Joan Jett, Bob Dylan, The Sex Pistols — name any legendary musician and Brad Elterman is sure to have photographed them. His images depict a long bygone world of pure rock n’ roll hedonism and recklessly good times. Following a long hiatus, Elterman has returned. Twin decided to ask him about his work process, the nature of celebrity photography, and the experience of hanging out with Debbie Harry & co.
How would you describe working in the late 70s/early 80s?
My timing was good. I was young and always had a camera with me which was really a blessing. There was not much in the way of publicist BS to deal with back then. I adored the cool subjects who I was photographing and that certainly helped. I was doing exactly what I wanted to do in 1977.
What is the interaction between you and the subject in front of the camera like?
It’s about a comfort level. I am not crazy about over producing photos and external lighting. I operate the best with a small point and shoot type camera so I can get close to a subject. I try and speak to them. The last half of the session is always better than the first. It’s all about getting comfortable.
Why did you decide to take a break from photography and how does it feel to be back?
I took a break for all these days because suddenly in the early 80′s punk and glam rock was over and it was all disco and heavy metal. I loved disco, but magazines never brought disco band photos except for The Village People. I hated heavy metal. I did not want to listen to it and thought that the whole thing about hair bands was a joke.
The other reason I ditched my cameras and put my photos in storage was that the publicists started sniffing around on the scene and when they saw all of these teenage photographers driving around in their Mercedes Benz, it was sort of the kiss of death. Suddenly photo sessions where not done without their permission even though they never heard of any of the the European or Japanese magazines that I dealt with. They would just say no to everything out of ignorance. If you wanted to shoot a concert it was now restricted to the first three songs. I did not care about concerts anyways. Boring!
What got me back to taking photos again was all of my cool tumblr followers who loved my old 70′s photos of Joan Jett and Debbie. I posted hundreds of my old photos and my tumblr kids demanded more and they would ask me from time to time to shoot this band and that band so I sort of came out of photo hibernation.
It was not easy for me. I was full of anxiety taking photos again with all of the great young photographers out there today. I started getting some press on the internet about my modern photo sessions and was encouraged by my friend Olivier Zahm to take photos for their Purple Diary. I took the offer very seriously. I just took the bull by the horns and went with it.
How do you think has the nature of celebrity photography changed, especially with the likes of the paparazzi?
Today it’s all controlled by the celebrity’s team. PR, manager, lawyer with a sprinkling of their glam squads. That is the reason there was this massive interest in paparazzi photography over the last decade. Readers wanted to see the real deal. The editor photo business including paparazzi is a disaster. The internet destroyed some of the greatest publications and their budgets. It will never come back.
Why do you think celebrities and musicians are so fascinating to the everyday consumer?
They just want to know a bit more about someone who they look up to and respect. I was that way with Dylan when I was a kid and with Lindsay Lohan today.
What was the most memorable photograph you ever took?
For sure the evening that I met Bob Dylan back in 1976, and shook his hand. He told me that I looked just like him and that he wanted me to bring up this young actor named Robert DeNiro to the dressing room so he could have his photo taken with him! This sort of shit does not happen on House Wives of Beverly Hills.
What projects do you have lined up for the future?
I am finishing up a new book designed by my good friend, photographer Sandy Kim. She is the best editor for my 70′s photos and has a great eye for design. The book is entitled Dog Dance and will be out in early fall. I am doing a compilation record for Opus Records featuring some of the cool bands I have photographed recently. Taking more photos, of course!
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