Life & Culture

Capturing the Golden Age of Rock and Roll

Michael Putland has turned his lens on rock and roll’s finest – now, he’s putting his 50-plus years of work on display

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You name them, Michael Putland has shot them: The Rolling Stones, Prince, Bowie, The Who, Bob Marley, Bryan Ferry, Led Zepplin, George Michael, Nick Cave – the list goes on.

Born in 1947, Putland picked up a camera at the age of nine, before becoming a photographer’s assistant in his teens. At 19, he’d set up his own studio and at 21 he’d become the official photographer for the British music magazine Disc & Music Echo, shooting Mick Jagger for his first assignment. He shot for a variety of other magazines throughout the decade and even worked as the tour photographer for The Rolling Stones European Tour. It’s no wonder he became known as “the man who didn’t have a day off in the 70s”.

Putland has continued to work as a photographer, capturing musicians of a variety of genres and now, he’s putting his 50-plus years of work on display at an exhibition at Gallery Vassie, Amsterdam, which opens on Saturday. Ahead of this show, Putland reflects on his career and his favourite subjects.

“I first picked up a camera in 1956. I was nine years old and it was my grandfather’s Kodak Box camera, probably made in the 1930s. I got into music photography after wandering into concerts around London in the 60s with my Edixaflex camera – you didn’t need a pass in those days! My big break was the Jagger shoot, [which was] assigned to me the day after I had decided to quit photography because I couldn’t find any work! Everything changed quickly for me after that.

I am often asked who my favourite artist to photograph was and in truth I can’t say, but obviously The Stones and The Who are right up there. Recently I loved photographing Lizz Wright, the wonderful jazz singer – she has such a sense of calm and beauty that I think I might have captured a little. When someone’s voice moves me – as hers does – I become even more desperate to find her soul.

As the title says It Has Been A Fantastic Ride shooting not only rock and roll music but my great love jazz, as well as opera and classical music which I have grown to enjoy over the years – and of course world music which sometimes seems to encompass a little of them all. Obviously I hope people like the images, especially if they bring back memories for them, but also to take away a sense of the musical history that I have been privileged to experience.”

It’s Been a Fantastic Ride... runs at Gallery Vassie, Amsterdam from February 10 until April 21, 2018.