Baseball fans have Cooperstown, dog lovers have the Westminster show, and the religious have their mecca. If you are a photographer and a music junkie like me, you have The Morrison Hotel Gallery. For the uninformed, the Morrison Hotel is the tiny perfect gallery, nestled in the cool comfort of the Sunset Marquis hotel, just off the Sunset Strip. And when you add in a gathering with the artists who actually shot the iconic pictures hanging in the gallery, you have every superlative you can string together inside one room. The Morrison Hotel Gallery is my Cooperstown, and tonight Babe Ruth and Roger Maris are here. I’m speaking of course of Henry Diltz and Pattie Boyd.
It’s another nasty hot day in Los Angeles, and I’m hours early for the reception for their traveling show; Behind The Lens. Henry Diltz has shot about half of the best album covers from the 60’s and 70’s. We’re talking The Doors “Morrison Hotel”, the cover of the first Crosby Stills and Nash album, and too many more to name.
Pattie Boyd is an acclaimed photographer and her portfolio is a who’s who of rock. Sure, she’s taken a ton of behind-the-scenes photos of both her ex’s and all the other musicians that were present during these shoots, but to define her just by that statement alone would be a grave injustice. She’s a great photographer of many other genres and people, famous or not. She proved that to me tonight when I handed her my camera and asked her to shoot me, and she took control in a way that blew me away. “Chin down, look left”. I just got a lesson in portraiture from Pattie Boyd, and I have a Pattie Boyd original photo! Too bad I’m the subject…
So here I am sitting by the pool, in the fetid heat of the last day of our heat wave and the first day of the weekend! The Sunset Marquis should be called “The Rock and Roll Hotel” because it’s decorated inside and out with the most iconic photos in rock, taken by the most iconic photographers. There’s a huge Les Paul over in the corner, pointing the way to The Strip. Celebrities quietly pass back and forth. People pass the late afternoon waiting for the heat to dissipate, and I sit at the outdoor bar alternating between vodka and ice water. Hey, they both look exactly the same so why not? I’m sitting here waiting for Pattie, who I’m told will come out after her power nap, and I figure maybe after a few more vodkas, I’ll have some sort of power nap of my own. What I really could use is some air conditioning; it’s hotter than a sauna here and everybody is fanning themselves to keep from melting into a puddle or just jumping in the pool fully clothed. I sit beside Keith Richards and his bottle of Jack and wait for either the heat or the vodka to overcome me.
Luckily, Pattie shows up before the next drink, and she is a vision. Time has been very kind to her. She was once one of the most sought-after models in swinging London, and she’s still a beauty. Funny thing, I always get a bit nervous before an interview, not knowing how well the interview will be received by the interviewee. I was sure that these people see doing interviews as a necessary evil, but after meeting Pattie and Henry, I have to adjust my perception. Not only were both of them engaging and downright charming, but they enjoyed the interviews, both of them remarking that we could keep going after I suggested we end the dialogue. I always think it’s better to leave while it’s interesting than keep going until it runs out of air.
If you live in Los Angeles and are a music lover, and you don’t go to The Morrison Hotel Gallery at least four times a year, you’re missing out. This is why we live in places like Los Angeles, why we put up with the heat, the traffic, and the constant drone of the helicopters, because we get treated to shows like this. The gallery is in one of the hippest parts of town, admission is free, and it’s filled with Iconic photos. What more do you need? Keith Richards valet parking your car for you? That may not be such a good idea….
Pattie and I sat down in the lobby of the Marquis in the most relaxed, casual setting one can imagine. There weren’t yet many people there for the show, so there were few interruptions. Here’s what she had to say:
IL: Is there anything before I start the interview that you’d like to convey to our readers?
PB: I don’t know. Maybe I’ll be inspired to say something.
IL: OK. Let’s talk about Behind The Lens. What are you personally hoping to take away from the show? How does Behind The Lens differ from your previous shows?
PB: This is kind of a new experience for me, talking about my photographs while on stage, in front of an audience. In the past, the only thing I’ve done is to tell people about my photographs while walking down a gallery. Occasionally people wanted to know what was happening before or after I took the shot, or why I liked to have taken it. This is very different. They’re taking my images and projecting them on to a large screen behind me. It’s just rather nervous-making.
