POV

Rocking it with Gene Shaw

At Elmira College, I used sit in my dorm room and blast “Talk Talk” by The Psychedelic Furs on my turntable.

Images by Gene Shaw Interview by Jill Gould
Richard ©Gene Shaw

Richard Butler ©Gene Shaw

You have photographed some of the biggest music legends out there. David Bowie, Prince, U2, Mick Jagger, Bo Diddley, Elton John, The Who, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Guy, Bob Dylan, Robert Plant, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello… The list goes on and on. You have captured such amazing talent both on and off the stage. How did you get into the business of rock photography? What is your process? Tell us about your access to the artists and how you get your shots?
When I was seventeen-years-old, I scored a job working at The Palladium selling Mateus wine and Miller beer with the help of Wite-Out and a photocopied birth certificate. From working the beer pit I graduated to working security in front of the stage. One day I said to myself, I should turn around from here and shoot pictures. So, I borrowed my friend Tommy Auletta’s camera and started shooting shows. This was where I developed my eye for tak¬ing live concert pictures. Being the house photographer at The Palladium, The Ritz and Irving Plaza was great for access and not having to deal with publicists and A&R people. I just walked in and shot what I wanted. I was photographing four to five concerts a week and enjoying great live music. In the 80’s, there was a policy of club courtesy between night clubs in New York that you could pop into each other’s club and extended the same courtesy when they visited our club. It was a great time period working as a rock n’ roll photographer. You were appreciated as an artist with your ability to publish great images of musicians. It’s great that this medium is being respected by the art world and prices for rock n’ roll images have climbed.

Penn ©Gene Shaw

Penn ©Gene Shaw

What type of cameras and film did you use?
I used a Nikon F3 camera. During this time period, you were shooting black and white film, Kodachrome or Ektachrome slides or color negatives. You had to get it right because if you were off by 2fstops either way you had no image to correct. There was no digital image that could be corrected in the camera or photo shop. You either got the images or not. You had to be on top of your game or you came back with nothing. I generally preferred to shoot Kodachrome because of the true colors that this film was able to produce. I did shoot Ektachrome from time to time because to shoot a live performance without flash you could push this film comfortably to 1200 ASA before the grain started to look like golf balls. Black and white was always a beautiful medium when you had enough time to shoot color and black and white for your assignment.

David Bowie ©Gene Shaw

David Bowie ©Gene Shaw

Where do you find your inspiration?
I look for inspiration through music and images. I had an assignment for a Japanese rock and roll magazine to photograph Yngwie Malmsteen at The Royalton Hotel. I embraced Irving Penn’s body of work. Especially, his portrait series using canvas as a background. I sat and studied Penn’s exhibition catalog from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, which inspired me to create this image. I used the canvas folds to create an illusion that Yngwie is swimming with his guitar. One can and should always find inspiration in art and artists and then push those boundaries to another level.

Prince ©Gene Shaw

Prince ©Gene Shaw

You also photograph behind the scenes of movie sets. How did these jobs come about?
Back in the 90’s, the location of movie sets was coveted information. You had to know someone on the production team, a police officer in the film production office or the luck of the cards finding the location. There were a few New York press photographers that would photograph these sets. The publicist would work with you to get your picture, so they could see images in the daily newspapers the following day. We would all work to have these pictures published in newspapers or next week’s People magazine. These days with the hundreds of photographers that roam the streets and fans armed with camera phones, these once coveted sets have become press junkets.

Furs ©Gene Shaw

Psychedelic Furs ©Gene Shaw

Al Pacino, Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson, Cher, Kathy Bates, Brad Pitt, and Sean Penn are some of the many celebrities you have photographed on movie sets. Whether you are photographing a concert or behind the scenes of a film, how are you able to get your shots without getting in the artists’ way and interrupting their creative process?
My style has always been to evaporate into the background to come away with intimate images. I have never had the need to be seen, but to capture my subject relaxed. I don’t ever want to hang with celebrities as a means to becoming a fixture. Also, I found that once that line was crossed, the publicist and or celebrity want to control the images that you submit for publication. My vibe has always been laid back, so whomever I’m capturing they can be themselves and not guarded. Lots of photographers turn off celebrities by their aggressiveness to get an image. So, to be cool, calm and collected works the best for me. This is not an easy feat on the streets where everyone’s senses are heightened by the bells and whistles of New York City. Also, everyone involved in the caravan/circus do appreciate any semblance of calm.

