Gary James' Interview With Photographer
He's photographed just about everybody who was anybody in the Rock world of the 1960s and 1970s. And we're talking The Doors, The Byrds, The Eagles, Buffalo Springfield, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, Linda Rondstadt, America, Neil Young, Crosby, Stills And Nash... well, you get the picture, no pun intended. He was even the official photographer for Woodstock '69. And now the public will be able to see many of those photos. Beginning in September of 2015 and lasting through late October 2015 Henry Diltiz will be on tour with his photos. Alongside him will be actress, model and photographer Patti Boyd. Patti of course was married to George Harrison and later Eric Clapton. Henry Diltz spoke with us about his life and the upcoming Behind The Lens tour.
Q - Henry, you've said "All the people I photographed, I love their music." Rarely have I heard a photographer say that. That's really true?
A - Yeah. Look, I was a musician before I picked up a camera. I was a Folk musician in The Modern Folk Quartet. I lived in Laurel Canyon and all my friends were like Stephen Sills, David Crosby, Mama Cass, all of those people. So, when I picked up a camera I was really shooting my friends who were actually my heroes as well. As a singer in a vocal band, a four part harmony band, I loved Crosby. Stills. Nash. I loved The Eagles. My favorite song writers were Jackson Browne, Jimmy Webb, James Taylor, Paul McCartney, like everybody else. I died for some of those songs. "Sweet Baby Jane", "Desperado", "The Long And Winding Road". I mean, who doesn't love all that stuff? Then to get to meet and photograph those people was like just so great. I'm just so lucky. I'm a huge fan of everybody I photographed before I ever picked up a camera.
Q - Being a musician first, did that give you an advantage when you became a photographer? Maybe you understood a little more what they wanted in the photograph?
A - It definitely did 'cause we had to have publicity photos done as well and album covers done in our own group. So, I went through that knowing what we liked and how that worked. I'd say the main advantage of being a musician and then a photographer was that I knew how to hang out. Musicians hang out all the time, right? In the studio, on the road, backstage. I knew how to do that. Sometimes photographers just want to get there and get their shots and they might be a little pushy about it, a little demanding about it, but for me I more or less just hung out and waited 'til the moment was right. I never walked in and said, "Okay, I'm here to take the photos. Now stand over there!" (laughs) I would go and hang out for a couple of hours. But my thing was, I liked to document what was going on anyway. That's more what I did. Really half the photos I took weren't jobs at all. They were just me hanging out with friends, kind of just taking photos because that's what I did. I wasn't hired to do it, but then they got used later. So that was a better way of being able to observe and document.
Q - With the state of the record business today, a guy like you couldn't exist today. I'm sure there are photographers, but they wouldn't have the same amount of work you had.
A - Yeah.
Q - There's no albums anymore.
A - That's true. Sometime in the '80s, people started sort of pirating things. Photographers would get into clubs or concerts and then they would sell posters of the photos they took. There was no controlling it anymore, so all the bands and the managers and the record companies had to start saying, "Well, you can only shoot two songs, and you have to sign a contract that says you're only going to use them for whatever you're hired for." It got very, very difficult at that point. When I started out, there really weren't any photographers, (laughs) to speak of and now everybody's a photographer. They've had to limit the access. That's the problem.
Q - When you take a photo of whoever, do you own the rights to that photo or do the rights belong to the person who is paying you?
A - That's a good question. I think legally the photographer has the copyright. Sometime in the '70s the copyright laws changed and they were kind of in favor of the photographer. It kind of says if you actually took that photo, you own it. I seldom worked for record companies that sort of owned everything I shot. The album covers I did, I did kind of free-lance with the graphic artist Gary Burdon. We worked for the groups, not the record companies, so luckily instead of turning all my photos over to the record company we made the record cover ourselves and I got to keep all the photos. So that was kind of a lucky break. There's a lot of photographers who work for record companies who've lost all their pictures because now the record company has put 'em all in boxes and they're all in storage in the warehouse and nobody can find 'em. So, I guess I was lucky that I worked free-lance.
Q - I guess those photographers didn't think to keep a copy.
A - Yeah. You know, nowadays with digital, one of the advantages is you can keep everything you shoot and send scans to everybody else. In those days, a lot of the time I was shooting color transparencies, slide film, and there were no negatives. So, you'd give the slides to somebody and you'd never see 'em again. And also in those days I was just shooting pictures of all my friends, never knowing they would become that famous later on. When we did the Morrison Hotel photo album cover, the photos for that, we had no idea that was going to become an iconic album and Jim was going to die and be a hero. It was just another day, another photo shoot, another kind kind of time. Hanging out with musicians, taking photos and then going and drinking beer. Years later, wow! You never know what's gonna happen.
Q - You must've liked Jim Morrison because that's what you've named your gallery after.