IL: Even though you must be aware that the audience is filled with fans of your work? There must be a lot of love in that room.
PB: There certainly is a lot of love, and I totally appreciate it, and I would like to thank everybody ever so much. It’s just that when I’m talking about my photographs, I want to be able to explain properly and not leave anything out; I want to do my best. To talk on your own for 45 minutes on your own without somebody coming back without any questions, I find that very difficult.
IL: Do you think that you place less importance or significance on these photos than the audience does? Are you keenly aware of the historical significance of your work?
PB: I do now, though I must say that initially I didn’t. I think what’s happened is over time the photographs have become more important to people who love the music. It’s really not going to happen again, is it? Everyone was so young and beautiful then.
IL: Well, some are still beautiful (nodding to Pattie).
PB: Yes, of course they’re still beautiful. We’ve all grown older and it’s another kind of beauty. There’s nothing like youth however.
IL: Youth is kind of wasted on the young, isn’t it?
PB: Yes, you have no idea.
IL: Time seems to have been very kind to you.
PB: I’ve been very lucky; I have “lucky genes”. My mother looks very young and she’s 92.
IL: That’s great! 92 years old.
PB: Yeah, she looks great!
IL: Are fans going to see anything at Behind The Lens that differs from your previous shows? Are there any surprises?
PB: Yes, there are many photographs that I have dug up specifically for this tour, and they’re a bit more personal, more interesting. They’re different. The photos are a part of my life and include things that I did. For instance, when George and I decided to break up after ten years, I was sort of “in the wilderness” and Ringo suggested I do still photography for a film he was working on, “Merlin The Magician”. And that was really fun, so I have some of those photographs. They’re not the sorts of photographs that would be good in an exhibition. They’re much more fun when I get to talk about them to an audience.
IL: Are there any photos you’ve taken that are just “too personal” to be displayed to the public?
PB: Yes, of course.
IL: Whom have you not worked with but wish you had?
PB: Bob Dylan.
IL: Is that it?
PB: No. I wish I’d have taken photographs of Keith Richards.
IL: You’ve never shot Keith?
PB: Well, I’ve only taken one, it’s not enough.
IL: No matter how many pictures one can take of Keith, it’s never enough. Keith Richards is partially responsible for me sitting here interviewing you (in an indirect way), but that’s another story, and we’re not here to talk about me. Do you find it at all hard to speak about your past relationships? I’m sure it must come up constantly.
PB: There are certain areas that I find it difficult to talk about and I feel uncomfortable about because they are so personal. I wanted to think that they were private, although it seems that nothing is private today. The thing is that I’m not a jobbing photographer, although I’ve had lots of jobs (as in paid jobs) to do certain things, to photograph certain people, my photographs mainly consist of photographs of my friends, who just happen to be musicians.
IL: You also do quite a bit of nature photography though.
PB: Yes, and I do a lot of travel photography. I adore travel and I love doing landscapes.
IL: That’s kind of coincidental, given George’s love of gardening. Were these photographs born of his love of gardening?
PB: I think we both came into gardening at the same time, because we were renovating the garden of this large house that we had and it required a lot of work and studying of the plants, knowing where they’re happy to grow and not happy to grow.
IL: You must have developed quite an extensive understanding of gardening.
PB: Yes, quite. I did.
IL: Do you have a favorite artist you’ve worked with or a favorite photograph?
PB: That’s hard to say, there are so many favorites.
IL: Do you ever look at a past shot and say to yourself “I can’t believe I just took that photo”?
PB: I think I look at the light that’s playing on the face and I also look at some of the design around the background, especially if there’s some sort of design, perhaps something geometric that I like.
IL: So then it’s not necessarily a photograph of a person?
PB: It’s not a stolen snap, no. I can see what I want
IL: Do you ever feel with all the photos you’ve taken of these musicians that you were somewhat of an outsider, that perhaps the camera was a barrier between you and your subjects?
PB: No, I felt that I was on the inside and I just happened to take some photographs and that’s why my collection isn’t huge, because I wasn’t on the outside looking in, and I felt that I really didn’t want to intrude because I was in a privileged position.
