Elvis Costello - The Trust Sessions 1981
Elvis Costello was the first person I ever photographed in a Studio, it was March 1978. We did it at the same time as the two consecutive NME Cover stories, one with Nick Lowe, the other of him sitting on a bench. I never showed them to the paper, mainly because they were in color, but also because Studio Photography was not allowed yet, documentary, live, or while they were being interviewed was the norm back then.
I set about changing that, but I had to wait until 1980 and the launch of the Face before anyone took me seriously, Pop Stars on White was simply not considered interesting, it was considered to be boring, the stuff for PR photos.
But in 1979 Jake Riviera asked me to shoot EC in the Studio for Armed Forces, he had a vision of Elvis smoking, I had a vision of him standing with his guitar, his feet awkwardly bent, but in the end a painting of a Herd of Charging Elephants was used, Jake's smoking photo was put on ice, and the full length shot was printed 70 feet high above the Dominion in Tottenham Court Road.
Trust was our next venture into the Studio, this time it was somber, dark hat, coat and suit, a cigarette in hand, it got proofed, but in the end it lost out to a frame from Barney Bubbles Video for New Lace Sleeves, a color shot of EC looking over his glasses, it became somewhat Iconic.
The pose was something we came up with in the Studio, weeks before the video. That image had a Frank Sinatra vibe to it, his hand making the perfect wave, I loved it but it was not part of the brief, so it appears here for the first time.
Next up was something that was the ultimate photographic honor, the chance to use the giant 20x24 Polaroid camera, that produced an instant print two feet high, there were only five of these cameras in the world.
I called EC and asked him if he would sit for me, he eagerly agreed, the camera was incredibly slow to use, and you only got ten sheets of film, I shot nine frames, with only three decent photos, one of which appeared on the cover of the Face, the last frame however was something completely different. He looked away from the lens, I asked him to look down, wearing his black beret Jake joked that it was his Laurence Olivier pose, in retrospect that was quite a compliment.
We shot more pictures to go with the Face story, but it was 1982 and from his bag he produced a blue sweater, and matching blue glasses. I documented it, but kept it hidden, if Jake had seen that I would be in trouble, no way would he want EC to be photographed in that outfit. I thought it was cute, but it remained under wraps for 32 years.
In 1986 we worked again, around the time of King of America, as well as some Django Reinhardt looking ones, EC suddenly appeared in a bright yellow coat, and black watch tartan shoes, I made him jump up and down, jumping for joy was the Fleet Street name for it.
In 1991 he teamed up with the Brodsky Quartet and I got to shoot him with Classical Musicians, they were about to go on tour, I warned the musicians of the perils to come. You are going to get screamed at, way more than the polite applause you get at Classical a concerts, it will change you forever, you will never be the same again, I was right.
Although I had given up photographing people by the mid nineties, I did agree in 1996 to do one last session in New York, to promote North, his latest disc, I used a large format 4x5 camera this time, the results were simple, but stunning. I used my favorite trick, the black turtle neck sweater, cover up the neck, hide few pounds, it worked as advertised.
I always had fun in the studio with him, he enjoyed dressing up, and throwing a few shapes for the camera, we never failed to produce good work, the chemistry between us had been there since the first time we met, it's still there now 35 years later.
Being friends and shooting stars is the best way to work, I had similar chemistry with Phil Lynott and Pete Townshend, but I enjoyed working with Elvis the best of all...