TELEGRAPH MAGAZINE, SEVEN (UK)
Published October 5th
Its common for would-be photographers to begin their
careers helping established photographers. Its known in the
trade as assisting.
Not so common, perhaps, is a first gig assisting on a photo shoot
with Jimi Hendrix dressed as Santa Claus. But thats where Alan
Messer found himself in December 1967.
Its common for would-be photographers to begin their careers
helping established photographers.
Its known in the trade as assisting. Not so common,
perhaps, is a first gig assisting on a photo shoot with Jimi Hendrix
dressed as Santa Claus.
But thats where Alan Messer found himself in December 1967.
London was swinging
and Messer, a starry-eyed 16-year old born in Kent, was working at
the Gerrard Street studio of music photographer Dezo Hoffmann.
Hoffmann had made a name for himself photographing such luminaries
as the Beatles, Marlon Brando, Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra and Duke
Hoffmann had a contract with the now-defunct music newspaper Record
Mirror and the paper had commissioned him to shoot a Christmas cover
of Hendrix dressed as
Father Christmas. Jimi and the band came in, Messer recalls,
but Jimi didnt want to take off his hat so he put on the
Father Christmas outfit on top.
years and Messer, who now calls Tennessee home, has spent his career
photographing some of the biggest names in music on both sides of
from John Lennon and The Who to Diana Ross, Willie Nelson and Johnny
Cash. Hes working on a book of photographs of Cash, who he was
close to until the musicians death
in 2003, some of which have never been seen before.
Messer who lives
in Nashville still has an English accent, despite 30-plus years in
the States. He shows me a couple of the many album covers hes
shot: Steve Earles
Guitar Town; a gospel album for Al Green; Stevie Ray Vaughans
His first shoot as principal photographer was of the Small Faces.
I wasn't nervous, he tells me. Because I knew I
could do it.
I had a few minutes up on the roof of a building with the boys and
I got the shot.
a brief cover shoot he had with Keith Richards for Ray Gun magazine.
I set up my background and lights and waited for Keith to come
But he didnt arrive till 9.25 pm and by 9.30 pm he was on stage
with the Stones. He was in the room with me for three-and-a-half minutes
and I had three minutes to shoot.
I thought, if the Stones can sell their new single on Top of the Pops
in three minutes, I can get the picture I want in three minutes too.
He also took some
of the first pictures of John Lennon when he was with Yoko Ono, but
not until Lennon himself said
it was all right. I didnt think it was appropriate for
me to photograph them together, Messer says. He was still
married but John, I think, picked up on [my hesitation]
and asked if I could take some pictures for him.
Messer got the
taste for North America in 1972 when he spent four days in Canada
on a music junket. But a trip to Nashville four years later sold him
Soon, hed made a niche for himself photographing stars of the
country music scene. The photography in Nashville at the time
was terrible, he says. In England the UK press
couldnt use the American pictures that were being sent over,
they were so predictable. Country music stars grinning against the
backdrop of a tree. Messers pictures stood out.
He first met Johnny
Cash (who he called John) in 1976 but it wasnt until a decade
later that Messer was asked to accompany him on tour.
He says Cash and his wife June Carter were like his American
uncle and aunt. In 1999 he spent a week in Jamaica with the
Professionally, John is the Man in Black, morose, dark, brooding,
but the John I knew was a laugh-a-minute. Hed run practical
jokes on his friends until they paid off, Messer says.
He tells the story of a shopping trip in New York in which Cash insisted
he bought Messer a photographers jacket. Messer refused the
gift, but months later, one afternoon at Cashs house, Cash appeared
wearing the same jacket, took it off and handed it to him. I
want you to have this, he said. Messer couldnt refuse.
Written by Alex
© Photographs by Alan Messer (except 7 - Small
Faces © Rex Features)