In Conversation: Gered Mankowitz on 45 RPM – Furr & Mankowitz
As Gered Mankowitz’ latest exhibition takes place in London’s Olympus sponsored, After Nyne Gallery in Notting Hill Gate, we popped along for the private view. Partly to say hi to Gered and team Olympus, but mainly to see the fruits of the legendary photographer’s collaboration with consummate paint-handler, Christian Furr entitled, 45RPM – Furr & Mankowitz.
PhotoBite Editor, Simon Skinner, headed outward from the bustling crowds of attendees for what seemed like the most appropriate, [not to mention, quiet] spot to pose a few questions to Gered. As he did, he was greeted by Gered being quizzed by Olympus Ambassador, Martina Govindraj AKA Yes Zebra, who had inadvertently kicked off with some photographer-to-photographer questioning.
Martina Govindraj: Do you still shoot current musicians and if so, who have you been working with or keen to work with?
Gered Mankowitz: I can’t think of anybody current. To be honest, and I know it sounds awful, but I’m not wildly interested in current music. It doesn’t work for me.
MG: I’m spending a lot of time in France moment, and I’ve noticed that there’s a huge amount of enormous talent coming from France right now.
GM: Yeah, what’s her name, with the Queen’s… Chris? You see, I think she’s wonderful. Fabulous.
MG: I’m a massive fan and I’ve shot her a few times. She’s marvelous.
See a handful of shots below of Chris / Christine and the Queens, as shot by Martina Govindraj AKA Yes Zebra.
GM: I think she’s really unique, really interesting and I like her very much, but in general, I find it very difficult to relate to contemporary music. The way you hear it, and the way you listen to it. At the end of the day, I’ll either put on, say, somebody else’s mix that just sounds extraordinary and not really know what I’m listening to, and just go with it until a track comes along that I can’t bear. Or else I’ll go back to something that I’ve always loved.
MG: With the emergence of digital formats versus vinyl records, most would now argue that vinyl sounds better. Is that something that influences you?
GM: Not really, I mean, because so much of the music that I really love still works for me. I listened to it originally on vinyl, and I probably still have it in my vinyl collection but the fact is that it doesn’t matter how I hear it. I’ve never been overly concerned about how I hear it, as long as I hear it. So James Brown sounds pretty good at any time. On any system.
MG: So when you’re doing your workflow, and you’re shooting someone or
you’re working with someone from the music world…
GM: [cutting in] Yeah, if I’m working with somebody, I’ll listen to their music because that helps them and it helps me. When I’m doing my workflow, I have a few things that I listen to. I listen to little Steven’s underground on Sirius, [siriusxm.com] quite a lot because he plays a lot of the music that I always loved and some of the music he plays is music that I’ve never heard before. So I like that, and I quite enjoy his commentary.
MG: For advice… Advice for me, I’m trying to break some new ground and I’m doing new things. What would advice would you give me? I mean, people see your work lots of different ways now. They don’t need to go through an agency; they can look on Instagram and say yes or no with incredible speed and ease.
GM: Just keep taking pictures. Just keep taking pictures and trying to establish a relationship with smaller, local bands. People who you know, and start working with them on a more intimate level to build up your relationship right now. And don’t ever just shoot concerts. Know that for starters. Somebody said to me the other day, and of course, there are great live pictures, but they said that there are so many live pictures, they simply become boring. And try and find a band that you can have some sort of relationship with. A band to work with and have your own ideas about shooting to enable you to all to get something out of the experience of shooting together.
MG: So when you go work with an artist, do you arrive with a central vision of how the shoot is going to go or do you just say, look, this is my idea; this is what I want to do? How do you frame it?
GM: It varies. I’ve just done a new cover for an old friend called P.P. Arnold, who’s a soul singer. She’s got a new album coming out in a couple of months and I’ve just done the cover for that. And I knew exactly what I was trying to do and I hope that I’ve done it. But if I said to you it was a combination of Mavis Staples and Amy Winehouse, I don’t think you know what to expect.
MG: Thanks, Gered.
n.b It’s at this stage that Martina/Yes Zebra slides back into the furore of the launch event, handing the reins back to our man on the spot.
Simon Skinner: That leads me to ask you if you could tell us a little bit about this collection in particular. Why it differs from the work you’ve done in the past and perhaps the reproductions that we’ve seen before.
