[Pt. 3 is here.]
You are righteously considered one of the most famous and iconic rock photographers in history. A friend of mine is a rock photographer, and he once told me: “for everyone of us, Armando Gallo is God!” You started with film, of course, and some of your photographs became absolutely historic album covers, like Genesis’ “Seconds Out” or Peter Gabriel’s “Plays Live”. How did you approach photography on stage?
We’re talking about film, and we’re talking of a time when a live show on stage was done with very little lights. We’re talking about the late ’60s and the early ’70s, when clubs had some red lights and some yellow lights, a little blue and that was it. There was not much light on stage. As a journalist and photographer, in those days, I was learning as I went: I was learning to write, I was learning to interview and I was learning to take pictures. So I had maybe a roll of 36…. I was in my mid-twenties, didn’t have much money…
I’ll give you an example: let’s talk about Yes, in 1971. I was going to the Rainbow Theatre, because Rick Wakeman was driving me to the sound check. Rick Wakeman had just joined the band. I knew Rick when he was in The Strawbs. So he joins Yes, and it’s October 1971. He came to my apartment in Kilburn in October ’71 for an interview the day when Yes were playing The Rainbow and at the end of our chat he said, “Come to the sound check”, and all I had was a roll of 36. I had a little bag, one camera and one lens. I had taken 5 shots at the end of the interview, and with the rest of the film… that was maybe a 200 ASA film, or maybe a 400 ASA film, I was going to take some pictures of the band live.
I soon found out that the daylight film, the Kodachrome, is very warm on yellow and red, but if there is an artificial red light it is flat: there’s nothing happening. It needs blue lights for that. So I tried to use Tungsten Ektachrome. Tungsten Ektachrome was not 400 ASA… it was only 160 in 1971.
At one point I was taking pictures at a Genesis’ show, and in one song there was Peter Gabriel with fluorescent paint around his eyes when he had bat wings. You could see the make up only if the stage was completely dark. So, how do you take a picture of darkness? I realized that if I put my two elbows against my stomach and used them as a tripod, and I opened the lens at maybe 1.2, with an exposure of 1/15″…wow, they came out! I could see the eyes, I could see the bat wings… but it’s still a little bit too dark.
There was this lady, Jane, a beautiful lady at Redfern lab in Charing Cross Road, who told me: “Armando, do you know we can push the film one stop?” “What do you mean?” “I mean it stays in the development a little bit longer and bleaches out so the darkness can lit up.” So I tried it, and pushed it one stop in the development. And then I went crazy, and pushed it two stops in the development. So I used a 160 ISO film pushed to 640 ISO… and I could shoot everything!
I thought – “I can shoot anything! This is just great… I don’t need to go to school; I don’t need to go anywhere… I just need to find the right moment to shoot.” I know when everybody shoots: it’s not just when the guitar player is doing his solo or when the singer is singing hard into the microphone that you have to shoot. It’s when the singer goes away from the microphone that you can capture magical moments… and you should always stay away from the other photographers, so you can shoot something that nobody else shoots. And then, if you’re clever enough, you play with the backlights. Sometimes there are no lights coming from the front of the stage, and you only have the lights from the back: everyone face on stage looks dark, but you can use the lights to compose something… and it becomes like a painting. That’s how you do it. You see, sometimes you’re lucky, sometimes you’re not. And from the mistakes you can learn: you go from there.
How about digital photography, which came later?
Ah, you can do anything with digital photography. There’s no fun anymore. You just shoot and shoot and shoot… speed? No problem, you can shoot even in total darkness. And there are now so many lights on stage… I didn’t care about shooting Genesis in the 80s when they had Varilights… cascades of light everywhere… I don’t want to shoot the lights; I want to shoot the performer.
How do you feel about post-producing your pictures? Do you belong to the “old school” where you sort of leave them as they are? Now everything is very much manufactured… you can do anything in Photoshop.
I got into Photoshop quite a few years ago, when Peter Gabriel did the “Up” tour; do you remember where he had the big ball? It must have been 2002 or something. He was playing two concerts in Mexico City. It wasn’t advertised, because he would start the American tour immediately after. So… November 2 of that year I went to Mexico City, dia de los muertos, I called Peter in the hotel: “man, where are you…?” I asked. “I’m on the ninth floor…” “I’m on the seventh floor…” I said. “Let’s meet on the eighth floor!” Pete says. (Burst of laughter.) And we did… we met on the eighth floor, these two old guys who hadn’t seen each other for a while, and I saw the concert. I went in with all the normal crowd, bought all these pirate merchandise outside the arena: lighters with Peter’s face on it, espresso cups (or tequila shots) with Peter’s face … I was shooting film, of course, and I had this great compact gold Canon camera that my wife gave me as a special present. The concert was so good that I asked to shoot the second concert the following day, with a real camera.
