Every so often I receive requests from fellow artists and musicians wishing to collaborate. Sometimes the proposals are logistically impossible or inapplicable to my current projects, but I always appreciate an opportunity to discover new talent or feature the work of exceptional artists. Last month I received one such communication, which I felt deserved to be shared in the form of this interview and a selection of photographs from internationally acclaimed rock photographer, Nick Elliott.
Music and I go back a long way; it’s the life’s blood of every painting I create and the topic of a good majority of this blog. I’m a ‘Valley Girl’ who grew up on LA punk, grunge and early 90’s shoegaze… and I have a passion for northern soul, but when I took on the task of featuring Nick’s incredible work documenting so many of the heavy metal and classic rock greats, I must admit I was a little outside of my comfort zone. After all, I had only just recently discovered that ‘Hawkwind’ was not an avian gastro disorder. With that said, however, one would have had to have lived in a cave not to recognise the faces of rock legends that defined a generation, each photographed doing what they do best by a photographer with a flair for capturing not just a face, but an attitude.
One of the first things you will notice about Nick Elliott’s photos, whether shot in the studio or in mid performance, is they are strikingly candid. There is no attempt to sugarcoat or temper with compositional symmetry when the shutter is clicked. As well, Nick is among a select group of digital-shunning, old school photographers who believe attending a concert with iPhone camera in hand essentially makes one more akin to a poseur than an artist; something I agree with 100%, but more on that in my interview below.
Describing himself as a ‘conceptual’ photographer, there is an inimitably raw quality at play in Nick’s work that mainlines his vision of the intensity of these performers straight to the viewer with such unabashed immediacy, you can feel the adrenaline. Live fast, die young – stripped of pretense and not always pretty, but he’s aiming for fervency and in doing so delivers a compellingly powerful reflection of the essence of rock ‘n’ roll.
So just how does one become a ‘rock photographer’? Is it necessary to fall in love with the music first, or does the artistry exist to find its calling? My surf green Fender Jaguar glowers in the corner of the room, as I avoid eye contact, knowing I will never do it justice, no matter how enmeshed music and I may be; but so it goes with artists who dare to venture outside of their genre – Artists who are musicians, who are musicians who write, who are photographers who paint, who are painters who dream to be musicians.
I suppose most lofty ambitions do begin with a dream, and it seems logical one would have to love music to make a living documenting musicians, but there is no rule book or school for rock photographers, and possessing a camera does not necessarily make one an artist. As a traditionalist, Nick Elliott ranks amongst a handful of truly gifted rock photographers…Bob Gruen, Steve Gullick, Mick Rock, Henry Diltz, Jenny Lens and Anton Corbijn come to mind – all original in their own ways, but each with a keen awareness that in addition to natural born talent, in order to stand above average, to be noticed, to be great, to be an ‘artist’ as opposed to a ‘craftsman,’ there is one essential quality that will always separate the ordinary from the extraordinary….Passion.
Nick Elliott hails from Peterborough, UK and for more than two decades has traveled the world as both a commercial and documentary rock photographer. The iconic images speak for themselves, and they and the fascinating stories behind them are his life’s passion.
A: I had this kind of itchy unhappiness where I was – I had come to a point in my life where I wanted to move the line, I am doing this all the time, moving the boundaries of what I am satisfied with. Not that I am ever satisfied, to be honest, I don’t think I ever will be, but that is the art of photography. I was doing a lot of magazine work, freelancing, sports etc. It was towards the end of the 70’s, early 80’s, that I decided to go it on my own and moved into Creative Advertising. As with all of my work, I set my stall very high working with top Advertising Agencies, shooting legendary campaigns for pharmaceutical, cigarette, and car accounts like the Liberal Democrats election campaign in 1992.
Creative Advertising gave me a very successful career and during this period I won a lot of awards but many of the campaigns I was working on were starting to cramp my creativity. It was time to move on and the digital era was starting to come in which changed the game plan, big time.
Music is my second passion to photography – I had been around music all of my life, I knew a lot about it – it had a big influence on my life, the type of person I am and my creativity.
I decided that I wanted to work with people in the music industry who were my heroes and whose influence has made me the person and photographer I am today. I concentrate on the areas of music, where my passion is. I think you have to do that. You have to understand where these guys are at and how they craft their art to allow me to craft mine. I don’t go near mainstream.
I work predominantly in classic rock, heavy rock, some blues and shoot a lot of CD covers, album covers, promotional stuff, work with bands on tours, and cover a lot of live stuff. I am essentially known for my black & white, it reflects a retro style that replicates the music that I still listen to today.
I have worked with legendary performers like Thin Lizzy, Motorhead, Metallica, Iron Maiden, Robert Plant, so many. I consider myself to be a Conceptual Photographer so when artists and bands come to me with, say, a new album and tour, I put together a visual concept for the whole product and we build around that. I create a complete branding around that brief.
A: Hopefully the biggest highlight is yet to come. In my life I have always looked forward and not back. I have worked with some of the biggest performers on the planet, they were heroes of mine and they still are. I think that would be the biggest achievement for me. Being recognized for my work and recognition for what I do as a rock photographer.
A: The digital revolution in photography has destroyed the art, so what you’ve now got, is everybody in this country considering themselves to be photographers. They’re not photographers, they’re guys who’ve bought a load of gear and think of it as a way of getting their kicks! It’s not about that at all. I’ve been in this business all my life and have dedicated my life to this art.
But because of the medium, we have to use post-processing to a degree. To be honest, if I haven’t got it right when I first shoot it, then I haven’t done my job. In respect of taking things out of an image, moving parts of the images around, adding stuff, skin smoothing, lifting stuff out, imperfections, I don’t buy into any of it at all.
To me, I believe in the initial creation, that there is beauty in everyone, whether old, middle aged or whatever, and as a photographer it is my job to find it. The bottom line is, too many photographers are just taking pictures and not learning their craft.
A: Photography in today’s marketplace is a free for all, there isn’t any etiquette anymore. If somebody wants to get into this area of the business of photography then they have to start somewhere but, nobody wants to pay for anything anymore, everything is being done for free.
That is no answer, though. Unfortunately, in most cases it is the photographers who are to blame for this because they are too quick to give stuff away and to show or tell someone else how to do it or how it was created. In a commercial photographic world, the industry has gone. It is a great shame.
Digital has brought an abundance of everyone doing the same old #%xx, but what that does is allow the cream to rise to the top. There will never be a substitute for class, style, professionalism, and sophistication and that, in my honest opinion, is what photographers who are serious about their art need to do. Learn their craft.
A: I’m very busy with a new series of rock books and a new coffee table book as well so my studio is in the process of designing and compiling the content ready for them to be released later in the year.
There’s also a very special range of Nick Elliott rock photographer apparel clothing range due to be released soon amongst other things – so many to mention!
Anyone who is interested in keeping up to date with what I’m doing can visit my press office at nickelliott.info or my store at nickelliottstore where my fine art, books and apparel are available to purchase.
A: I haven’t really considered that question! But I have considered what I’d like to say to God when we do meet and that would be a busy day, I can tell you….a heavy meeting!