Gered Mankowitz

A camera for life

It’s over 50 years since Peter Sellers (using his best ‘Goon Show’ Swedish accent) persuaded a teenage Gered Mankowitz that Hasselblad was the only camera brand he would need. Gered has never used anything else.

So many great relationships begin with a happy memory, and legendary music, advertising and editorial photographer Gered Mankowitz, whose masterful and iconic images have helped to define an entire era, remembers that it was exactly this way the day he was first introduced to the Hasselblad.

The Eurythmics by Gered Mankowitz

“It so happens that Peter Sellers was a business associate of my father,” he recalls, “and one day when I was13 he came over to our house for Sunday lunch. He was an enthusiastic photographer so he brought along his Hasselblad and took photographs of my brothers and I, and I found the whole process fascinating. Peter instantly noted my interest and he proceeded to talk me through the workings of his camera in great detail, whilst all the while adopting an insane Goon Show-style Swedish accent. He was so funny I ended up crying with laughter and ever since I’ve associated this camera with smiles and happiness.”

After an education ‘of sorts’ at several London co-educational ‘progressive’ schools, Gered left at 15 with no formal qualifications. However, he’d discovered whilst on a school trip to Holland that he had a natural eye for a picture and, with the Sellers’ experience still fresh in his mind, he determined that photography was the way to go. Having convinced his father to support him there really was only one camera that he could possibly envisage using, and so he started out on his new career the proud owner of a Hasselblad 500C.

The Rolling Stones by Gered Mankowitz

“My father had taken out an insurance policy for me the day I was born,” says Gered, “so this was cashed in to raise the money that was required. We headed up to the Piccadilly Photo Centre in London, which was located in the famous Piccadilly Arcade, and the helpful sales staff in there got me all kitted out.”

Many 15-year-olds might have been in awe at the thought of working with a piece of kit with the professional kudos and sheer physical bulk of a Hasselblad but young Gered took to it immediately and very quickly it became his inseparable companion. “It felt natural in my hands straight away,” he says, “and the fact I was using this imposing camera was probably more intimidating to the people I was photographing than it was to me. I just wanted to use it for the quality of the pictures it could produce and I couldn’t get over how beautifully designed and easy to work with it was.”

Kate Bush by Gered Mankowitz

Finding a niche

As he began his career Gered had the opportunity to sample many different genres of photography. He spent some time being mentored by Photographer Tom Blau, working at the famous Camera Press agency that he’d founded, and he also undertook some professional work while on a family trip to Barbados, including photographing the first Boeing 707 to land at Bridgetown Airport. He then assisted the famously dapper fashion photographer Alec Murray on an assignment to photograph the autumn collections in Paris, but ultimately came back disillusioned, convinced that his future lay elsewhere.

“What I really wanted to do was to work in the world of show business,” he confesses. “I was asked to take some pictures of the Bristol Old Vic’s production of the American musical play ‘Fiorello’ in 1962 and got my pictures used front of house. When the play transferred to London I shot the production again – I was the youngest photographer to ever have my pictures used in this way.”

Kim Wilde by Gered Mankowitz

Shortly afterwards Gered went to work for showbiz portrait specialist Jeff Vickers MBE Hon FRPS, and this gave him the chance to photograph a stream of actors and personalities. Tellingly, it also introduced him to folk rock act Chad and Jeremy, who had just signed with Ember records. One of his pictures ended up being used as the cover of the duo’s first album and Gered found himself working in the music industry at a time when it desperately needed innovation. It was a chance to work with a new generation of producer/managers, and the fact that he was the same age as many of the performers he was photographing gave him the edge over many of the ‘old school’ established photographers.

Within a few months Gered had begun to make a name for himself in the music business, and the list of performers he was working with grew steadily. A chance meeting with Marianne Faithfull was particularly fortuitous, since it ultimately led to several photo sessions and an introduction to her manager and producer Andrew Loog Oldham, who also managed and produced the Rolling Stones.

Jimi Hendrix by Gered Mankowitz

“I started working with the Stones in 1965 and from then on my career path was completely defined,” notes Gered. “My first session with them was for the cover of their groundbreaking ‘Out of Our Heads’ album, and as a result of this I was asked to accompany them on their record breaking 1965 autumn tour of America. This lasted six weeks and took in 36 cities and I photographed the band both on stage and off. After that I continued to work with them as their ‘official’ photographer, producing photos for numerous albums and for press and publicity use.”

Gered found himself at the very epicentre of the swinging Sixties, experiencing at first hand an era that was to change the world forever. “It was an extraordinary time,” he says, “though none of us realised back then how momentous and influential it all was. There was the feeling that you could do anything; the rule book had been completely thrown out.”