When I came back I needed to send the pictures to Real World, his management company, and a friend of mine said, “You can digitize them”. So I bought a Kodak 2000 Scanner and I digitized all the slides and had a go at them in Photoshop, and sent the pictures to Peter in low-res. “Tell me what you like, I’ll send it to you in hi-res…” So I had a call: “Can you please come and shoot the Madison Square Garden show?” I went to NYC and shot the concert and worked in Photoshop by digitizing those pictures. And then, of course, I started digitizing my old slides: Led Zeppelin in Milan, Blondie, U2, and The Police… I started digitizing pictures. But all I did in Photoshop really was cleaning up, giving it a bit more detail, maybe, but I never changed the color. I never manipulated much. And so… what I’d like to do now… the photographs in the Genesis App, they could be so much better, because in the App, also to avoid people blowing them up and shooting the screen, most of the photos can be seen very well in low-res. Now that I’m going to do limited editions art prints I’m going to work on them properly and I am finding out that the possibilities are unlimited. Actually, I have someone who is working on them – I have a guy out in Italy called Marco Olivotto, d’you know him? (Laughs.) Also, Russell the guy who used to do my few black and white stuff in Hollywood… I’ve found him again after thirty years… he has a drum scanner, he re-photographs things and scans them. He can reproduce stuff from contact prints, unbelievable.
So, technology is incredible, but it’s also nice to keep the original idea. Take the “Seconds Out” album cover: it’s too brown. I shot it with a tungsten film and I pushed to 640 ISO, so there’s a lot of blue in the original, but it’s not in the album cover. So now I did an art print from the original slide that has the original blue. Why change it? Why make it more brown or more red? So I like to keep the original stuff unless there’s a really big mistake. But after all this time, indeed, some of the color is gone on very old slides, like the ones that I shot of Genesis with Kodachrome in ’72 or ‘73. Technology can maybe help you recover the original color.
In 1972, the very first photo shoot I did of Genesis, a month before they came on their first Italian tour, I went to see them in a dark place in Plumstead, a club called The Inferno that had burned down: there was humidity and there was only one naked bulb as the only light source where they were rehearsing. I probably shot with 1/30″, in fact you can see the tambourine shaking, the hands of Tony moving on the keyboards… but it captures the atmosphere of the rehearsal and you can still feel the dampness of that place. And then I took them outside: the club had been dead for maybe a year, so all the weed from the summer before was dried up and I put them in there. And beside there was a fence, so I put them behind the fence because… they were like unreachable, you know? That’s the way I felt when they were on stage… you couldn’t touch them, somehow. And then Peter would come out – “Why don’t you touch me? Touch me!” He would sing. That was the first picture because… really, they were so distant, like you couldn’t touch them, but at the same time they asked to be touched. Well, the color of those pictures has kind of faded, so… one could do black and white, or it would be nice to recover some of those colors. I think I sent you one of those pictures, right?
Yes, exactly. This is probably the most difficult question of the interview: you have far too many photographs, but if you had to keep only one of those you’ve taken… your favorite picture, ever… which one? Possibly the most symbolic…
(Very long silence.)
You’re allowed to change your reply tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow, but – right now – pick one. At least one among those which you’re more connected to.
Probably the “Seconds Out” picture. When I click the camera, I thought that it would be the album cover. Then I shot it again from the front with daylight film, with Kodachrome.
Then it’s the yellow one?
Yes exactly. The gold one! The one I used for the cover of the book. But the one used for the album cover is a symbolic picture: you can’t see Steve Hackett’s face. Steve had just left the band two days before that photo was chosen by the band – the 3 left in the band: Tony, Mike and Phil. Steve had walked out from Trident Studios during a mix for “Seconds Out”; he maybe felt he couldn’t stand another mix which would be enhancing the keyboard and in the process kill the guitar. So he walked out and never went back. He never said a word.
And also there’s the picture on the back cover of “Seconds Out”. That’s another picture that, when I shot it, I thought – “This is going to be the back cover”. It could have been the front cover as it was very much representative of Genesis at the time… that was “Supper’s Ready” ~ “666” ~ “The New Jerusalem”, and when I shot it, at the Rainbow, at the beginning of “Wind and Wuthering” tour, it felt almost like a religious moment, you know. And in fact, when I showed them the picture I told them “This is the back cover” and they went “yes!”. Done. That was it.