IL: I guess it’s a completely different kind of view. In my case where it’s been primarily concert photography that I’ve done, I feel as though I’ve missed out on most of the shows I’ve shot. I’ve been to many a concert where I have photographic evidence that I was there, and I can’t remember a single aspect of the show. Like the photo [of The Who] on my business card. This was supposed to be their final show and it was epic, and I don’t remember a note.
PB: That’s the thing. When I look at tourists in London and they’re all behind their cameras, I think, “They’re not going to remember anything, it’s so sad. Because you need, like for instance if you’re going to see something like The Who, you would want that emotional impact don’t you? Just take the occasional photograph.
IL: Well, kind of, but then sometimes it’s also a case of “spray and pray”. Especially with digital because there’s no limit to the amount of frames you can walk away with. Even back in the days of film it wasn’t unheard of to shoot a few hundred frames, just clicking away and hoping you’ll come away with that one perfect shot.
IL: How many people do you feel are in a photo: The photographer, the subject, the camera, and the audience.
PB: Just the subject and me.
IL: So are you saying you don’t put yourself into the role of the viewer? Do you give that much thought? You don’t think the camera is a participant?
No. It doesn’t have a life of it’s own. It’s inanimate.
IL: What’s your go to rig?
PB: I like to shoot on Canon and I have a Hasselblad, but it’s a film Hasselblad, so I don’t use it that much, but it’s a lovely old camera. I just love the sound of the mechanics and the shutter.
IL: That’s great! I still have my old manual Canon and I also love the sound it makes when it fires. I’ll never get rid of it and will probably be buried with it. I just bought this Nikon; it’s my first digital SLR. It’s only a few weeks old.
PB: Is it? It’s your first digital? Can I look at it?
IL: Yes, by all means, go ahead.
PB: I wasn’t sure; I went to that camera shop in New York, the one with the letters for the name….
IL: Oh, B & H Camera.
PB: Yes, B&H, it’s great big. And I knew I had to move on to digital and Nikon at the time hadn’t really caught up with Canon, so that’s why I got the Canon. Is this [Nikon] lovely?
IL: I tell you what, why don’t you take my picture with it and tell me. And that way I can tell everybody I have a Pattie Boyd Original.
PB: [Holding the camera, looking through the viewfinder] I always like to look at the background. I do not like that lamp on the wall sticking out above your head.
IL: The way it’s set it will probably blur it out, I have the aperture wide open so it will get a good low-light shot without having to drop the shutter speed or push the ISO too much.
PB: It’s so wide, isn’t it? Chin down! Chin down…! Yes, that’s nice. [Hands me the camera to preview the shot].
IL: Very nice. You’ve obviously still got a great eye. Would you mind if I shot a few of you?
PB: No, not at all. [I hand the camera back to her so she can see].
PB: Oh, I don’t like that one with my legs. That’s not good, is it?
IL: OK, then I’ll delete it. I never want my subjects to be shown in a manner that they don’t approve of. What good is it otherwise?
PB: It isn’t fair, is it, taking advantage that way?
IL: No, it isn’t. I strive to never publish anything that my subject disapproves of. This isn’t a hard-news kind of thing I’m after. I do have one other question. I was told prior to the interview that certain topics were off-limits, so please tell me if you feel uncomfortable answering.
PB: Go ahead.
IL: Did you and Linda McCartney ever compare photos or have any sort of friendly rivalry? You both were married to a Beatle and had access to get shots nobody else could have gotten.
PB: We never really compared photos. She did give me a lovely printout of a photograph she had taken of the house that she had solarized. She developed it in the sunlight. It’s so pretty, it’s just blue. It’s really nice.
IL: What was it that got you through where you once were, known as “wife of” or “ex wife of”? How did you make the successful transition from that to what you are known as today; a photographer who stands on her own merit?
PB: I think maybe it’s the camera. Maybe it was taking so many photos and possibly reverting to my maiden name, and not using the surname of the people I was married to.
IL: Did it give you a newfound sense of identity? Did you think to yourself “this is who I’m now going to be? I’m done with the modeling, I’m going to just concentrate on my photography”?
