Gary James' Interview With Paul McCartney's Tour Photographer
Bill Bernstein is a photographer. Not just any photographer. You see, Bill is Paul McCartney's tour photographer. When Paul goes on the road, Bill Bernstein is taking the photos of that time and experience. In fact, you can see Bill's work in the book, Each One Believing: On Stage, Off Stage And Backstage. (Chronicle Books)
Bill Bernstein talked with us about his job.
Q - Bill, you're often referred to as Paul McCartney's official tour photographer. What does that mean? Does that mean you're the only one with access to him?
A - No, not really. I think what that refers to is, I'm his official tour photographer. A lot of people take pictures of Paul. He has a lot of different things going on. There are different photographers at different times, taking pictures of him. But, on tours, I'm the official photographer. So, if something has to be taken of Paul, I'm the one who will do it.
Q - Why does he need an official tour photographer?
A - Well, I think he likes to work with sort of the same people over and over again. If you know some of the people he works with, inside of his organization, people have been with him for years and years and years. In a lot of ways he is very loyal to the people that he works with. So, I just think he likes to have somebody around him...as you say, I have a lot of access to him and I think he likes someone he's familiar with. If I'm gonna be around him that much, he wants to know who I am. It just makes him feel more comfortable I think.
Q - So, what is he doing with the pictures you're taking? Before he goes on tour, I assume he puts together some kind of tour book to sell at arenas. What then is he doing with the pictures you're taking of him on tour?
A - Well, those are the pictures that end up in the tour book, for one.
Q - Isn't the tour book put together before you come on to the scene?
A - The tour book is usually pictures of him performing that I've taken. They can be shot during rehearsals some times. They can be shot during the tour before the one that's going out. All the tour books that are out in the last six years, almost all of the pictures are taken by me. So, that's one of the uses that he has. There's also the book Each One Believing that came out that are all my pictures. There's a lot of stuff that I sort of do backstage with Paul. Paul will meet people backstage. He'll meet Presidents or corporate people. Any number of people. The mayor will come backstage. And, I'm always backstage to photograph Paul with those people.
Q - You're talking Presidents of the United States or companies?
A - Sometimes either / or.
Q - When you tour, you travel on Paul's plane?
A - Yeah. Paul usually has a chartered plane that he reserves for the tour. In that plane will be myself, Paul, the band and several other people, kind of business types.
Q - Do you get total access to Paul? Are there some restrictions?
A - I don't like to go into his bed in the middle of the night. I don't go into the bedroom if the door is locked. Other than that, I have pretty much access.
Q - Were you a McCartney fan prior to getting this job?
A - Yeah, I was a big McCartney fan. I was a big Beatles fan. So, I was in awe when I first met him. Meeting Paul McCartney for the first time is pretty amazing.
Q - What did you think of Linda?
A - Linda, I got along with fantastically well. Being a photographer as well, we had something in common. We're actually from neighboring towns, although you would never know it from listening to her speak. We both grew up in Westchester. So, I liked her very much.
Q - Does that mean she lost the New York accent and took on a British accent?
A - Of course. That happens to me when I'm in Europe. If I spend any time in London, I start talking with an English accent. So, I can imagine after ten years or twenty-five years, how I would sound. (laughs) We were friends, Linda and I. I really had a lot of love for her. She was a great person and I miss her. So, I had a nice connection with her. When I first me Paul, I was pretty star struck I must say.
Q - Since Linda was a photographer, was she taking pictures as well?
A - Yeah, but she wasn't the tour photographer. She was always taking photographs as we photographers do. I have a son and I'm always photographing my son, my wife, my friends. She was doing the same thing, but she wasn't as you said, the official tour photographer. My job is to shoot everything that happens on the tour. So, that was my function there.
Q - Did Paul ever talk about his days with The Beatles when he was on the plane?
A - Yeah, occasionally he would refer to something that happened early on in The Beatles or with John. And, it was always an interesting time. It was always interesting for us to listen in on that kind of stuff.
Q - Would there be any specific story that comes to mind?
A - I can't remember any specific story. Nothing really comes to mind, other than, when we were in The Beatles, we were in Paris and John and I snuck out one night and went to such and such a place, or we remember when we met somebody. So, he would refer to those times. But no great story that hasn't been told I don't think.
Q - Did you get any insight into Paul's personality?
A - One of the things that I kind of get from Paul as a person, he always said to me backstage when I would be talking to him, "what if this happens? What do you do then?" He would always say something like "Well, you know I always used to say this in The Beatles, something will happen. Something will come up." Meaning that, you can't necessarily see right now what is around the corner for you, but something is there and as soon as you get there, it will be ready and waiting for you. You don't have to see it right now. I think that was something that he and The Beatles kind of lived by. I'm talking early on, like in the early 60s, before Beatlemania, when they were a band that just wanted to make it very, very big, which they did. Paul always had this sense that something will happen. You know, if we don't get the deal from this company, there's another company out there. There's something going on that we don't know about, and how right he was! When you read about The Beatles history and all the steps that were happening around the world that led to The Beatles signing the deal and becoming as famous as they were. There were a lot of things going on that they didn't see. A lot of powerful people were being influenced by the sound of The Beatles and making decisions that ultimately led to their success. So, he reminded me of that. That was pretty interesting in terms of how The Beatles must've been.
Q - I read in one of the online interviews that you could sense some kind of aura around Paul. Is that true?
A - Well, the way you describe it, it sounds mystical. (laughs) I don't remember seeing that. What I see around him or feel around him is a real energy. He has a tremendous energy around him. I'm sure part of it is Paul McCartney the person and part of it is my reaction to being with a person who is Paul McCartney, if you know what I mean. He is such a mega famous celebrity that I'm sure I bring a lot to the encounter with Paul. He's so important in my life, not even as someone who I work for, but as a musical figure and a cultural icon. He brings a lot with him.
Q - Do you photograph other celebrities?
A - Yeah, I do actually. Some, not all. I'm not necessarily just a music or celebrity photographer. I'm a portrait photographer primarily. I photograph people for magazines and newspapers and books, corporate annual reports. Anything that requires a portrait. I was a portrait photographer when Paul first hired me way back in '89 to come out on the road and be his tour photographer. I've worked with U2. I was their tour photographer for a little while. I've worked down in Nashville a few times with some bands. I just worked with Keith Urban. He's getting ready to go out on tour. So, I photographed him for a couple of days. So, my range is pretty wide in terms of who I photograph.
Q - How did Paul hear about you?
A - Way back in 1989 I was working with the guy who was Paul McCartney's publicist at the time. He's no longer his publicist. He was one of my clients. When Paul went out on tour, the publicist recommended to Paul that he hire me for a couple of days to come in and shoot. So, that's how Paul first met me. And, I've been working with him since '89. He's been through several publicists, but I'm still there.