Friday, 15 April 2011

Paul Slattery Rock Photography Masterclass British Music Experience, O2 Centre Greenwich

I attended a very interesting master class on Rock Photography by the legendary music photographer Paul Slattery at the British Music Experience at the O2 Centre recently. It was highly entertaining for the packed out crowd, a varied mix of photography professionals, students and music fans, some like me who could barely tell their f-stop from their e-chord.

Paul Slattery (left) at the British Music Experience - Photo by Steve Worrall
Paul started by discussing how he got started in a career that would go on to include jobs at the NME and Sounds, along with numerous book, magazine and album cover work. At first his approach to music photography was more energetic persistence than technical skill, something that he would later learn from experience and studies as he went along. Going along to gigs as a fan with a camera, getting down the front, taking some superb action shots, he would then take prints along to show the bands at later concerts. 

Paul Slattery in front of Dee Dee Ramone - Photo by Steve Worrall
We learned how through this approach he managed to get close to bands; this was of course before the age of the ridiculous brick wall of PR’s and Managers that would make this method very difficult today. He developed a knack of photographing bands in the very early stages of sometimes very long and/or successful careers and took amongst the very first shots of Joy Divison, U2 and The Fall.
Paul told us how he seemed to hit it off with a lot of his subjects, gaining that all-important trust that would enable him to get up close and lead to relaxed and intimate  off-stage photos. He mentioned how he became a good drinking buddy of Lemmy from Motorhead, who had a big influence on Paul’s love of the Rock & Roll lifestyle. 

More iconic shots followed - The Smiths in Paris and Manchester, Joe Strummer and The Clash, Bon Scott, Bob Marley, Ramones on a rainy Belfast street, “They were terrified” Paul said “these leather clad rockers from tough New York scared of going out on the street in Northern Ireland”. In fact Paul talked almost as much about his love of raw Rock & Roll than he did about photography, even providing his own playlist soundtrack to the slideshow! You could feel the influence of the music itself on his photography though and he showed some of his best examples of shots of his hero Link Wray, his favourite band The Gun Club, and the blurred strumming hand of Johnny Ramone.
Wilko Johnson looks down on Paul Slattery at the British Music Experience - Photo by Steve Worrall
Someone in the audience asked how he got to know Oasis and he explained that he had a tip-off from someone at the studio where the band were recording their first demo. Crate of beer duly bought, Paul went along to the studio and his alcoholic offering was the catalyst for a close relationship with the band, culminating with an invitation to join the band on their first tour of Japan.

So, a very different and inspiring night out indeed, maybe not so much if you wanted to learn about exposures and the technical side of photography, but certainly from an artistic “get out there and give it a go, take as many photos as you can” point of view.

Paul had two excellent books on sale “The Smiths: The Early Years”, and “Oasis: A Year on The Road” – I suppose if there are still good bookshops around these days they will be available there. Otherwise the old internet will provide.

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