“In the early days of David Bowie's career, I arrived at his house in Beckenham to be greeted by him with a paint brush in one hand and a cigarette in the other, he asked if he minded if he finished painting his ceiling. I ended up photographing him painting, with us both chuckling.” British photographer Michael Putland recalls just one of many incredible moments in a career shooting the 20th century’s greatest music icons. “It would be unusual for something as relaxed and un-managed as that to happen today.” This autumn, Proud Galleries has staged a major retrospective of Putland’s images of music’s most famous faces, including the Rolling Stones (for whom he was the official tour photographer in 1973), John Lennon, Debbie Harry, Michael Jackson, Siouxsie Sioux, Tom Waits and Bob Marley – to name but a few.
It’s not an easy task to take candid portraits of the world’s most famous rock stars. There’s a warmth and intimacy to many of Putland’s images, and often his most surprising shots are those he captured off-stage: Mick Jagger snuggled in a deep sleep against a fur coat draped on Bianca’s shoulder; Jerry Hall, on a plane, legs stretched out, reading a copy of Playboy with herself on the cover; John Lennon and Yoko Ono sitting on the floor of the White Room chatting idly. In these photographs you’re in the room with them, seeing them as Putland saw them – up close and personal. “The most important part of any talent I may have is my ability to connect with people and help them to relax and open up to me, to show who they really are – good or bad!” Putland says.
When asked if he has a favourite image, Putland says, “a snatched shot in terrible light backstage at a Stones concert in New York, Bob Marley, Mick Jagger and Peter Tosh squeezed together on a sofa giving me three of the best smiles in the universe.” It might be the dream shot for any photographer, but he hasn’t stopped shooting. Eye of a Generation includes some of his new work, alongside his iconic images from the past five decades. 50 years on he remains a photographer who moves with the times, conceding that he’s always captured what he’s most attached to.
Eye of a Generation by Michael Putland runs at Proud Galleries Camden until October 16, 2016.