See Rare Photos of John Lennon, Mick Jagger & More from Photographer Who Befriended Rock Legends
When taking pictures of rock and roll's biggest stars, photographer Ethan Russell never asked them to pose. "People will reveal themselves in a funny way, even if you're not telling them what to do," he says. "I wanted to be able to feel who's in front of the camera." From his first photo subject, Mick Jagger, to his second, John Lennon, to all the greats that followed — Linda Ronstadt, Janis Joplin, The Who, and many more — he captured an honesty and an intimacy which can now be seen in his new coffee table book Ethan Russell Photographs. "It was a happy series of accidents," says Russell of his decision to move to London from San Francisco in 1968 to check out the music scene. There, with his camera, he got a close-up view of rock royalty. Before there were publicists. Before anyone had an entourage. Before there were rules. He grew fond of Lennon, whom he used to call up whenever he wanted to take his photo. "Or he'd call me up," notes Russell. "He took a liking to me. One of the reasons he liked me was that I wasn't snooty about Yoko and I took beautiful photos of her." Looking back on the rare access he enjoyed, he says, "There was nothing false created for the camera. When you see the photos, you get to be there."
Ethan Russell, ca. 2012
Photographer Ethan Russell with his photo of Keith Richards (from 1972) at US customs in Seattle, Washington.
Mick Jagger, 1968
"I was nervous," says Russell of first professional photo shoot. "What the hell was I doing there? Up until then, I had taken pictures mostly of children. I just did it instinctively. I was lucky he was preoccupied being interviewed. There was a window behind me with a lace curtain and if you're trying to diffuse lighting, nothing could be better. In a way, it was given to me."
John Lennon and Yoko Ono, 1968
"They just showed up in these black capes," says Russell. "The capes made them appear as it they are one but they still maintain their individuality." Lennon particularly liked the pictures he took of his wife. "When I showed up to photograph them, he took the photos right out of my hand and put them all over his wall. I think she's quite beautiful at this age. It was truly a love story between them."
Brian Jones, 1968
This photo of the Rolling Stone's original guitarist was taken at his home, which had originally belonged to A.A. Milne, author of Winnie the Pooh. "He started acting out for the camera, kicking the statue of Christopher Robin," says Russell. "He was not alive much longer after this." (Jones drowned in his swimming pool at age 27 after years of substance abuse.)
Mick Jagger, 1968
"This was shot to be a poster but never used," says Russell. "I'm in front of the tiger about three feet from the tiger's mouth. Jagger comes in tip-toeing because he was so nervous but I was the one more at risk."
The Beatles, 1969
"That truly is the last photo session they did together," says Russell. "They were done but they are still The Beatles."
Jim Morrison, 1969
Russell took this photo in London. "It was as if he was expecting the audience to come to him, rather than him giving anything to the audience."
John Lennon, 1969
"When I heard John had died, to me it was the end of all of it because no one was carrying the flame the same way," he says of Lennon's death on Dec. 8, 1980. "Rock and roll had been his whole life but by then spiritual humanism was his core."
Mick Jagger, 1969
"That's a picture you never know you're going to get, an eighth of a second later it would have been totally different," says Russell. "He moved so fast. He was going a million miles a minute. Phenomenal."
Carlos Santana, 1971
"Carlos hung out by himself," he says of the legendary guitarist. "He's looking at a picture of his guru with incense behind him. His band is downstairs trying to pick up girls. It's what I call the sacred and the profane."
Linda Ronstadt, 1972
"She looked quite beautiful," he says of the singer. "She couldn't have been more famous but she couldn't have been more down to earth. She's one of the people I still listen to."
Keith Richards, 1972
Russell used this shot of the Rolling Stones guitarist for his book's cover. "That really is Keith walking off the plane with his drug bag," he notes.
Roger Daltrey, 1973
"He was perfect playing the part of Tommy" [the vulnerable hero of The Who's 1969 rock opera] says Russell, "but that's not who he was. He was a little bit of a tough guy. He would get into fights with people if he thought they weren't toeing the line."
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