
Terry O’Neill got to know his passion for photography almost by accident. He was one afternoon at Heathrow taking photographs for his first day-job for a London airline. Destiny changes, like everything else, and this exemplary human being named Terry published his first photograph in a newspaper by accident, having photographed the British Home Secretary asleep on a bench at the same airport, almost with out knowing it, almost without thinking.
His next photograph for the cover of a British national newspaper was done to The Beatles, that day all copies were sold out. Soon, while the first release of The Rolling Stones was being prepared, their manager contacted Terry asking him to do what he had done with the four from Liverpool for this new band.
Terry is a pioneer who understood his time, able to discern between what is reality and what is entertainment. He knew how to be beyond good and evil while photographing the biggest stars. Here an impeccable man, a person like few others, and definitely an example of doing an effort towards what one dreams, towards what one imagines.
So life goes on without black holes, on gelatin silver.
Terry, you were the first person to take a photograph of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, among others. Did you know, at that time, who you were working with and what they will become?
T – It was the early sixties when I first photographed The Rolling Stones and they were largely unknown, touring and doing gigs up and down the country. None of us had any idea of the tsunami of fame and success that was to come. When they finished a gig up north, they would drive back down the M1 and stop off for breakfast in a little cafe or what we call a “greasy spoon”. You can’t get any more down to earth and basic than a mug of tea and eggs and bacon with white buttered sliced bread!
You’ve worked with top models, actresses, musicians… but, is there still someone you would like to photograph?
T – There’s no one I want to photograph anymore because it’s all controlled by their PR, or their agent and there’s no authenticity or spontaneity. It’s become plastic and contrived.
Sometimes, I wonder how the Instagram profiles would be of artists such as Jimmy Hendrix, Janis Joplin or Jim Morrison, how do you think they would be?
T – They were great artists and loved their music with passion. I don’t imagine they would have had much time for posting Instagrams of themselves. In fact, I think they would have avoided it.
Do you think that the social media has ended the glamourous image of the celebrities, now that they can show their private life to the world? How does social media affect the photographers?
T – The celebrities that share their private life with what appears to be no respect or regard for their own privacy are in my opinion not real celebrities. Most of them have little or no real talent, certainly not the enduring talent of the old stars. Everything is contrived and photoshopped and you don’t see the authentic person.
What is the main difference between photographing a celebrity and photographing someone anonymous?
T – I treat the people I photograph in the exact same way. I have never been in awe or nervous being in the company of celebrities. They are just like you and me – it’s only that they have more money.
You once said that the best thing that ever happened to you was being able to photograph Frank Sinatra over a long period, but you never got to be friends, why didn’t you get closer during all those years?
T – Sinatra was a very private man. Some would say a troubled man who was never really happy, unless he was practicing with the orchestra or performing live. He kept his distance from most people, but you knew that if he was willing to work with you, then you had his respect. He only worked with the very best. I was happy with that. Also when you are photographing celebrities you can’t ever really
sit down with them and relax. If you do, that someone else will get the picture. So you are always working and having to keep a distance between yourself and them.
If you were a photographer in his early days, what kind of band would you like to go on tour with and photograph in every moment?
T – It would be the Rolling Stones all over again.
Which was the most difficult photograph of your career?
T – Working with Steve McQueen. I went to his office to do a cover story and as I arrived he turned to the PR and said he knew nothing about this and wasn’t happy to let me take his picture. But I just kept taking pictures anyway and despite his unwillingness I got great pictures.
What time do you wake up?
T – I am an early riser and get up every day around 5.00 – 5.30. I then spend the next hour and a half watching the news on TV. Then I head over to Iconic Images offices in Marble Arch where they keep me busy signing prints, discussing and planning exhibitions and responding to media requests. I get media requests all the time from all over the world, from Boston to Beijing.
What do you usually eat for breakfast?
T – I have a plate of fruit – papaya, blueberries and blackberries – with a slice of toast and a cup of tea.
Is there anywhere in Spain you would call your sanctuary?
T – Yes, in Madrid, we went to this wonderful family restaurant “El Cisne Azul” round the corner from MONDO GALERIA that offered us the best quality and freshest ingredients, and the food was superb. The beef was some of the best I have ever tasted. In Ibiza I can´t see the moment to sit at the terrace of Hotel Santos Suites and have a drink at the bar just looking at the sea.
You are going to have an exhibition in Ibiza during the summer of 2017, are you looking forward to this?
T – Absolutely, very much so. I am very excited to visit Ibiza and enjoy some quality time there. Mondo Galeria is curating my exhibition called “Breaking Stones” dedicated to the Rolling Stones where along weith Gered Mankowitz we present photographs from the our book of the same name lauched in Landon and Madrid the past month of May. At the beautiful exhibition hall in Centro Cultural Jesus, Ibiza this exhibition will run from the 2nd to the 26th of August, allowing me this way to enter in close contact with the photography lovers of the island.