PB: Yes, yes I did. I floundered at first, I didn’t know where I was or what I wanted to do, and that was a very difficult period. I couldn’t see the wood for the trees; I didn’t know what direction I wanted to go in. And then I just grabbed my camera and said, “That’s it! I just love taking photographs, it’s such a passion and I feel great when I do it”. I have a darkroom at home back in England.
IL: Do you do color or just black and white?
PB: Well, I’ve had to sort of give it up; it’s difficult to get the chemicals now.
IL: Do you still love the smell of the chemicals?
PB: I do, yes.
IL: Me too. When I lived in New York I managed to construct a darkroom in a kitchen that was the size of a guest bathroom. The whole place smelled of stop bath and I loved it.
PB: Well done, it sounds lovely.
IL: Do you Photoshop much or are you more of a purist?
PB: Yes, I do on occasion. Some photographs need a bit of juicing up. You still have to do a bit of work. In the old days you had to do a bit of work on the negatives or the printing, and I think we still do with digital.
IL: Well Pattie, those are all the questions I have, so I want to thank you for your time and I must say, it’s been a lovely chat.
PB: For me as well. Thank you so much!
So now it’s break time, and time to contemplate my interview with Henry Diltz. If you’re a fellow writer, no doubt you’ve pre-composed your interview questions prior to the gig and tweaked them a number of times. I recieved this assignment months ago, so it’s given me time to tweak. It’s also given me time to be, well….a little scared. I’ve been to a handful of Henry’s exhibitions; Who Shot Rock And Roll at The Annenberg, several here at The Morrison Hotel Gallery, but I’ve never actually met the man. And in pictures, he looks somewhat scary, in the same way that Brando did in his time. I’m thinking, “this man could get pissed off if I ask him the wrong question and”……He just looks like the kind of guy that doesn’t suffer fools gladly. He looks serious.
I think I’d better go back to the bar, get another shot, and ask Keith (and the vodka) for some courage. Keith (and vodka) always gives me courage. So one shot of goose, a bowl of nachos, and a side of Keith it is. Everywhere I look, rock stars are staring back at me from their portraits. And then in walks Henry Diltz:
IL: I have to tell you, I’ve interviewed a bunch of people and this is the one interview that I’ve been the most nervous about.
HD: Why is that?
IL: I think this is the third show of yours I’ve seen now, and in still photography, you look very intense and serious. There’s almost a foreboding look to you.
HD: Are you kidding me? Are you serious?
IL: No, and I’ve been told by other people who’ve met you that you’re a real sweetheart. Maybe the picture doesn’t match the person.
HD: It’s so funny; I don’t know why I look that way. I mean, I’m as loose as a goose.
IL: I was just speaking with a couple over by the pool who were at the show last night, and they were telling me that they had asked you if you ever smoked weed with any of your subjects, and your reply was “every single one of them”. So knowing that you had partaken so to speak kind of changed my perception of you.
HD: Yes, that was in my slide show. Now we have over 120 photographers in the show but it started out with only me 14 years ago. There were a hundred pictures on the wall, and a guy came in and asked “did you ever smoke pot with any of these people”? And I looked around and said “Every single one of them, well, except for Donny Osmond”.
IL: That kind of goes without saying.
HD:, everyone did because, you know, it’s God’s herb. And it makes you stop and smell the roses. It turns off the chatter in your mind and makes you kind of relax.
IL: I kind of took a rest from smoking for a few decades. From the photography also, and then just recently I got back into both. I actually have a funny story about trying to get my work displayed here at The Morrison Hotel Gallery. But we aren’t here to talk about me.
HD: Well, I tell you, we look at a lot of people’s photos. My partners see a lot of work from other artists and a lot of the time will say, “We already have five other people who have shot the same thing”. A lot of people want to show us their portfolios, but it’s all shot on-stage, and people have already seen that. People want to see the rare shots, the “behind the stage” or more intimate shots.
IL: That’s what makes all of your work so exceptional. Shooting at a concert, while it is an art, the photos are very common. But you have to have some really special access to get the intimate kinds of shots that you are so famous for.
HD: I had a happy accident you know, of being a musician, and living in Laurel Canyon and just picking up a camera. I just photographed all of my friends, who were also all musicians. I wasn’t a photographer; I was just a friend of theirs with a camera.