A - That happened kind of by accident. Years after I took that picture, thirty-five years after I took that picture, I started a little photo gallery and we're in New York and we didn't have a name. We didn't have a name at all for the gallery. We just had pictures in the window. One day my partner and I were looking at the window and we had that Morrison Hotel photo sitting in the middle of the window. I said, "Look at how that beautiful lettering is on that window and now look above on our window, we've got nothing! What if we put that on there just to get attention while that picture is in the window?" and we did and it kind of stuck as the name. It's a good name for a music photo gallery because I always hated it when people would have a gallery and call it Rock And Roll Photos or Legends Of Rock. I just thought my photos aren't Rock 'n' Roll so much as they are music, singer / songwriters. Morrison Hotel kind of encompassed the whole thing without using those four letter words. (laughs)
Q - Now, did you like Jim Morrison? Did you spend time with him?
A - Yes, of course. I would see him around town. I used to see him play at the Whiskey A Go Go as a fellow musician. I would see him around town and say hello and he would nod and say, "Hi. Hey man, how are you doing?" He wasn't a particular pal of mine, not a close friend, but I certainly knew him and spent a number of days photographing him and the group. He was a very quiet guy. He was actually a poet and an observer. He was very internal. He didn't come on strong like the movie with Val Kilmer. The Doors hated that movie because that wasn't Jim. Jim was a very quiet, observant, poetic sort of a guy who kind of came alive on stage, but otherwise was kind of observing everything.
Q - You didn't have any formal training to be a photographer, did you? Where did you learn to take a good picture?
A - Well, I think some of it is intuitive. Framing. It's all about framing. First of all there's the technical part, like how do you set the f-stop and set the time, but once you get that down, that's just mechanical. The rest is how you choose to frame that picture, what you aim your camera at and when you push the button. That's all kind of internal and your feeling. So, we bought these second hand cameras when we were traveling on the road with the Folk group and I said to one of my friends who knew a little about it, "How do I set these numbers?" He said, "Look on the box of film. It says Sunlight 250 at 8." I said, "Okay. Here's 250. Here's 8. Let's go out and try some photos." So, I just kind of did it by feel and they all worked out really well. The rest is very personal of how you take a photo. You get to choose where to aim the camera, how to frame the photo, whether you get up close or whether you get back or what you include in the picture or what you exclude in the picture. That has a lot to do with it. Then you get to push the button. So, that's how it was for me. It was pretty simple.
Q - You're regarded as the Official Photographer at Woodstock (1969). Isn't Elliot Landy the Official Photographer at Woodstock?
A - Well look, here's the story. My friend Chip Monck called me from New York in early August and said, "Henry, we're having a big festival out here. You oughta come out here and photograph. I knew Chip Monck. He was the Lighting and Stage Manager. I've known him for years, in the Folk days. He had done lighting for some of the Folk shows. He said, "You should come out here." I said, "Chip, I'd love to, but I don't know anybody out there. How do I do that?" He said, "I'll talk to the producer." The next day Michael Lang called me and said, "Chip says we need you, so I'm sending you a ticket and $500." I got on a plane and flew out. I spent two weeks photographing the whole building of the stage and everything in the office. I photographed Michael Lang as he rode around on motorcycles and horseback. I just documented the whole creation of that festival. Then I had the All Access Pass and shot up on stage. Those pictures belong to Michael and I together. We agreed to share them. So, I was the Official Photographer. Eliott Landy lived in Woodstock. He came over. He got a pass to shoot. He's based his career on that. Actually one day Elliot said, "You know Henry, I think you and I should both say we were both Official Photographers." I said, "You can say whatever you want. It doesn't matter to me." But I was the guy that got hired and paid by the producer. So, if that's what made me the Official Photographer...
Q - I'll refer to you as the Official Photographer.
A - (laughs)
Q - You sang on a couple of Monkees songs. What songs would that have been?
A - Well, I played tambourine and sang background on a few that I can't even remember. Wait a second: I played banjo on "D.W. Washburn". I did a commercial with Mickey. Mickey and I sang We'll be back in a minute. Back in a minute for a Saturday morning re-run or something. One of the guys in my music group, Chip Douglas, became their producer. Since I was their photographer I would be in the studio all the time. Sometimes they would say, "We need some voices in the background. Henry, run in there," or "Grab a tambourine." I didn't always get credit. It was kind of a group effort sometimes.
Q - You were a seasoned musician, a "name" musician before you became a star photographer.
A - (laughs) Well, we never had a big hit with The Modern Folk Quartet. We had a couple Warner Brothers albums and we did a Phil Spector single which he wouldn't release for a year or two. When he finally released it, it was a Harry Nilsson song called "This Could Be The Night". That's on the Spector Box Set. We had a few singles and we did some recording for Dunhill Records, but we never had a big hit. We did college concerts and Folk clubs for almost five years in the early '60s.
Q - The Hootenanny era.
