Jumpin’ Jack Flash Bulb
The Rolling Stones, in a Taschen Book of Photographs
New York Times
JAN. 15, 2015
By: Serge F. Kovaleski
Last June, I experienced the Rolling Stones live like I never had in the past: four shows, four European cities, four countries — in a frenetic two-week stretch.
By the time the Madrid concert, the last gig on my trip, ended with a furious version of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” I had been to roughly 50 Stones performances since attending my first in the summer of 1975 at Madison Square Garden.
But during that “14 on Fire” tour last summer, another major project of the band’s was in final production: a mammoth photography book with about 500 pages of glossy images, as well as illustrations, spanning more than half a century.
The pictures range from the Stones’ nascent days as blues-crazed boy musicians in houndstooth jackets to their most recent years as the leather-faced but stylishly venerable elders of rock ’n’ roll.
The book, sparingly titled “The Rolling Stones,” is a collaboration between the band and the art-book publisher Taschen and features such renowned photographers as Ethan Russell, Annie Leibovitz, David Bailey, Albert Watson, Gered Mankowitz and Anton Corbijn. One distinction of the volume — which stresses the vital role that image has played in the Stones’ success — is that it contains previously unseen photographs from the band’s own archives in London and New York.
“Early on, the Rolling Stones had this phenomenal edginess in their image, and they were able to carry it into the age of imagery and stay out in front of it,” Mr. Russell, who was the Stones’ main photographer during their 1969 tour of the United States and one of several on their 1972 tour, said in an interview.
He added: “The way the Stones have inhabited their images is one reason they have been able to stay a relevant act over all these years.”
The Stones devised the idea for the book while planning for the band’s 50th anniversary in 2012. The ambitious photography project was agreed to in 2011 during a meeting in Los Angeles between Mick Jagger and the publisher Benedikt Taschen.
The book’s editor, Reuel Golden, said he reviewed almost one million images, including contact sheets, over two years before he and others at Taschen chose 400 or so, by about 80 photographers.
“The Stones did not want us to go to a bunch of agencies,” Mr. Golden said. “They wanted us to use the best people out there, so we used photographers who had relationships with the band and who were in their circle and whom the Stones respected as artists.”
To coincide with the book’s release last month, Taschen has been exhibiting about 100 of the photos at its new gallery in Los Angeles, including ethereal images taken by Mr. Bailey during the shoot for the band’s 1973 album “Goats Head Soup.” The show, “It’s Just a Shot Away: The Rolling Stones in Photographs,” runs through Feb. 15.
The regular edition of the book, which weighs 10 pounds, is priced at $150. A limited collector’s edition — 1,600 copies signed by the four Stones — comes in a clamshell case and ranges from $5,000 to $20,000. It weighs 52 pounds.
As a steadfast Stones admirer for 40 years, I have seen a number of the book’s images elsewhere, mostly scattered across the Internet. As a whole, though, the chronological presentation of these pictures is humbling, telling a vast and authoritative story about arguably the most photogenic band ever.
Some early shots taken of Brian Jones, the Stones founder who died in 1969, and other band members in their homes are intimate by today’s standards. The concert pictures snapped during the 1972 and 1975 tours capture the raw energy and volatility of the Stones, as well as their renegade presence and wardrobe flair. And the concert photos taken in the 2000s, especially from the Beacon Theater in New York in 2006, emphasize the veteran command that the band now has.
In an opening essay, the writer Luc Sante said that by their pictures the Stones created “a stylebook that has continued to define how a rock ’n’ roll band should appear: how its members should lounge, wait, work, doze, stand, walk, play.”
Mr. Corbijn said that when he shot the Stones around the “Voodoo Lounge” tour in the mid-1990s, he was trying to recapture them “looking dangerous and a bit weird,” as they had in the ’60s and ’70s.
“I was trying to get some of that back, so you are questioning what is happening here,” said Mr. Corbijn, who had photographed the band wearing masks in 1994. “I did not want to take the safe route.”
To that end, Mr. Corbijn traveled to Hungary in 1995 to do a photo shoot with some unusual props. He wanted the Stones to don tall stovepipe hats that were a cross between what Dr. Seuss’s “The Cat in the Hat” and a warlock would wear.
“I turned up in Budapest with these hats, and Mick said, ‘No way,’ ” he recalled, explaining that Mr. Jagger then told him that if the Stones’ drummer, Charlie Watts, would wear one, he would as well. Mr. Watts soon agreed, and the shoot was on — but only after Mr. Corbijn tricked him into believing Mr. Jagger had already signed off on the hats.
A few years earlier, Mr. Watson was in Los Angeles to photograph Mr. Jagger for Rolling Stone magazine’s 25th-anniversary issue. For the shoot, Mr. Jagger was to sit in the driver’s seat of a Corvette next to a leopard. Because the animal proved hard to control, a clear partition had to be built in the car to protect Mr. Jagger.
The session lasted 2 hours 20 minutes and produced two celebrated images, one of which is in the book: a black-and-white photo that shows Mr. Jagger looking ahead with one hand on the steering wheel, while the leopard next to him appears to be staring at the rearview mirror.
“Mick was very calm and said he even knew a lot about leopards and panthers and used the word dangerous,” Mr. Watson recalled. “We wanted to go with a surreal idea of having him with a wild leopard rather than having him drive around with a beautiful woman or band members. Also, when you think of him in concert, you think of him as being catlike in his moves.”
In November 1966, Mr. Mankowitz shot the Stones in the early morning light on London’s Primrose Hill after the band had emerged from an all-night recording session. One of those images became the cover photo of the Taschen book. “When they came out of these recording sessions, they really looked like the Rolling Stones: hung over, disheveled, the epitome of what the Rolling Stones should be,” he said.
Mr. Mankowitz had a specific effect in mind that morning. “I wanted to get the band dissolving into the sky to reflect the druggie culture that was beginning to manifest itself,” he said.
One step he took to achieve this was to place a piece of glass in front of the camera lens and smear Vaseline on the glass. “The band trusted me completely, but they got cold and exhausted after 20 minutes, and that was it,” Mr. Mankowitz recalled.
After following the Stones last summer to Vienna, Düsseldorf, Rome and Madrid over 13 days, and standing in the pit in front of the stage for five hours at a time, I developed a sense of the physical rigors that Mr. Russell or Peter Beard, another well-known photographer, may have endured while touring with the band. And then there is the onslaught on the ears that comes with each gig.
Mr. Russell, one of the photographers with no restriction on access to the band, remembers calling over the guitarist Keith Richards for a photo while at an American airport during the 1972 tour. It was a rare instance, he said, when he “made something happen” for a shot. He placed Mr. Richards — who exemplified the Stones’ degenerate image with his long hair, mirrored sunglasses and a “Coke” patch and the band’s tongue logo on his chest — next to a sign that read, “Patience Please … A Drug Free America Comes First!”
Mr. Richards was expressionless during the minute or so that it took to photograph him. “It’s the juxtaposition,” Mr. Russell said. “It makes you laugh, and it says a lot about how America was changing then.”