GM: Well, this is a collaboration between me and Christian [Furr]. He and I have known each other for around 15 years. He approached me and asked if we could swap portraits; he would paint a portrait and then I would shoot a portrait of him, and that’s what we did. It was lovely and it was a great experience. We remained firm friends when around two and a half to three years ago, he said. “why don’t we do a collaboration?” It was a perfect time for me. I felt very much like I needed something new and something creative to get my teeth into. I’ve always loved the idea of artistic collaboration, but if it were to happen, I wanted it to be a real collaboration; a merging of his skills and talents alongside my skills and talents.
SS: It’s something you’ve done before Isn’t it? It’s not an entirely new thing in your overall body of work?
GM: No, I’ve recreated my images before. I’ve been working since the mid-90s on colour rising and, not really updating, but trying to create a more contemporary feel to my work; adding colour where I didn’t have colour. I was trying to elevate my work at that point in time. Trying to get music genre photography taken seriously was really difficult. You know, just getting a gallery to show your work to the world was an incredible battle. Nobody wanted to take the work seriously. Nobody took the genre seriously.
SS: Would you say it was largely considered as being disposable?
GM: Yeah, it was, and album covers were seen merely as packaging, believe it or not. and I’m Believe it or not, and, you know, It was the age of the CD. The age of vinyl had passed and, and people just saw this form of photography as passe. Disposable. Packaging and promotional stuff. They didn’t really understand the historical and cultural importance and relevance of it all or the importance of the period of history. Everybody mythologises the 60s but when you started talking to people about it, so much of the work was simply dismissed. As a direct result of this attitude, I’ve always tried to elevate the work to another level. I didn’t want to sell my pictures cheaply. I didn’t want to do open editions. I always wanted to produce limited editions, right from the early 80s. Nobody was employing me, so here’s the thing; my commercial career was running downhill and yet interest in my archive was increasing. Working on my archive was more much more fun than struggling to try and work in commercial photography so I retired from commercial photography. At the same time, I needed to try and give myself a creative focus with my archive of photographic work. I didn’t just want to supply magazines and books with my pictures; I wanted to try to elevate them to another level, so I was always interested in working to give them an artistic relevance if you like. When Christian suggested that we did a collaboration, I just jumped at the idea because I don’t have these extraordinary skills that he has as a painter. But I do have a certain amount of skill, now, as a re-creator of my own images. So we spent 48 hours very intensively talking about palette, concept, and how we would work together. What came out of it was this idea that I would create new versions of my images. That I would add colour and texture and then he would take my prints and add a whole new level to them with gilding and acrylic and crayon, or whatever else came into his head. And that’s what happened. I would create an image and I’d send him a snapshot of it. I’d ask him what he thought and he would either say, “I love that, maybe a little more intense blue” or whatever. Great! Then I’d send him, like 100 prints, and he’d work his magic, taking snaps, sending to me and asking what I thought. I’d go, “fucking great” and that was it. It’s a true collaboration in the sense that when you look could a picture, you really don’t know where I’ve ended and he’s begun. That’s what I always wanted from this project
SS: That must have been tough for Christian because the images are so iconic. You know, they’re so recognisable, that for him, it must have been a taller order to impose himself upon what are already regarded as significant and iconic images.
GM: Do you know, Christian wasn’t inhibited at all. He just embraced it. He loved it. I wasn’t precious with regards to the images, I’m happy to change them and to make something new from them.
SS: Do you ever look back to the time when you were only shooting new material with great fondness?
GM: You know, I love pure black and white photography. I love platinum printing and silver gelatin printing. I think it’s absolutely beautiful and it brings something out of the original image that’s physical. It’s a physical thing but there is room for other forms of expression.
SS: How does it feel to know that your work has gone some way to contributing to the definition of the legacy of a generation of artists beyond their music and/or profile at the time?
GM: It’s great at times, but can be frustrating. One thing which I think is interesting is that, since the digital revolution, people have been ripping off my pictures without any regard for who took them, whatsoever. Without any regard for me and have, you know, done horrible things with them. I thought, hold on for a second, you know, I go to a gallery in Portobello Road or wherever it is; Camden Market, and I see some rip-off T-shirts or some awful print based on Jimi Hendrix or somebody else and it strikes me as being really horrid.
SS: These must typify the point of choosing your battles. Is this a discipline that you’ve had to hone over the years?
GM: It’s really hard but, ultimately, it’s not worth doing anything about it at that level. You know, you just can’t. Life is too short. In no indirect way, this gave me an opportunity to create new artworks with Christian that would be at least 1000 times better. More intense and more emotional. More exciting than anything that ‘these people’ have created, so you could say that it’s a sort of ‘finger up’ to them as well.
SS: Indeed. Many thanks, Gered.
See more from the collection at the dedicated Furr Mankowitz website.