Another one could be the “Plays Live” picture, Peter Gabriel, because they were looking for a live album cover, and that picture to me was one where you could see Peter’s eyes… because one never really sees that Peter has blue eyes. The actual photograph was different; he was like this… (Raises his right arm). So when… Hipgnosis I think, Storm Thorgerson probably… cropped it as it is now… wow, I thought, that’s an amazing crop! I would never have thought to crop it that way. That was an unbelievable crop. So, it is my picture but it is a picture that an editor did. So you can take the photograph, but when you crop it, anybody who crops the photograph can make the photograph his.
We’re talking about Storm Thorgerson, who was one of the best in the world…
I know and I felt real sad when he died recently. What an amazing imagination. Gail Colson, who was Peter’s manager at the time, told me that he did the crop. Another time she said “it wasn’t Storm that did it…” So I have to find out who did that crop, because maybe she forgot, I don’t know. And Storm is not here with us.
There are so many pictures of U2 that never saw the light of day because I was shooting for them, and they were using them for their own magazine, their own things, T- shirts, you know… and they’ve got hundreds and hundreds of pictures there in their archives that they bought outright from me, meaning that I would shoot their concerts and they bought also the the rights to use them for anything, you know. There’s one particular picture that was used on the cover of Time Out magazine… it is a photograph of Bono that I took in Las Vegas in 1987, and it was a night of full moon, and I was playing with the backlight… trying to get the backlight to act like a full moon, and he came out of focus… so when I saw it I thought “oh, I fucked it up” – and threw the slide away. When I prepared the Kodak Carousel and a screen to do a slide show for the band, I actually went down to the trash and I picked up the frame, I put it in a slide mount and placed it in #1 position in the carousel. So… the assistant to the manager, Ellen Darst, said, “The band would like to see the pictures, but they don’t want anybody here.” I replied, “I’d like to show them…” “No, no, these are their pictures and they want to see them by themselves.” “Well, these are MY pictures of the band, but I understand, I’m going to be here by the pool.” So I left the room, gave a last look to my carousel, and the screen, and I thought, “Good God, that slide is going to be the first introduction of the set…“
I was skinned, you know, kind of down and out when I left Rome and went to see them in Las Cruces, New Mexico, maybe the fifth concert of the tour that I chose as a far away gig, a place where I could get a photo pass easy. I got their permission to shoot the entire concert by Claudia, a tall beautiful African American lady I met on The Rolling Stones’ tour a couple of years before, a close friend of Jimi Hendrix, she was now doing PR for U2. “But they want to see the pictures.” She told me. Perfect, I thought… And a few days later we’re in Los Angeles, at the Sunset Marquis Hotel ready to show the pictures to the band… and I was pushed out of the door. So I was there waiting by the pool of the hotel, and I saw Jack Healey sitting there… He was the president of Amnesty International. I had him in one of the pictures of Peter Gabriel’s book. I had some copies with me in the back of the car… Omnibus Press in London published it only six month before. At the time, after my split from Fratelli Gallo, it was the only thing I owned. And I brought him up a copy, I talked to him and he was very friendly and embraced me when I signed the book for him… and then came Claudia. She told me: “Armando, the road to love moves in mysterious ways… the band would like to see you.” Claudia was in the room when Ellen Darst, Paul McGuiness’ (U2’s manager) assistant asked me to leave the room. 20-30 minutes had gone by ~ So I walk into the room and I see four pair of eyes that just electrified me… they were totally… you know, four guys in the band really wanting to know – “who is this guy? How come he takes these good photos?” When I first saw them, I thought that I blew it; they were all bad photos in my opinion. But later I realized that they were pictures that should have been taken that way, you know… because they were slightly blurred, they weren’t in focus, but to me they represented their show. I though I was winging it.
When the band saw me, Bono started talking: “We called you because we want to tell you why we love your pictures,” he told me in a soft, but graveling voice. It was 1:30 pm and probably he had just wakened up and he was wearing a white bathrobe. Now, this is a band that… Check it out: that day was Tuesday in mid April 1987: the day before the charts came out and they were #1 with the single “With Or Without You”, #1with the album “The Joshua Tree” and on this very day they were also on the cover of Rolling Stone and Time Magazine! They were definitely the certified top band in the world, a position conquered after 10 years of recording and touring. U2 was just fulfilling their greatest dream to become the top band in the world. And this band tells me that I’m the only guy who can capture their energy on stage. I was on top of the world, right? I’m doing something absolutely right here! I thought that I failed instead I find out that somehow, on this particular day, I was in tune with what the world loved. The entire world… it was a maximum! A fantastic feeling that comes very rarely in life, when they say that all the stars and planets are lined up for you. So probably that frame that I recovered from the trash tells the most, and it was a picture that caused Bono to go “hey! Who’s this photographer?” It’s a very mystical picture, you know, because it’s Bono but it’s not Bono and vice versa. My expectations nearly betrayed me… but in the end I had the courage to rescue the slide from the trash, mount it and slide it in.