Beck-King ©Gene Shaw

Beck-King ©Gene Shaw

You have covered Eric Clapton for over 30 years and have one of the largest, if not the largest, collection of Clapton photographs. Why did you focus on covering Clapton instead of another guitar legend?
I grew up on a steady diet of The Jackson Five, Stevie Wonder, Sam Cooke, and Ray Charles, but when I ventured out of the projects it was the guitar heroes that my friends played. If you went over to Tommy Aulleta’s house Blackmore was king; over at Anthony Gatti’s it was Jimmy Page; venturing over to Scott Doro’s was Peter Frampton; at Gerard Disalvo’s it was Michael Schenker, Joey DiSalvo had Robin Trower, and Joey Sekera’s was Eric Clapton. The first time I heard EC was in Joey’s railroad flat, and Eric’s guitar was bouncing through the railroad apartment. He was very passionate about EC, so he took me into his after-school pro¬gram of EC 101. He used to play the Yardbirds, Blues Breakers, Delaney & Bonnie, Derek and the Dominoes, Cream, The Concert for Bangladesh, The Last Waltz, and Eric Clapton solo. He would always tell me how Eric’s playing was so effortless. While other guys would jump around, playing flashy, Eric just stood there and played hard. Joey, on the other hand, would run around the flat, jumping up and down acting, make exaggerated faces while playing air guitar triplets during “Let It Rain.” The reason I made Eric Clapton my guitar god was because he played the blues, reg¬gae, country, rock n’ roll, and hard rock. Little did I know at the time that Joey’s class of EC 101 would lead me to fly around the world photographing Eric Clapton for thirty years, so far . . .

Clapton ©Gene Shaw

Clapton ©Gene Shaw

You recently published Journeyman, Eric Clapton, A Photographic Narrative. How did this book come about?
I had this vision of using my Eric Clapton images together with the memoir of my spiritual life to tell a story. My good friend, Michael Becker invited me to a sushi dinner with the president of Dover publications and over raw fish my dream became reality.
Your photographs in the book are amazing, but so is your narrative as you take the reader to the shows with you and give them that experience. Tell us about that.
When I write, there is a stream of conscience that puts me back to a place and time where the words just flow and I can recall every detail of the experience on paper. So, it was not a hard process to bring the events to the light of day.

Richard-Tim Butler ©Gene Shaw

Richard-Tim Butler ©Gene Shaw

What are some of your greatest career experiences?
At Elmira College, I used sit in my dorm room and blast “Talk Talk” by The Psychedelic Furs on my turntable. “There’s demonstration and demonstrations listen to the weatherman they’re not saying anything”. Then after graduating, back at home in New York, I went to see The Furs at The Beacon Theater and met them in a smoked filled room at Danceteria after the show. It was a dream coming true. We became instant friends and started to hang out the very next day. This is where I learned my lesson when artists wish to control your images (lovingly as always-lol). At this point of time, The Gramercy Park Hotel was where all rock n’ roll bands stayed and where I married Marcia Torke with Tim Butler (Furs bass player) as my Best Man. The Furs took me on tour from Seattle down to San Diego and from Manchester to London, England. This was a very romantic period of my life, living on the road and enjoying all things life has to offer, on road with your favorite band, travel on the band’s tour bus, stay in the same hotel and have unlimited access. This experience was one of the most rewarding in my career. These days, when I see my photographs sell to help benefit cancer patients or a homeless person this is now my goal. That one’s passion could help others survive is a beautiful thing.

R. Downey Jr. ©Gene Shaw

R. Downey Jr. ©Gene Shaw

What advice do you have for anyone who wants to get into the field of professional photography?
These days to make it as a photographer you have to be tech savvy. This field is dominated by technology and being able to have full control of the images you produce or correct for others. You must go out and connect with people because everything is interconnected through the web, which lacks the human touch. You communicate and submit photos via the web, so the human element is sometimes lost. You need to physically meet the people who view your work because without meeting they will never know you beyond an image.

See more of Gene’s work
www.facebook.com/Journeyman-A-Photographic-Narrative
www.facebook.com/Gene-Shaw-Photographywww.geneshaw.com

Cher ©Gene Shaw

Cher ©Gene Shaw

Dylan -Clapton ©Gene Shaw

Dylan -Clapton ©Gene Shaw

Yngwie Malmsteen ©Gene Shaw

Yngwie Malmsteen ©Gene Shaw

 

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