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"I bought my first camera, a Kodak Brownie 127, when I was seven. After several amateur assignments and an early experience of developing and printing my photographs at home, I was eager to venture into the professional world of photography. My father commuted daily to London on a train with several other businessmen that included Gerry Marks, the editor of a pop periodical, Disc and Music Echo.
My father commissioned the leading 60s London pop music photographer, Dezo Hoffmann, renowned for his Beatles photographs, to shoot a fashion campaign for his manufacturing company (Sartoris). So my two brothers and I posed for a boy's fashion campaign and I met Dezo Hoffmann.

Midway through exams, I hurriedly left school and joined Dezo’s studio on December 3rd 1967. I was sixteen.
It began as an apprenticeship, however, I was immediately "thrown into the deep end", finding myself shooting assignments in and around London for The Record Mirror, within days.

I shot my first magazine front cover a week later of the Manfred Mann group; my second cover was the Beatles (published, September 14th 1968) for the 'Yellow Submarine' promotion.

It was 1968. Hoffmann was concentrating on European festivals being an active member of F.I.D.O.F. and was delighted to enjoy the new found success of his teenaged apprentice, me!

I did not know that Dezo had lost his magazine retainer with the Record Mirror due to the publisher's cut back. Needing to reduce costs and maintain income, Dezo encouraged me to shoot as a freelance. So about six months later, in 1969, he unemployed me and I became a self-employed "freelance photographer" with a small weekly retainer (which covered my train fare and lunch), plus commission for publication sales (which he never paid). I was covering ‘pop’ press features and BBC TV shows and not getting paid. I was helped by some people who gave me credit for film and cameras.
A
fter seven years of great experience and meager income, I left the studio and became an assistant to Gered Mankowitz, by then the top music photographer in London.

Gered paid me and allowed me to set up a darkroom at his studio. For the next year I made his presentation prints. Gered did not exploit me, but instead encouraged me to freelance from his studio, until I became so busy that I just had to leave (midway through my session with Steely Dan) and opened my own London studio the following week. (Gered and I are still friends.)

I continued to photograph the British rock and pop scene and visiting touring US bands. I was tour photographer for Iggy Pop and Deep Purple, and continued covering The Old Grey Whistle Test. I photographed several country music musicians in my studio and at festivals, during this period.

With itchy feet, excited by America and it's commercial possibilities, I moved to Nashville and opened a studio in 1978. An amazing opportunity to photograph the country music scene unfolded.
The Los Angeles based record companies hired me instead of importing their West Coast based photographers, thus I got the work and the budgets were spent on the photography and not on travel and accommodation.

During the 80s I was often shooting a session a day, many of which were LP album covers. The nights were spent printing in my darkroom. After a few years of a pounding schedule, I was forced into a break when part of my home and studio collapsed in a construction accident.
I rebuilt my house becoming my own contractor and began experimenting with graphic arts.

Unfortunately, I lost the house, my car and my business assets, due to an unprecidented sales tax audit by the Tennessee Department of Revenue, who swooped on all Nashville photographers. I was hit the hardest being the highest profile photographer (at the time) in Nashville. Simultaneously, I went through a divorce, after a brief three year marriage.

This may read like a traditional Country song, well at least I got my dog back! And so with my two dogs, Duke and Damien, I moved to a warehouse space in downtown Nashville, that became my studio and home for the next seven years.

During this transitional period, I was introduced to silk-screen printing, which became an immediate commercial success. My first photo-screen print was of Merle Haggard, which I licensed to CBS Records for Merle Haggard; Greatest Hits of the 80’s.
My second print of country bluegrass duo, The O'Kane's won a Grammy in 1988 in the Album Packaging category for their album: Tired Of The Runnin'.

My next screen print was of Johnny Cash, which set the stage for a series of ten albums for CBS Records (now Sony) called, American Originals.
The Cash print was not part of the series, but defined the graphic style.
This was another mile marker in my career. I was about to return home to England, but I became so busy that I am still here following my passion!

I have been fortunate during the past thirty nine years to have been involved with hundreds of LP and CD covers, either as photographer, or as art director/designer, which has offered me the opportunity to work with some of the classic Country artists, the rebels, and the originators of a style.

Nashville has now grown from a small city into a metropolis that exports music worldwide. Originally known for Bluegrass and Country, Nashville has a variety of home grown music ranging from regional folk to classical to Jazz, to Blues, to Pop, and Alternative. The city has expanded and matured far beyond the conservatism and haybale, hillbilly stigma of the seventies. The horse has been now been replaced by the fuel hungry SUV.

Nashville has some of the best studios, engineers and musicians on this planet. With shifting trends It is hard to find real country music anymore without delving into the vaults or browsing Ernest Tubb's Record Store, downtown. Fortunately, the new generation of bluegrass musicians are strong and creatively authentic, pushing boundaries and expanding musical horizons.

The Nashville countryside is always a great place to go for a walk or a bike ride.

Alan Messer
Nashville, Tennessee - 2007


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