It is embarrassing to realize I haven’t written for months. The companion site to this one, marcoolivotto.com, has seen more activity – and I apologize for this. The reason why I haven’t typed much in here is a four-letter word: “time”.
This is not an article: it’s an introduction to a series of articles. Actually, to a huge interview. This is different from the rest and may seem off topic, but I don’t think it is. Certainly, it is very important to me because it sort of closes a circle started long, long time ago. An explanation is necessary, of course.
You may know, or not, that I was a musician in my previous life. Someone may argue that I was a wanna-be musician later mutated into a sound engineer and music producer, but that’s not so important. Let’s say I have a solid past record which has a lot to do with music. Musicians, sound engineers, photographers and post-producers have something in common: we all deal with energy rather than matter. Sound and light are something we can’t hold in our hands, differently than paint or clay. That’s one of the things that differentiate us from painters and sculptors.
[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…
[Pt. 2 is here.]
It was not just Genesis of course… I remember that back in 1987 one Saturday morning I got a call from you, out of the blue. You were in Bologna and you told me: “if you can grab a VTR and drive down to Bologna, you can meet U2”. I picked the one which was in my parents’ living room and drove down… so you were on tour with them, as a photographer? It was “The Joshua Tree” tour and I still have my VIP badge. How did you get in touch with them?
About that day… I feel so bad that I was very… well, they were very clustered, and they didn’t want anything or anybody from the outside. The first time I showed them my pictures, their manager told me I couldn’t stay in the room, and this was only a month before the episode you mention. When you came I thought that there were too many people in the room, but I wish you’d stayed in the room because… you could have been there to operate the video. That day was so good because two years later Bono used what I told him that day, when I showed them the pictures like the tour programs should have been… their tour program had no pictures from the concert, and I said “people go away from the concert and they want a memory of that concert. OK, you print the tour program before you go on tour, but one month into the tour you should add the live pictures, you should change the pictures and do a new reprint.” And that’s what they did for “Love Comes To Town”. He was wonderful, you know, I went to see them in Australia and then they called me up to go to Japan. I get to Japan and the first thing that Bono says: “Did you see the tour program?” and they had used the pictures I’d taken. So, you know, that day when you came down to Bologna was very good. And you know… when you show something; sometimes you don’t get instant gratification straight away. I had to wait two years to get this incredible surprise from Bono.
[Pt. 1 is here.]
I suppose your contact with Tony Stratton-Smith led you to Genesis.
My contact with Tony was a good thing. I didn’t go on being a journalist: I was a big rock fan, but the following year “BIG” magazine kind of folded, because the same publisher started “Man” and “Playman”, and they went, bang! through the roof. So they stopped publishing “BIG”. “BIG” had absorbed “Ciao amici” and became “Ciao Big” and after some chaos it re-emerged as “Ciao 2001”.
Armando, how did it all begin? You went to London in 1966, I think.
Yes. It was June 11th 1966, a Saturday. I finished my National Service in Italy March 10 and I spent the next three months writing to engineering companies in England because I was set to move there with a one-way ticket. In Rome I was working for an American firm developing new towns in Libya, a job that I had before going for my national service. Before that I worked ad a draughtsman for SDD, the Italian company that was building the Autostrada from Messina to Catania. While at SDD I got my ‘Geometra’ degree studying at Istituto Fevola, at nights, with great teachers. I got my 5 years degree in 2 and in doing so I caught up with all my teenager friends who have been spending their teens just going to school and getting bored. I wrote to maybe 30 companies in London answering newspaper adverts in the London Times that I would find in the paper kiosk in Via Veneto, just in front of the Excelsior hotel and a stone thrown from the American Embassy. It was fantastic because most of them answered and maybe ten of them actually wrote: “When you come to England, come and see us.”
I’ve had in mind to interview my teacher and friend Dan Margulis for quite some time and I sent him a request at the beginning of April. His reply was positive, as I would expect knowing how available he is, but the devil conspired against me and I ended up putting together the questions only a few days ago. I then left for a brief vacation and the replies arrived as I was trying to get some tan while actively looking after my 6-years-old son – a contradiction in terms, as you may gather. So, here it is with a slight delay, but thought-provoking and honest as I hoped it would be. Also the interview is full of Dan’s well-known wit.
(This article was originally released on marcoolivotto.com on March 9, 2014.)
A few months ago, a new and exciting Photoshop book appeared on the scene. It was written by Russell Brown — yet not that Russell Brown of Adobe fame. Our own man is an Australian photographer whom I (virtually) met while working on the beta-reading of the latest Dan Margulis’ book — Modern Photoshop Color Workflow. Shortly after such task was finished, I and Alessandro Bernardi got an e-mail from Russell and we were asked to become the beta-readers for his own book — which he was just starting to write. We were very glad to help out and therefore had the privilege to be among the first to read and discuss the contents of Paths to Artistic Imaging in Photoshop.
(This article was originally released on marcoolivotto.com on April 13, 2013.)
By uncanny coincidence, it’s been exactly five-years-and-a-half ago, because the day was October 12th, 2007. The place was Foyles, Charing Cross Road, London – maybe the largest bookstore in Europe, and I was with my mother. It was the beginning of a trip delayed for years which I sort of forced her to take before she became too old to enjoy it. I had always wanted her to visit London, and we had left in the morning of the previous day: October 11th, her birthday.