Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Interview with Carl Dunn
September 2003.

Carl Dunn’s interest in photography began at around the time of the first wave of British musicians hit American shores in the mid sixties. Since then Carl has photographed many major rock stars and musicians over the last thirty-five years. His book “This Is Rock & Roll” was recently published and features many of the major rock musicians Carl has photographed and stands as an amazing document of the music scene of the late twentieth century.

Jon Kirkman talked to Carl about the book in mid September 2003 following the books publication in America

Jon Kirkman How did you first get into photographing Rock Bands or Artists? Was it by accident or was it something you decided you wanted to do.

Carl Dunn I had always loved music, and would try to attend all of the concerts that came to the area. I suppose that there was a photographic latency there somewhere. I would sneak my mothers Polaroid camera off to school and shoot pictures of bands off the television. My first real photographic excursion occurred when I took that same Polaroid camera to a Rolling Stones concert in 1965 in Tulsa Oklahoma. I took about three shots before getting thrown out of the hall by the police. Later I found out that a friend of mine from school was there with a 35mm and a telephoto lens. I saw some of the black and white shots that he had taken as well as some shots of the Animals and the Dave Clark Five. These photographs left a lasting impression on me, but it would be three more years before I purchased my first 35mm camera (Nikon F). By that time I had moved to Dallas Texas. There were many concert tours that came through the area but even with good seats it was very difficult to get anything that would document my concert experience. Gradually I acquired more equipment, but my biggest break came when a local promoter gave me access to his show's. I suppose the short answer would be I decided early on that I wanted to take photographs of music artist, but had no clue as to where to start.

JK How did you choose the photographs that make up this particular book?

CD In selecting photographs for the book my primary objective was to illustrate a generation of young men and women whose creative abilities had left what I considered a very dramatic impact on me personally and society in general. I also wanted other people to see these young and talented artists and to view the same passion that I was privileged to witness.

JK Do you have a favourite artist that you like to work with and more importantly do you always like the music of the artists you photograph.

CD It would be very difficult for me to select a favorite artist from among so many GREAT artist of the time. I would say that Jimi Hendrix would have to be very near the top. But having said that I can see that even when I look through my own work, I recall so many great Led Zeppelin shows, great Rod Stewart shows, ELP, the Who, and so on. Naturally there were a few whose music didn’t interest me as much, but the excitement of a “live performance” always peaked my photographic interest.

JK Are there any artists that you have never worked with but would like to work with?

CD This may strike you as a bit unusual but
I would have enjoyed Frank Sinatra, and some of the more obscure (by that I mean artists that seldom came to the Dallas area perhaps Collin Blunstone, or John Martyn) artist that I never had the opportunity to see. Of the artist that were touring or in play during the time I was shooting I suppose I miss having seen more of Eric Clapton and being able to view him up close.

JK As someone who sees the photographs you take in magazines or on album sleeves I see many photographs in your book that really capture a moment. For example the look on Jimmy Pages face at the top of page 99, do you ever think when you see the photographs developed “Yeah. I got that one ok”

CD Yes indeed. To me it is the difference between a snapshot and a photograph.

JK How easy is it to be non intrusive and yet get close enough to get “That” shot.

CD To me it was very easy. Selecting the proper location to shoot from and having a good selection of lens for the location is a start, but having the access is the key. If I were lucky enough to have seen more than one show that would make "that shot" even easier.

JK Looking at these photographs in the book would you agree that some of them could be defined definitive. Again as an example the picture of Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood on page 95

CD Yes, I think there are many photographs in the book would fall into that category, in fact they imply something about my view of these artist.

JK I see that you have photographs of Elvis Presley in the book. How much time do you get when you photograph a big star like that and how much of a say on where the photos go do you have as Elvis Presley’s management seemed to control everything about him at the time.

CD Elvis was probably one of the first artists whose management tried to control what the public would be allowed access to. They had his image on everything from coffee cups to ashtrays.
I was able to shoot during the entire show, however I would never venture backstage, because I was aware of the tight control that accompanied Elvis tours. Shooting from the front of the stage was the best position. I was surprised by the lack of production in Elvis shows. The lighting was usually very harsh, and concentrated exclusively on Elvis.

JK Do you have a favourite photograph in the book and if so which one is it? (My favourite incidentally is Pete Townshend on page 131. I’m a bit biased though as I’m a massive Who fan

CD Here again this is a very difficult call. I do have a particular passion for the shot of Jimi Hendrix on page 34. I have always wanted to see that shot in print.

JK I see that the book is entitled “This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Volume One”. How soon can we expect to see Volume 2?

CD I've actually been considering a design for Volume Two, but I don't have a schedule as to when I may start producing something of substance, besides I need to see how this book is received. It was a very expensive book to produce.

JK Have you ever had an exhibition of your work and can people buy copies of the photographs.

CD I have had a few photographs on exhibit, and for sale included with other photographers, but never an exhibition of just my work, however all photographs from the book will be available at a reasonable price, as original art.

JK Have any of the artists you have photographed ever specifically asked to have prints because they liked the photographs you took.

CD Yes, I can specifically recall request from the members of Led Zeppelin, the Moody Blues, and Jeff Beck. Naturally I was delighted to receive this sort of acknowledgment and very willing to comply with their request.

JK When you got into the industry there obviously weren’t as many people doing what you do so the market was perhaps a little easier to get into. If you were to give someone any pointers to getting into the business now what would you tell them.

CD I always found that an interesting picture speaks volumes. The trick is to be able to get such a picture. As far as today’s market, it would seem that groups have become obsessed with controlling every aspect of their performance, which would make it extremely difficult for someone who is trying to start photographing music. It would be impossible to do what I have done in the environment of today's concert venues, without some sort of credible background.

JK Finally, your book really does contain classic shots of classic artists do you think that there are any new artists coming through that in a few years time perhaps people would find in a book of yours and be able to say Yeah They’re classic artists.

CD The impetus for what I did 30 years ago was for me the music, and the passion that it inspired. Each generation has had its performer’s and musical trends that represent that generation’s musical taste. It occurs to me that the generation that I represent may have depleted a lot of the essence and environment that made these artists. Whether the current generation can truly overcome this and create their own musical landscape and if that landscape survives, to become referred to, as "classic” would be hard for me to predict. The artists that I have photographed have established and extremely high water mark not only in the quality of what they created but its ongoing commercial appeal. Additionally I need to hear something that can rekindle my own passion. (Here again I suppose the short answer would be "maybe")

JK Thanks for your time Carl your book is an excellent document and archive of great musical artists of the late twentieth century.

CD Thank you for this complement and the opportunity to share my thoughts on a subject that is very close to my heart. I consider music a direct expression of a person's soul.

© Jon Kirkman Rockahead 2003

Check out Carl’s book and website here


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