IL: Weren’t you originally a banjo player and just happen to stumble into all this?
HD: I was in a folk group and lived up there and Steven Stills, David Crosby, Mama Cass, they were all up there.
So I say it was a happy accident because I never planned any of it. How do you plan your life? I mean, I was going to be a psychologist. I went to college and studied psychology. Then I started hanging out in coffee houses in Honolulu while I was in the University of Hawaii, and started playing folk music every night, and I never really made it back to class. I never actually got a degree; I took a ton of courses. And then music became the thing and then that led into photography. I guess you just kind of follow your nose.
IL: Did you ever find after shooting some of these people that you had less of a memory of it because you were behind the camera? Did you ever look back and say, “I don’t remember this, but I have the photos”?
HD: [Laughs] Sometimes people show me pictures that I took of them and I don’t quite remember. I think I remember everything, I think it’s all in my head. I’ve got filing cabinets and shelves full of stuff. Occasionally it does happen, something that was shot way back in the 70’s or 80’s. I remember all the early stuff, the main things, but somewhere in the late 80’s or 90’s, there was a lot of stuff by then, and it wasn’t the earlier CSN or The Eagles, it was other groups. The 60’s/70’s was the “hangout” time and I remember everything from that period.
IL: Were you ever influenced by the music prior to a shoot? Did any of these bands play an unreleased album for you and then ask you to compose something for it?
HD: That did happen for instance when The Eagles did Desperado, which was a “cowboy” album. My partner was Gary Burden who was a graphic artist. We were a team, I would take the photos and he would lay them out and do the cover. But we would take the pictures together and we would plan out some kind of adventure where we could get the group to have a good time and then photograph it. When we did the first Eagles album we went out to the desert and spent the night. And on the second album, Desperado, they had done this cowboy kind of thing so we dressed them up in cowboy clothing and got them guns and ammunition. So that’s one. But I gotta tell you, a lot of times after I was established a manager would call and say, “We’d like you to photograph our group”. They would send us a tape or a CD to listen to and I usually don’t listen to them because I just typically don’t get around to it. And it really doesn’t influence the picture. It’s gonna be a group of guys and you’re gonna try to make them look good and look like a group. So what does the music really tell you? The manager sort of already tells you what the group is like.
IL: So do you just come up with the concept in your mind?
HD: I’m not a guy that envisions something and tries to make it work with a preconceived vision of it. I’m just spur of the moment kind of guy, we’ll just go and walk around the block and see what looks good. I like to say, “you know where there’s a great old barn”? A barn is always great. Not that it’s necesarily going to look country but barns always have great lighting and dark spaces and great big windows and doors. You’re not gonna see the barn but there’s opportunities there and its such a timeless feeling. I love to shoot around old barns but they’re getting harder and harder to find around Los Angeles. There used to be some but there aren’t any more today. Today for me it’s more about the people; it’s not so much about the picture. My partner Gary Burden was more about visualizing what he wanted, so he would say “we’re going to go to this old place and photograph”, and I would say “ok, great” and I would go along. I like to be more spur of the moment. I like to just see what’s going on. I just want to shoot what’s happening, not what I make happen.
IL: That’s probably why your stuff is so great, because you don’t try to force it, you just let it happen. Kind of like Bukowski, who had “don’t try” on his tombstone. It was a directive to all who wanted to follow in his footsteps as a writer to not try and make the writings happen, just let them happen, observe, and write. At this point, a couple come over and starts to engage Henry in a conversation where he’s reminiscing about being at the concert for Bangladesh.
You mentioned the first Eagles album. What did you think after having shot the cover and then seeing what the art director had done with the packaging?
HD: That was a big mistake. Gary was a real innovator, he had a great idea that the album would be a poster, and it would wrap around the inner sleeve. The inner sleeve was meant to be cardboard and the album would be like a big 24 x 24 poster. But David Geffen thought it was confusing and told the printer to just “glue it shut”. Well, that’s what made the album appear upside down. And then the Desperado cover was supposed to be a fold out with them having a gunfight in the middle. On the front they’re standing there with their rifles and on the back they’re laying there dead in the street. In the middle there was going to be this big double paneled gunfight with smoke and what have you. And Geffen said, “make it a single sleeve”….
