“Flames 20ft high. I don’t know how we didn’t cook him” – David Montgomery on shooting Jimi Hendrix

In The Backstage Sessions, a collaboration between Rankin and WeTransfer, three important photographers in music history reveal the stories behind their iconic portraits.

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David Montgomery, Kevin Cummins and Gered Mankowitz are different types of rock legends. These three visual chroniclers have been behind some of the most iconic photographs of myths like David Bowie, The Rolling Stones and Joy Division. In the mini-documentaries that make up The Backstage Sessions, the three photographers share curiosities, anecdotes and experiences about some of the artists who have left a mark in the history of music.

Only photography has the power to really stop time, time which we are all aware passes fast. The prodigy works to freeze one moment in a photo. And David Montgomery, Kevin Cummins and Gered Mankowitz are three of the people who have been able to achieve this in their art. They’ve been behind some of the most legendary images of artists like Joy Division, Morrissey, David Bowie, Kate Bush, The Who, Jimmi Hendrix, Rolling Stones and many more. That is why this collaboration between photographer Rankin, who acts as curator and WeTransfer has chosen them to star in this series of mini-documentaries – to hear the stories behind each of these moments.

In the short films, Cummings talks about photographing his idol, David Bowie, and attempting to capture the essence of the enigmatic Joy Division. Mankowitz will explain how he turned his Rolling Stones photographs into iconic ones using an improvised filter. Montgomery remembers epic moments like covering Roger Daltry with baked beans and creating a wall of fire behind Jimi Hendrix. Watch David Montgomery’s film with the Backstage Sessions below.

David Montgomery reveals more about his journey into photography and what it’s like photographing everyone from Mick Jagger to Her Royal Highness, the Queen.

Cecilia Winter: It has always interested me how photographers approach the art for the first time. At what age and how were you drawn to photography?
David Montgomery: I was first interested in photography at the age of ten when my father gave me a baby brownie box camera. I knew this would be my career path when I saw a Richard Avedon portrait of Duke Ellington.

David Hockney, Francis Bacon, Mick Jagger, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, the Queen! How has working with each of them come about and who has been the most comfortable or most difficult to capture?
Lots of these commissions were from the Sunday Times colour magazine. Looking back, photography has its moments of difficulty whether it be light location or timing. Shooting the Queen for The Observer was very special, and after I photographed Her Majesty, my nervous system could take anything. I was so nervous before.

Is there anyone you haven’t photographed yet but have always wanted to?
The Pope and Neil Young.

Top 1970s – Keith Moon, Bottom 1960s – The Queen at home by David Montgomery

You have captured some of the most iconic rock n roll portraits over the years… What can photography uncover that other mediums can’t?
I believe photography can capture total honesty.

Staying on the same topic, what do you think is the role of photography in the music industry?
It’s to try and portray rather normal people as extraordinary iconic individuals… which in time they may become.

Going back to The Backstage Series, what was the first thing that attracted you to this project?
Rankin is such a visionary it was exciting to work with him and be able to contribute to this project. I also use WeTransfer all the time.

Gered Mankowitz and Kevin Cummins were part of that same world during the 60s, 70s and 80s. How does it feel to be part of the same project today?
I feel honoured to be included in such professional company of photographers.

1960s Jimi Hendrix by David Montgomery

Do you have to like the person you’re photographing to get a good picture? I admire every artist that has passed through your lens, but I can’t help thinking how different each experience must have been.
Definitely not as most of the time, when I’m photographing them, I’m not fully aware of the full breadth of that person’s life. Liking somebody is not as important as making people think they are visually interesting

Which artist or group you have photographed do you remember most fondly?
Jimi Hendrix was a real down to earth, nice guy.

Robert Cappa said ‘if your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough’. Do you think pictures taken of the crowd at a gig can be as powerful as portraits?
It is an entirely different situation. The sheer magnitude of 50K people can express the mood and the adoration that is being sent to the artist. Myself, I prefer a private audience with the artist.

And finally, what do you think are the most significant challenges for music photographers in 2017?
The biggest challenges are creating something new and having good art direction to showcase it.

1970s – Paul McCartney Polaroids by David Montgomery

The Backstage Sessions published via WeTransfer Studios aim to get behind the lens of some of the most famous images of our time. The series was curated by photographer Rankin and premiered by WeTransfer. Watch the rest of the Sessions here.