Recognise these iconic images? You should. Brad Elterman, hailing from notorious Beverly Hills, California, has been taking photographs of rock n’ roll legends since the early 1970s, and as a result has become a bit of a living legend himself. From orchestrating the iconic kiss between John Travolta and Olivia Newton John as Danny and Sandy; to risking being spat on by punk-rock-poster-boys the Sex Pistols in order to get the perfect shot, Brad has seen and done it all - but, he says, it all started as a simple dream of meeting his own idols, such as Bob Dylan; becoming one of music’s most important photographers didn’t cross his mind until this title was well and truly earned.
As a long time admirer of his work, I was lucky enough to chat with Brad recently about Bob Dylan, blogging and what it truly means to be a photographer…
(Daisy Lola for DAMNED): Just to start us off with, Brad, you’ve worked with a lot of seriously amazing and influential people throughout your career - I’m personally most jealous of John Travolta, Debbie Harry and, of course, The Pistols, but who have been YOUR favourite people to work with over the years?
): Personally, my fondest memories were taking photos of any and all of producer Kim Fowley’s bands. That included, The Runaways, Orchids & Venus & The Razor Blades. You see, we were all so young and starting out in our careers and dreams. Kim had a great eye and ear for talent and his bands were all so sexy. It was the perfect ingredient to attract the eye of magazine editors all over Europe and Japan.. Working with Leif Garrett was amazing too. Taking the assignment from Bob Dylan to set up a photo of him with Robert DeNiro and his pals was also cosmic. That is an evening that I will never forget.
Were you a punk rocker yourself? I can imagine you pogo-ing!
Oh yeah, I would take the stage shirtless in black tight leather pants and belt out Velvet Underground songs at The Starwood! NOT REALLY. Just a joke, but I should have. I was too shy.
What I love about your photos is how much soul and personality you capture; even your posed studio shots look like candids! What’s the trick to capturing this rare type of beauty?
Thank you for your kind words. It takes time to get to know your subject and for them to feel comfortable with you. All of those cool 70’s bands were friends of mine and we saw each other all the time at all the clubs and parties so I was a familiar face and they trusted me. I really did not say much to them when I would click the shutter. Today, I speak more to my subjects. I need to, because I am still getting to know them.
Do you maintain any friendships now with the people you’ve photographed?
Only a few. I still see Steve Jones from The Sex Pistols from time to time. He lives up the street from me. Leif once in a blue moon and Joan once every decade or so. I really need to call Cherie and catch up with her.
I think that being a photographer is like being a journalist in many ways - we’re the first writers of history if you think about it in the sense that your work will be used in fifty or a hundred years time when people are describing Bob Dylan! Does it ever overwhelm you, or did you always want to capture moments that would last forever?
Back in the 70’s my motivation was to meet these legends. Shake their hands. Speak with them and stare into their eyes. Just like when I met Dylan. The photo thing was to create a timestamp so I would never forget that moment. I learned quickly that the camera would also support my lifestyle and keep me from going to dental school. I never really thought about the longevity of my photo archive.
Though you’re most famous for photographing icons, you have also done a lot of work with up and comers recently, I remember being particularly inspired by your shoot with Kris Kidd - how do you pick and choose who to photograph nowadays?
I want to photograph subjects who have a certain coolness and raw talent to them. It’s not about looks. I am attracted to eccentrics. Kris Kidd was an amazing subject. I did not know anything about him, but my friend Nettie Harris told me to take his photo. He was wonderful and such a natural. He is an amazing writer and I keep telling him write some songs and form a punk band.
I asked my Tumblr followers what they wanted to hear from you, and the vast majority wanted to know if you have any tips for young, aspiring photographers?
Digital cameras are good and cheap these days. Pick your niche and be good at it. Make a website. Make a blog. It ‘s incredibly important for blogs to pick up your photos so do not be afraid of anyone stealing your photos on the internet. I find it a big compliment when someone reposts one of my photos. The internet has created is the opportunity to show your work to followers and potential clients around the world. Do not be shy about self promotion. Corporate America has a big checkbook and they are watching the blogs looking for talented young photographers. If your decision is to take wedding photos or shoot for the local newspaper, its all the same promotion. Most importantly, have fun with it.