David Gilmour - London 1983
When I received a call to see if I was interested in photographing David Gilmour I could not reply in the affirmative quickly enough. Not only that but it gave me the chance to work with Storm Thorgerson of Hipgnosis fame.
Storm was the one who inspired me to become a photographer, the sleeve for Atom Heart Mother featured a cow, no band photos at all, how cool was that. I fantasized about being the photographer, what a great way to earn a living, I was only 15 but my mind was made up, this is what I wanted to do. The chance to work with Storm and David 12 years later made that dream come true.
The word came from on high, "Tell Chalkie to get a Water Cooler" but we don't have them in the UK so I told him no. He refused to budge, we got one from America, I asked why? He said I have got this Photo, trust me. We were booked into a white background studio, I could not fathom this water cooler bit, but, whatever he wants I'll do it.
The Water Cooler arrives, we fill it with water, we wait three hours for Storm to show, I ask to see this picture, he hands it to me. It was James Dean, outside a store, leaning on a Water Cooler. He was radiating handsomeness. My heart dropped, David's not used to this studio photo stuff, no way can I turn him into James Dean instantly. And Storm wanted to start with this.
But I was touched by the fact that he thought I could turn his friend into James Dean, that David could become James Dean. David is David, he's very special, but I could not possibly do that without teaching him how to act in front of the camera, not just be himself, and teaching him that would take a few hours.
Storm starts ordering everyone around, barking orders at the crew, they get nervous moving the cooler and knock it over, the glass shatters, the studio gets flooded. I'm relieved and smile at David, he smiles back and opens a guitar case, out comes the Red Strat and he sits in this cheap plastic chair and entertains us for 45 minutes while they mop up the studio.
Starr takes an SX70 Polaroid of him doing this, in my friend Scott Crolla's groovy shirt, then we realize he needs stubble, he's so clean-shaven that he lacks his look, he has none of that slight grubbiness he needs, so I tell Storm and we cancel the whole thing. Just one SX70 had been taken, thousands of pounds had been spent.
We regroup in the Canteen at Abbey Road, figure out the growth time, then it came to the crunch, I had to persuade Storm not to come to the reshoot, he needed to trust us to do our work in private, our little portrait studio was in the garage of a Mews House, it was tiny. David came, Starr did his make up this time and nobody else but Storm's trusty Ambassador, Andrew Ellis was present,
It features the difficult photographic technique of lighting from below, needed to cast a slight shadow up onto his cheek and to generally add a bit of drama, he's such an incredibly nice and handsome person that I felt we needed to make him a little tougher looking. We gave him my battered old leather jacket, put him on a chair and went in close on his face, he happened to move his arm quickly and his hand crossed his face and looked like he was thumbing a lift, Starr managed to catch this frame and ultimately it was used as the cover. She liked people smiling, I liked them moody, so the portrait you see here went on the inner bag and the happy one on the cover, after all David is a pretty happy kind of chap, so it fitted in well.
It was also pretty cool to have his Electric Blue Porsche parked outside our crummy garage for the afternoon.
One of the things that comes as a bonus when photographing guitarists is that you can ask them to bring a couple of instruments with them, it does two things, it gives them something to hold and covet in front of the camera, it also gives them something to do when backgrounds and lights are being changed. And they do what they do best, they play their guitar. It's a very privileged thing to hear them noodling about whilst they are waiting, and, you get to see some pretty amazing guitars too.
Also worth mentioning is that when he reformed Pink Floyd seven years later with my dear friend Guy Pratt replacing Roger Waters on Bass, they Toured the US after a month of rehearsals in an empty Aircraft Hanger at Toronto Airport.
Sitting in a pair of Directors chairs Storm and I watched the final night of rehearsals with the full Stage Show including Lasers, the band played a two hour set to an audience of less than ten people. To say it was a mind blowing experience would be understating things, the best bit was during the encore when they played Comfortably Numb, with it being the last night they took a chance and opened the Hanger doors just as David got to the guitar solo, the lasers projected out into the night sky creating an incredible light show, then, just as the song was finishing a Jumbo Jet went by and the Floyd's stage set was dwarfed by the size of this massive plane.
The reason for the tiny audience was that in order to get to the gig you had to be driven across the runways at Toronto's Pearson Airport in a special vehicle, it had two huge flags sticking up from the roof in order to make it visible to the Pilots of all the Jets that were taking off and landing, obviously that's a highly restricted access route so it meant very few people other than the Band and Crew could get there...