Interview: Brad Elterman and the Notorious Parties of the 70’s.
by Daniel Haim
Iconic seventies photographer Brad Elterman has published a new volume featuring fifty-five black & white and color versions of his iconic images. Elterman had the incredible good fortune of arriving on the pop culture scene in 1974 as a teenager with a camera around his neck. He captured hundreds of legendary images of the kind most photographers can only dream. Like It Was Yesterday curates shockingly candid, under-produced portraits of larger-than-life personalities like Michael Jackson, Madonna, Frank Sinatra, Joan Jett, Phil Spector, Joey Ramone and Muhammad Ali into a seventy-two page work of art.
“Brad’s photos provide a rare, often raunchy glimpse into a rock and roll history where it seems Brad is always at the right place at the right time, camera ready. There is even a photo of Dylan posing with a young Deniro at The Roxy in 1976! There might be a better chance of quadruplet albinos being born under a solar eclipse, than a cosmic opportunity like that happening again in a young photographer’s career.”
The book begins with a raucous image of an anonymous topless woman dancing at a Hollywood pool party, and ends with an intimate shot of Elterman’s mother speaking to Andy Warhol. The pages in between tell the story of celebrity in the 1970s and 1980s. But not in the slick, censored way stars are usually portrayed. Elterman’s photographs aren’t hindered by publicists or Photoshop. The shots of Sex-Pistol Steve Jones, naked in a pool and clutching his member, and Joan Jett and Sandy West eating fries on the Santa Monica pier are unadulterated and unabashed: they are the real deal.
Elterman was an early trendsetter on the scene, and his raw photographic style is all the rage today. After a two-decade break, the tanned, big-haired adonis of the seventies is back shooting photos of today’s pop culture. Film camera in hand, he is immortalizing a new generation of stars, freezing their essence in time the same way he does within the pages of Like It Was Yesterday.
“Today I do photo sessions with subjects who project an element of coolness, where I can achieve a raw, but still elegant photograph. Young participants of pop culture today are a bit mesmerized by my early work, and that makes all of this so gratifying for me.” – Elterman.
A run of 500 limited edition, signed copies of Like It Was Yesterday releases December 2, 2010. Seventy-two pages, fifty-five photographs, $100. Designed by Garland Lyn. Published by Seventy Seven Press, LLC. Printed by Toppan of Japan.
In the meantime, we found two hard-cover copies available on Amazon for $150. You can pick your copy right here before it sells out. Make sure you get one, this is a collectors piece for sure.
Daniel: Tell us about yourself, where did all of this begin for you?
Brad: It all started for me during the mid-seventies when I was a teenager attending High School and discovering rock and roll. I had been following Bob Dylan’s music for several years, but he had been in total hibernation. One day there was a big article in the Los Angeles Times newspaper that Dylan was going to tour again and with The Band. This was giant news as Dylan fans had given up on him ever touring again. I was determined to attend the concert and by total luck and the blessing of god I scored two front row tickets to the concert. I took my best pal Jeff Sackman and brought my brother’s Canon camera. I also brought along two rolls of film. One color and one black and white. I sat thinking that I was witnessing one of the greatest performances of all time and Dylan was right in my lap. I just sat there and picked my shots.
I had been toying with photography and I had taken a darkroom class at summer camp. I think I had photographed a few prior concerts, but I was half a mile aways from the talent. After the Dylan concert I rushed home, developed the film, made the prints and mailed them out to Creem, Circus, Rolling Stone and Sounds, a weekly London music paper. I got rejection letters from everyone except for Sounds who actually published one of the photo. That was back in 1974.
I did not get a photo credit, but I got a check for about $10, but that did not matter and I was on my way. It’s difficult to describe the rush that I was feeling during all of this. It was such a high to see Dylan, taking the photos and then to actually have one published. My dad wanted me to attend medical or dental school, but my mom was an artist and she was so cool and supportive of me. I knew without a bit of hesitation that I wanted to photograph rock and roll and pop culture. My timing was perfect, I had the drive and access to a camera. Nothing was going to stop me and there were some hurdles, but I was so driven back then and I could not comprehend the term “no photos”.