The Rolling Stones by Gered Mankowitz

One shining example of this principle in action was Gered’s shot for the cover of the Rolling Stones album ‘Between the Buttons.’ “I was confident enough by this time to bring some of my own ideas to the sessions,” he says, “and I’d prepared this homemade filter that I’d smeared with Vaseline, so that when it was held in front of the lens it created a randomly soft focus, ‘druggy’ kind of feel.

“I took the band up to Primrose Hill in north London straight from an all-night recording session, because I thought that kind of world-weary look would really suit them. Everyone absolutely loved the shot because it looked so different.”

The Rolling Stones by Gered Mankowitz

Hip to be square

The album cover was one of the most important vehicles for photography during this time, and its 12 x 12in format was an impressive showcase for an image. Coincidentally it was also exactly the same shape as a Hasselblad 6x6cm negative, allowing it to be scaled up with no crop required.

“Yes, that was really important,” says Gered, “and it was one of the reasons I was drawn to the Hasselblad in the first place. The importance of the image on the record cover can’t be overstated: it would become an integral part of the album, and would hopefully communicate something about the concept behind the record. It also gave the buyer an opportunity to see the artist, and in those days you didn’t really see pictures of them in too many other places.”

Jimi Hendrix by Gered Mankowitz

When a photo session came together there was always the thought that one of the shots might have album cover potential, and with the 6x6cm format pretty much every shot had the potential to be dropped in. It was a thought that was at the back of Gered’s mind when he was asked to photograph the iconic Jimi Hendrix and his band.

“Although he was largely unknown at that time I was captivated by his charisma and personal presence,” he says. “I’d decided from the outset that I wanted to shoot them in the studio and to photograph Jimi on his own as well as with the band. They arrived at lunchtime and I had them until around 4.30pm when a roadie came to take them down to Hastings, where they were playing a gig on the pier that evening. I was heavily influenced by work from the likes of Avedon and Penn and decided to shoot the set in black and white. I reasoned that this approach would lend the pictures dignity. That was actually quite precocious of me and ultimately it cost me the cover of the album, because Jimi’s management decided to go with a colour image.”

JIMI-CLASSICJimi Hendrix by Gered Mankowitz

The pictures weren’t widely seen at the time but have since gone on to become the definitive image of Hendrix in his prime, something Gered puts down to what he got out of the performer on the day. “He allowed me in, and that’s the most important thing really. He gave the camera that little bit of himself and people come away feeling that they’ve seen something of the man and not the rock god. I felt privileged that he felt comfortable and confident enough with me to do that.”

 ‘I’m no gear freak’

Despite a career that’s lasted for over half a century, and which has seen him scale not just the heights as a music photographer but also have an equally strong separate career as an advertising and editorial photographer, Gered has stuck with one camera brand throughout. And he has only ever worked with four film models: the original 500C, one further 500C, a 500C/M and a 500EL/M. Now he also now has a digital H3D for personal work.

The Jam by Gered Mankowitz

“I used that first camera through the Sixties and would no doubt still have it now if it hadn’t been stolen,” he says. “I’m just not the kind of photographer that’s a gear freak: I’ve likewise only ever used four lenses in my career: I started out with the 50mm, 80mm and 150mm and added the 120mm when it came out. The 50mm has always been my favourite: it’s the one I used to photograph Hendrix, and although it doesn’t distort things in an obvious way the perspective slightly exaggerates the size of the head in relation to the rest of the body and creates the perfect rock and roll image.”

And why has he never looked to switch camera systems throughout his entire career? “I just couldn’t find anything better,” he says. “There was no reason for me to explore any other option: I prefer to work with stuff I feel comfortable with.”

Led Zeppelin by Gered Mankowitz

He must be doing something right: the Royal Photographic Society has just marked his distinguished career with the award of an Honorary Fellowship.

“Throughout all this time Jeff Vickers and I have remained close, and it was he who introduced me to the Royal photographic Society from whom I have recently been awarded an honorary Fellowship, for which I am delighted and very honoured”

Oasis by Gered Mankowitz

Gered’s book celebrating 50 years as a music photographer is still in print and he is launching his new Ormond Yard Press book of pictures of The Rolling Stones with an accompanying exhibition in London on April 2nd, 2016. And the location? In a delicious twist of fate it’s taking place at the Snap Gallery, located in the Piccadilly Arcade, a mere stone’s throw from where he proudly collected his very first Hasselblad all those years ago.

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