In Time magazine there was the classical picture of him singing (mimes a pose with a microphone). And he went: “this picture is shit!” You know, whenever you go off the microphone, possibly and probably you’re thinking about the next line, right? Or you’re thinking about… you’re in the middle of a song, and there’s something transporting you into somewhere that you, as an artist, will remember when you see yourself back in that moment, you know? And that’s what I had. In those picture that’s what I had, and Bono said, “Do you think the magazines will publish these pictures?” And I said, “Yes, if you give to them out for free!” “How can we do that?” “Let me pick up twenty slides… I’ll do fifty sets of dupes: let me do that myself. I have a guy who does amazing dupes in Rome. I will deliver them myself to Island Records. Island Records will give them to all their licensees, and all these pictures are going to be on all the magazines in the world.” Bono said to Ellen Darst, “Well, that’s a wonderful idea…”, and The Edge looks at me and goes, “Could you come and shoot the sound check?” I thought – You don’t ask! But I said, “Yes, of course!” And that is what I love to shoot, be a fly on stage as the band is stripped of the fanfare of the concert.
And the sound check… this is 1987 and there’s Fuji which comes out with a 1600 ASA color film, which I could push to 3200 ASA, and every slide was grainy, it was brown… it was like taking a frame from a movie, really, that kind of feel. U2 loved it and they use them a lot in their magazine Propaganda. Then I came back to Italy, I did these sets of dupes and went to London, delivered the thing to Island Records, and while I am there Ellen Darst calls from New York: “we are playing the last concert tomorrow”. I say, “Well, I’m here delivering the pictures…” “Oh, it’s a shame, you should be here.” “I can get on a plane and come over…” “Come over!” So I went to New York and shot their last concert of the tour in the US at The Brendan Byrne Arena in New Jersey.
And there I took another picture, which is so incredibly gorgeous, one of those that I really feel a lot for: it’s a picture taken from the pits… the void space between the audience and the stage. Pressed against the barrier there’s this girl with an Irish flag, and she’s trying to reach out to the stage, and Bono reaches out himself to her until the two hands touch. So there is Bono stretching his right arm and I have a filter mounted on my lens that pushes the image forward. We have the union, the melting of the stage with the audience, when the stage is hot and becomes one with the audience, and the crowd is so hot… and I feel it because I am there, in the trenches, a human being hit by this heat, and I’m there sweating like in a sauna, to the point that I always needed to wear a sort of bandana to avoid my sweat to swim in my eyes or drip down my face onto the cameras. That particular photograph from Brendan Byrne was published in Max in Italy as a two-page spread, when they had a cool art director.
Give me just the name of one artist that you would have liked to work with and you didn’t have the chance to, for some reason.
Probably… maybe David Bowie? I missed the train with Pink Floyd: I don’t know how because they were very accessible to me. You know, in 1975 when I moved to Los Angeles they were on tour with “Wish You Were Here” and they weren’t giving any interviews, but Nick Mason gave me one. And Roger Waters saw us, backstage at the Los Angeles Sports Arena and he said to Nick: “I thought that we weren’t doing interviews!” And Nick said: “but… it’s Armando…” At the end of the interview I asked Nick Mason, and he told me about not giving interviews. Rolling Stone had been on tour with them for a week but nobody had talked to them yet, “Why me?” I asked Nick. “Because you bought us ice cream in Piazza Navona…” (Burst of laughter.) You know, in 1971 when they played in Rome, we went to Piazza Navona and the band sat down soking in the afternoon sun and they ordered ice cream. The entire band was there and Tony Howard and Steve O’Rourke the managers, but I paid the bill. I did it out of love for the music that I had enjoyed ever since “Interstellar Overdrive” you know, he told me that, but maybe it was what he had in mind at that moment. And it was a very kind thing to say and remember.
That was my first week in Los Angeles… good omen in a new place, new beginnings. I was busy with everything, but it could have been, you know, I’d met them in the 60s, I found them gigs when they weren’t playing at all, and Dave Gilmour had just joined, and they needed to play… I got them £200 from the Regent Street Polytechnic in November 68. A friend, Michael Miles Berry was running the student Union and he paid up. And they played for 3 hours against a white backdrop.
