The Bay Area photographer who shot the Beatles and the Stones in a ‘fairy tale‘ career

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Keith Richards gets off the Rolling Stones tour plane with images from photographer Ethan Russell’s “Best Seats in the House” show. Photo: Ethan Russell

During his short but prolific career as a rock’n’roll outstanding photographer, Ethan Russell toured with the Rolling Stones, filming The Who’s album cover, from Linda Ronstadt to Jim Morrison of the Door. Captured iconic images of everyone.And yes, that’s he Peter Jackson’s The Beatles documentary “Get Back” on Disney +.

Raised in San Francisco and living in Marin County, Russell will revisit these wonderful experiences as part of his appearance at the Montalbot Arts Center in Saratoga on Saturday, March 19th. The show is called ⁠. What else do you have? ⁠— “The best seat in the house.” The 76-year-old photographer will be one of the last public outings of this kind, a contractual obligation before the coronavirus pandemic. I am saying.

“In the evening there are 400 photos, and the story is behind my trip, not behind the photos,” Russell told Chronicle on the phone. “I think it’s a great story.”

The last photo of The Beatles, an image of photographer Ethan Russell’s “The Best Seatinthe House” live show. Photo: Ethan Russell

Russell accidentally fell into his photography career to hear him say it.

Back in the late 1960s, he Was recent College A graduate who moved to London to avoid drafts and become a writer. He was working as a volunteer at a school for children with autism and was taking pictures by his side. A friend from Berkeley was tasked with interviewing Mick Jagger and introduced Rolling Stone magazine writer Jonathan Cott. Russell was hired to shoot his work.

“That is, it’s a fairy tale,” Russell said. “There is no other way to put it.”

Photographer Ethan Russell. Photo: Ethan Russell

Two months later, he was invited to join the Rolling Stones as the official photographer for the 1969 US tour. The tour ended with a disastrous free concert at the Altamont Speedway.

For the next few years, Russell was the band’s go-to photographer. He took some of the last photos of the band’s free concert at his monumental Hyde Park concert with the Rolling Stones co-founder Brian Jones. He took a photo of the band on his 1972 tour, and Keith Richards said “Patience Please … A Drug Free America Comes First!”

“We trusted Ethan as an artist and made him invisible to us,” Jaguar said in a testimony on Russell’s website. “And his picture was able to capture our most intimate moments.”

Image from Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones at Customs, photographer Ethan Russell’s “Best Seat in the House” live show. Photo: Ethan Russell

At the same time, he was invited to Twickenham Studios to record the production of The Beatles’ Let It Be. His photo became the cover of the group’s last release. Russell was one of the few photographers in the Beatles’ last photo shoot on August 22, 1969. But he continued to work with John Lennon for years.

He also worked on the cover photo “Who’s Next” for Who’s 1971 LP and the book that accompanies the band’s 1973 movie “Quadrophenia.” The band’s guitarist Pete Townshend once thought that Russell’s photo “looks like it’s ready for the National Gallery.” Ethan is a civilized eye of an uncivilized art form. Rock and roll. “

Photographer Ethan Russell (left) is filming The Who. Photo: Ethan Russell

Prior to that, Russell’s only experience with rock photography was a handful of shots he made for his brother Haight Ashbury’s band, Blue Cheer. He said the band was attracted to him in his candid and unobtrusive style.

“My parents had a big ranch in Carmel Valley when I was 10 years old. I had a .22 rifle, and my grandmother hunted me blue Jay for some reason. To do that, you need to be careful. You have to be quiet. You have to understand what you want to shoot for. You get one shot. “I will.” Russell said. “That’s exactly how I take pictures. I was standing on the edge. I didn’t change anything. I didn’t tell anyone what to do. Looking at my contact sheet, You won’t see 36 shots of the same thing. They are all different. “

Linda Ronstadt can be seen in images from photographer Ethan Russell’s “Best Seats in the House” show. Photo: Ethan Russell

By the time he returns to the United States, Russell is a high-demand rock photographer, shooting a list of various acts such as Ronstadt, Doors, Rickie Lee Jones, Rosanne Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Traffic. Was adopted for.

His work is collected in the 248-page fine art book “Ethan Russell Photographs,” available on his website for $ 130.

He said the record company broke in and placed the camera in the early 80’s, restricting access to artists and demanding ownership of image rights. Russell has shifted to producing and directing films for musicians such as Emmylou Harris, Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon.

Images from the Rolling Stones’ Mick Taylor and behind-the-scenes Jimi Hendrix, photographer Ethan Russell’s “Best Seats in the House” show. Photo: Ethan Russell

His nephew recently attended a photography school, contrary to Russell’s advice. “I kept saying,’Don’t do that’. It’s gone. It’s no longer a carrier. First of all, there’s a technology component because the camera is doing 80% of the work.” We also believe that social media apps like Instagram and Facebook are reducing the value of art forms.

“Photographs are now products,” he said. “It’s like someone threw a confetti into the air, it’s all floating above you.”

Ethan Russell: “The best seat in the house”: Saturday, March 19th, 7:30 pm. $ 48 to $ 52. Carriage House Theater, Montalbot Arts Center, 15400 Montalbot Road, Saratoga.

The Rolling Stones can be seen in images from photographer Ethan Russell’s “Best Seats in the House” show. Photo: Ethan Russell

  • Aidin Vaziri
    Aidin Vaziri is a pop music critic at the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @MusicSF

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