The Rolling Stones – 53 years in photography

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At over 500 pages and weighing 10 pounds, Taschen’s new photographic survey of The Rolling Stones reflects the magnitude of the band’s 53-year-long career.

Philip Townsend’s photograph of the band wearing checked suits and slightly awkward smiles on the eve of their first British tour is among the images to document the band’s bright-eyed and blues-obsessed beginnings.

Shots from the height of fame follow, such as Michael Cooper’s saturated colour photographs, which capture the band draped in all the trappings of 60s psychedelia. The journey draws to a close with Anton Corbijn’s striking black and white shots of The Stones in 2005, visibly aged but lacking none of the spark of youth.

For a publication that boasts the work of several prominent photographers – Cecil Beaton, David Bailey, Ethan Russell and Annie Leibovitz to name but a few – choosing a cover must have been difficult. A photograph taken by British photographer Gered Mankowitz is given the pride of place. Shot during the same session which produced the cover of the band’s 1967 album Between the Buttons, the image shows the slightly bedraggled band vignetted by a blurred haze.

“It was taken following an all-night recording session”, explains Mankowitz. “The band and I climbed to the top of Primrose Hill in London. We were hung-over, or still stoned, and the shoot only lasted about 20 minutes. It was taken at the absolute peek of band’s original success, before things took a bad turn with the death of Brian [Jones].”

Mankowitz’s interest in photography was piqued at a young age by actor, comedian and family friend Peter Sellers. “I remember Peter coming around to the family home with a Hasselblad camera. He was hopping around and explaining everything in such a mad, goodish way. From that moment on I associated photography with having the most amazing fun. I decided to devote my life to it.”


Mankowitz didn’t have to wait long until his big break, shooting The Stones for the first time at aged 18. “I was so young. But that youth brought an innocence and grittiness to my photography, something much more raw and naturalistic than the approach of other photographers who were shooting the band.”

Masters of celebrity portraiture like Irving Penn and Richard Avedon were early influences on Mankowitz; yet where Penn and Avedon perfected the art of poised portraiture, Mankowitz was quick to trade classical composition and gravitas for experimentation. Explaining the vaporous, druggy aesthetic of the Between the Buttons shoot, he says: “Today all you would have to do to achieve this look is hit ‘gaussian blur’ on Photoshop. I swirled vaseline on the edges of the lens and fashioned a cardboard hood that covered the corners of the frame. That was how you realised a vision back then.”

It was an era when the band photograph was considered a true artform. In his introductory essay to the publication, writer Luc Sante describes the synesthetic attributes of the album cover, of how “gazing on the images would enhance the listening experience.”

Mankowitz agrees: “I recognised the importance of the record cover as it was as the fan’s primary link with the band. I always treated it as an artform while working within the limitations. And there were limitations; record companies printed the images on the same cardboard used for toilet rolls.

“Yet in many ways I think myself and other photographers working at that time set down a blueprint for the album cover, one which is still in used by music photographers today.”

Asked to sum up the sixties in a few choice words Mankowitz replies “swinging, stoned, sexy, exciting, experimental, and happy.” All of which brim from Taschen’s new publication.

 The Rolling Stones is available to order on Taschen’s website now.

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