A - Yeah. We did the Hootenanny show. We did a tour, 41 one nighters on a bus called the Hootenanny tour. (laughs) We did that with a Gospel group and some other people. People don't realize it, but Folk music was the music of the land. It was huge in the '60s. Every college wanted Folk musicians to come in and do concerts. Also, in those days when you played a club, whether it was a big club or a little Folk club, you played a whole week. You always played a whole week, or six days. Nowadays nobody does that. It's one night. We never played one night unless it was a college concert. It would be one afternoon or one night. A hundred clubs we played. They were always for a whole week.
Q - You're about to go out on this Behind The Lens tour with Patti Boyd. When you give lectures what are you talking about? You're showing a photo and telling the story behind the shooting of that photo?
A - Well, (laughs), something like that. Luckily all the pictures I show have little stories that go with them, you know, what happened that day, how we happened to be there, how we happened to take that picture. There's always stories that go with them. If I'd have been a studio photographer and just have people come over at two o'clock and four o'clock, there wouldn't be any story. You'd say "Okay, stand over there in front of the paper and I'll take your picture." But, every photo I took was an adventure of some kind. We'd go out to the desert and spend the night with The Eagles or we'd take America and drive down some Indian reservation in Southern California and spend the night riding horseback in the desert or go up to Big Sur and spend the night at a hot springs. Just about everything we did, Gary, my partner, was an adventure 'cause we wanted to get the group out of L.A., away from their girl friends and managers and be able to really have some kind of happening that we could photograph, and that's how we did album covers. So, that's what I show, the pictures of The Eagles from the desert and America at the Indian reservation, The Doors at the old Morrison Hotel. That was a whole adventure that day. When I took Crosby, Stills, Nash sitting on that old couch, that whole day was funny too. There's a story about how that happened and how that picture happened. So, that's kind of what I do. I just kind of tell about what it was like. People seem to enjoy it because for most people that come to this show, these people are their heroes. We grow up with music and so these people from the '60s and '70s become the soundtrack of our life. Each of those songs has a special meaning to us. To be able to hear the story behind the photo on the album cover, it just gives a little more meaning to it.
Q - What type of venues will you be speaking in?
A - We're doing this in city wineries. We're doing it in L.A., Nashville, Chicago, New York and Boston.
Q - Patti Boyd will talk about George Harrison and The Beatles.
A - Yeah. Well, she was married to George Harrison and The Beatles. I mean, The Beatles. (laughs)
Q - You could say she was.
A - I mean Eric Clapton. She took photos during that time. Then she became a model and a photographer. Some years ago when we started our photo gallery, The Morrison Hotel, she was one of our photographers. We represented her photos and sold them. Then she came to a show and we met her and we all became really good friends. We've had shows together before. I've been to England to visit her there. She's been to L.A. a bunch of times. We decided to do this show together and so I will tell all of my sort of Laurel Canyon singer / songwriter stories and then we'll have an intermission. She'll come out and tell the story of her life, including meeting and being married to George and to Eric and all the other people she photographed.
Q - Is there anyone you did not photograph from the '60s or '70s that you would have like to photograph?
A - Yeah, John Lennon. I never took Lennon's photo. I never actually photographed The Beatles, but years later I photographed Paul McCartney and Ringo a lot. I've been on the road with them and a little bit of George. But I never got to photograph John Lennon. That's one guy I probably wish I had.
Q - Did you ever meet him?
A - I met him once at Shea Stadium. I went there with The Lovin' Spoonful and we got into their dressing room and said hello, but I couldn't take any photos.
Q - They were at Shea Stadium in 1965 and 1966. What year did you go?
A - '66.
Q - In your line of work, is it possible to learn something new every day?
A - I would say I'm learning something every day, more about people. The photography is pretty simple. It's the people that you learn from. My attitude is everybody's your teacher. Every time you meet somebody you're learning something new. So, I love to travel around and photograph new people that I've just met because it's always so gratifying to meet a new person and sort of get their insight into the world, what life is about. That's the part I like about photography. It's meeting people and hanging out with people. It's not taking the photo. I'm really still a musician in my heart and probably a photographer in my head. Sometimes being a photographer is having a passport into somebody's life where you'd ordinarily be except that you're there to take their picture. So, that happens. People like Michael Jackson and Keith Richards, I never would have met in my normal life.
Q - Do you ever think about some of the people you're photographed who are no longer around?
A - I do. Yeah, sure I do. We still hear their music. It's amazing. They leave this whole legacy behind of their music. I think about all the people I've photographed 'cause I see their pictures all the time. I did all those photos back then and I'm still taking photos, but everyone wants to see the ones from the '60 and '70s. So, now I have an accidental business which is licensing those photos to video companies and movie companies and book publishers and record companies. Anybody that wants to use those old photos in books and videos and movies, they licence those images from me.