IL: I’ve read that there was so much smoke from the gunfight that locals ended up calling the fire department.
HD: That’s true. We did it up at this old western ranch in the Augora hills, and The Eagles had a great time shooting off guns all day. By the end of the day there was such a thick cloud of smoke it looked like the place was on fire.
IL: You’ve worked with almost everybody. Who do you wish you’d shot but hadn’t?
HD: Well, I wish I’d have worked with The Beatles. I’ve shot three of The Beatles, but it was after The Beatles, never as a group. I didn’t do a lot of British groups. I did The Who at Woodstock and I did Monterey, I went on the road with Bad Company, and I shot a couple of The Stones concerts. But I’m happy; I’ve shot all of my favorite musicians, which is half the fun. Like I’ve said before, it’s all about the people and the music. It’s not even about the photographs really, that’s almost beside the point y’know?
IL: So for you, liking the music does play a big role in who you shoot.
HD: Oh yeah, like CSN, I was in a harmony group. So that’s why I liked CSN and The Eagles so much. Same thing with The Beach Boys. In fact, Brian Wilson loved The Four Freshmen, that’s where he got the style of The Beach Boys, and so did we in the Modern Folk Quartet.
IL: Do you still pick up the banjo from time to time?
HD: Yeah, we’re still together [The Modern Folk Quartet]. Well, we’re not together because we’ve moved all over, two are in Hawaii, one in Arkansas, and me in LA, but we still get together. We’re going to get together in Japan next year, which will be our sixth tour of japan.
IL: Do you like being on the other side of the camera?
HD: Not really.
IL: I still haven’t decided. I play live on occasion and I’m still not sure which side I prefer.
HD: I always say I’m a musician in my heart, and a photographer in my head.
IL: What’s your best work? Favorite shot?
HD: People ask me that all the time and I always say “all of them”. It’s so hard to pick one, but I suppose if I were to, I would have to say the Sweet Baby James album by James Taylor. Not the cover photo, but there was an insert in the double album. I love that one. As far as album covers go I love the CSN cover where they’re on the couch.
IL: Because it was so casual?
HD: Well, more because it was such a groundbreaking album. Gary told them to turn the paper over and print it on the rough side of the stock. You see, all albums up until then were glossy, they always printed on the slick side of the paper. The printer and the record company said “What? Are you crazy? We never do that”. And we had CSN behind us saying, “Do whatever Henry and Gary want”. They let us innovate, the way Geffen never let us innovate. So Gary said “No, print it on the rough side of the paper, it’s got that organic texture”. It went along with the music. Gary was a master at picking just the right photo, and cropping it just the right way. He and I did just about one hundred album covers together. There were maybe a couple of dogs in there, but he had a knack for picking the best photos, like the Doors’ Morrison Hotel. I mean, that one was obvious,
IL: How did that concept come about?
HD: The band came to us and asked us to do a cover. So we went and had a meeting and asked “do you have a title?…no. do you have an idea of what you want on the cover? No. We don’t have any ideas. And then Ray Manzerek just spoke up randomly and said, “Y’know, Dorothy and I were driving around the other day and we saw this old, funky place called The Morrison Hotel”. So we went down, had a look and thought it was perfect.
IL: Fascinating stuff Henry. I can see there are bunches of people here who want your time and I hate to overstay my welcome.
HD: Oh, that’s ok, I’m enjoying this. Do you have any other questions?
IL: Well, would you mind shooting my photo so I could have my own Henry Diltz original?
HD: No, not at all. [Takes camera, gets the shot]
IL: Are you a Canon guy or a Nikon guy?
HD: Well, when I shot on film I was a Nikon guy, but then when I went digital I switched over to Canon.
IL: I’m the exact opposite. For film I used Canon and for digital I use Nikon.
At this point, crowds start to form so I bid farewell to Mr. Diltz
IL: Henry, thank you so much for your time and your insights! I’ll leave you to your audience.
HD: Take care!
I leave the Sunset Marquis with my interview in the bag, and both a Pattie Boyd and a Henry Diltz original on my camera. Not a bad night….
Photography: Ivor Levene