Daniel: Describe to us the first shot that you captured that established you as a pap
Brad: I never considered myself as a paparazzo. Ninety percent of the time I was working with the bands, their record companies and the magazines. Very rarely would I unleash a paparazzo technique; when I did it was only as a very last restart and only to capture a real icon who I could not get photos of by the traditional manor. Bowie walking down the street in 1975 was taken after I had been turned down for a photo pass . I had the Bowie tip and nothing to lose so I made the photo. He was totally cool and was a bit blown away that I waited all night to get the photograph. My dealer Daniel Brow at LEADAPRON in Los Angeles just hung the photograph in his cool gallery this week. I count my lucky stars that I was turned down for that photo pass!
Daniel: When you first started, what was your biggest dream? And have you accomplished that?
Brad: My dream was to meet Bob Dylan and I did that in 1976. After that dream had been met I was having so much fun photographing bands and celebrities that I just let the party continue. That party is long over with, but the memories live on. Today there are new dreams and today I have been invigorated by the connection between the internet and photography. I feel that it is all in its infancy. There are photos still to take and posts to be made on my blog. The photo market today is very challenging, but I am having just about as much fun today as I was photographing my pals The Ramones back in 1977.
Daniel: Who’s your favorite photographer?
Brad: Today it would be Helmut Newton. I never met Helmut, but I stood next to him at his opening at Place Vendome in Paris in the early eighties. He knew how to capture a moment in human beings and that is something that I always strive for. I learned very early on that this was not all about snapping a bunch of pictures and seeing what comes out. It was really about taking a deep breath, directing your subject and really picking your shots.
Daniel: Who do you draw your inspirations from?
Brad: Back in the day I was inspired by photographers Richard Creamer, Terry O’Neal, Ken Regan and Julian Wasser. These were all great photo journalists. Today I drawn inspiration from all sorts of young photographers and their blogs. Most of their photographs remind me of my early flash on camera shooting style. I adore that Cobrasnake kid. He really reminds me of me!
Daniel: Has photography always been a part of your life? Is it something you’ve always planned to do as a career?
Brad: Yes, photos have always been part of my life. I stopped taking photos for two decades while I was running a couple of photo agencies. I do not think that I missed much in the way of cool pop culture photos though. During those 20 years I was more interested in the business of photography than taking photos.
Daniel: Rolling on from your success, I am aware you have been involved for many years in image syndication, particularly in the world of celebrity images. What are your feelings in regards to syndication of beauty and fashion editorials?
Brad: I was interested in the syndication of photos right from the start. I always enjoyed draining every last cent out of a photograph. Beauty and fashion is universal around the world and a natural for syndication.
Daniel: You’ve signed with photo agency Factory311. They have launched their image licensing campaign, which you are also signed to. How do you think that this will help you and the agency grow?
Brad: I am working with Factory 311 for one sole reason and that is Nick Hardy. Nick walked in off the street last summer at my Venice exhibition and what impressed me the most was his enthusiasm. Nick loves this business and he is so young. In Los Angeles everyone slaps you on the back and tells you a bunch of BS, but I could tell that he was the real thing. Nick has been pushing me to take new photographs and I am following his instruction. I think that my early photographs add a cool dimension to the Factory311 collection. I was just in London a few months ago and was blown away with the their new studio and all of the creative energy. Nick met me at their local tube station on his bicycle! So refreshing.
Daniel: How do you feel the industry has changed over the years?
Brad: It is like night and day. Back then we had icons to photograph. Today, all we have is reality stars and performers, but no real icons. Lindsay Lohan is the only person who I find captivating and that is all about her relationship with the camera. The movement of photos today is a breeze with the internet. Back in the day I was mailing hundreds of photos a week to dozens of magazines around the world and today it is all about the clic of a mouse. Back in the day I had hardly any competition and today we are flooded with imagery. The Japanese had never seen my kind of coverage of the L.A scene before I started with Music Life in the mid seventies. They ate it all up and published EVERYTHING. Today unless you have great photos, they will never see the light of day in any market.
Daniel: Are you planning on dusting off your cameras? What’s on the horizon for you?
Brad: They are already dusted off and I have two photo shoots set up for this week. I am not about to reinvent my style, everything that I am shooting today is going to stay in the same underproduced style from the seventies which is so in vogue today. Natural light and easy on the flash. No giant crews with pushy publicists hanging around either. The only thing that I am going to embrace is working with a good stylist. Back in the day, no one had any money or a budget to hire anyone. Today the styling is paramount. It’s funny everyone today wants to be seventies styled and I think that is going to stick around for a while.
Daniel:In your own opinion what are 5 tools that a photographer cannot leave without?
1) A point and shoot camera
4) Contaxt T3