And I would like to clear something here. I’ve never really worked for Genesis as their official photographer. Genesis never hired me until 1992 for a brief tour of England. In 1992 they called me up to shoot the “We Can’t Dance”, when they were doing just small gigs as they did on the tour of 20 years before. Probably they had the idea – let’s get Armando Gallo to shoot the same gigs. So I asked for £5000 and to be picked up at the airport. They sent me the £5000 straight away. They paid me in advance. People think that I was working for Genesis all those years, but I wasn’t. When I did the first photo shoot, in Plumstead, in February ‘72 the band was so good, they were so nice… and we really got on well together, so they told Charisma I’d shot some pictures, and Charisma called me up: “can we see those pictures? We need some pictures for promotion…” They bought 12 shots out of the roll of 36 and they paid me £20… I thought – gosh! At the time I was paying £5 a week for rent, so £20 was fair, I thought. But Gail Colson years later told me those were the best pictures they ever had and the money she gave me was a steal, but I was green and I was just happy that an English record company was buying my photos. The four or five you see in the book are the leftovers. There’s one picture in black and white I’ve used in the book… where they cropped out Mike’s head for the album Foxtrot. My name is in the album because of that crop. But then I’m credited as Amando Gallo… like Loving Gallo! They made a mistake, but after all I can’t complain.
Listen, this is the very last one but possibly the most important… and of course I’d love to thank you for this great chat we’ve had: I’m very grateful, you gave me a lot of your time. It’s 2:30 am but I’m not tired at all, very fired-up instead. So… you know I work with a lot of young people and they’re doing photography, graphics, post-production… all of these boys and girls are in their early 20s, they’re very creative, and most of the time they’re rather scared about not being recognized because of the crisis of the market. Give them just one line of advice, from your point of view. Looking back, advice to the youngster now, wanting to be in this kind of business.
Whatever you do, photographer, shoemaker, bread maker, and tailor: whatever you do, do it with love or don’t do it at all. Find what you want to do, what you love to do. If you love what you do you’ll find something to eat and when you’re tired you will sleep anywhere. And you’re going to be happy, and you’re going to wake up and rush into that something that you want to do. You’re going to be surprised when, at some point, people will say: “can I buy that? Can I give you some money for that?” It’s that simple, it’s really that simple, because if you’re going to do something because you’re going to make some money, you’re going to be fucked, because you’re going to work on something the way someone else wants you to do it. If you do something that you really love, and I know that for a fact, it will stay forever. It doesn’t matter what it is: it could be a drawing, or something you write, anything.
Yes, if you want to stay in photography, it’s tough for the ever-changing times. I find it difficult, myself, to make a living out of photography these days with all the stealing in the internet and big agencies like Getty wiping out the smaller agencies. I love to write stories around photographs, because every picture has a story so we should write a story about the pictures we love. In fact, when I will sell my art prints every print that I will send out it will have a surprise: there’s going to be a text telling the story about the photograph. So… in a world where the Internet steals masterpieces… entire folders of mine have been stolen in the Internet. I find old pictures of mine that I’ve lost and they’re in the Internet, great! We have agencies that sell pictures for $1… they give out pictures for free. On e-bay I found a particular picture of me, which I used in a column in a magazine. It dates back to 1971. It is on sale on e-bay at $88.10. Some French wanker is doing it illegally. But I download it and I put it on my Facebook as I look cool, in love, and Barbara, my first wife, took the photo in Italy. In a world that’s gone crazy and steals the art, if you think about that you’re going to give up, but you cannot!
For a while I loved Photoshop, I loved to scan pictures… I scanned my pictures, I put them on Photoshop, I used to stay up until 3 or 4’o’clock in the morning, you know… and then came digital. My wife Cheryl bought me a Canon camera in 2003, spent $8,000: “are you crazy?” – but I had to use it, so… I shot Kevin Costner that day and never went back to film. As I started to use the digital camera I lost the love I had for scanning my old films and working in Photoshop.
It doesn’t matter what it is… anything that you love to do, will do the work. Think, I have four pictures in the repackaging of “Led Zeppelin IV” which comes out in October or November. I got paid, for something I did in that period of scanning 15 years ago! Now I’m going to do art prints of those pictures, because they’re going to be in the Led Zeppelin package. So… everything that you love to do will pay off… Can you imagine how many Led Zeppelin pictures are out there? Can you imagine why they picked four of my pictures?
Good question. I think it has an answer. I think you gave it. Thank you!
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