ROCK AND ROLL IMMORTALITY
Ebullient crowds, sweat-slicked mosh pits, off-stage camaraderie, and long-gone punk clubs — Murray Cammick has lovingly seared one of music’s most vibrant periods onto glorious black-and-white film It is occasionally said that musicians die, but the music lives forever. Some music might hit those historical heights unaided, but there’s no denying how helpful a few great images can be in helping a piece of music hit rock and roll immortality. Many local bands and more than a few international acts have Auckland photographer Murray Cammick to thank for enshrining one of music’s most vibrant periods on glorious blackand-white film. The mid ’70s was an exciting time for fans of provocative music. The old guards of rock were being drowned out by new young musicians, who took the countercultural spirit of hippydom and sharpened it to the raucous anti-establishment edge of punk and new wave. The US and Britain were being percolated by the fresh confrontational new sounds, and it didn’t take long for it to infect the young and disaffected of Aotearoa, too. The mainstream media of the time couldn’t wrap its head around these emerging genres, but, from 1975 to 1985, Murray’s 50mm lens could always be found at the shows, documenting the scene. In 1977, he and editor Alastair Dougal founded Rip It Up, a free magazine dedicated to championing new sounds and, for Murray, to gaining new photographic opportunities. “I was a music fan and I admired the photography of Annie Leibowitz in Rolling Stone, whether she was covering The Rolling Stones or Richard Nixon’s resignation,” the photographer remembers. “In 1977, all eyes were on London, and the dominant influence on was
New Musical Express] Rip It Up NME [ in style and content.” The publication quickly became an institution, which gave Murray the perfect excuse to get up close with the exciting new acts of the time. He created enduring imagery for local bands like Hello Sailor, Split Enz, Toy Love, Suburban Reptiles, Th’ Dudes, and
The Scavengers, and was also invited to press shoots for visiting international acts at the time, including Bob Marley and the Wailers, Iggy Pop, The Ramones, Blondie, and Dolly Parton. His extensive archive of negatives offers an extensive and intimate look into a bygone era, the legacy of which is still felt keenly today. Murray is a graduate of Auckland University’s Elam art school, where he was taught by some of Aotearoa’s best regarded photographers, like John B Turner and Tom Hutchins. While there, he immersed himself in the documentary tradition by roving Queen Street late at night, shooting the V8 cars that cruised the strip, along with the characters and culture surrounding them. The retrospective exhibition that would result, Flash Cars, evidences much of the unobtrusive recording that also informed his
Rip It Up work, but Murray’s intermingled passions of music and photography had taken root well before his admission to art school. “I bought a Minolta half-frame camera from my brother around 1972 — he worked at a camera shop for a while, so he was into photography, but not in the same way as me,” the photographer explains. “He photographed cars, because he was into motor sport; I was a music fan. I’d go to Rod Stewart and Elton John at Western Springs in 1972, and the student magazine Craccum would give me money to do a double-page spread on those acts.” Murray adopted the Minolta SR-1s camera as his workhorse for both day and night shooting from the mid ’70s. Shooting in venues with limited lighting was a challenge, especially since his camera didn’t have a light meter, but this conferred in the photographer an instinctive feel for the settings needed in these conditions. He later added an Olympus OM-1 to his cache, which he used for daytime shoots, with the Minolta reserved for the evenings. Murray selected this gear because it was lightweight and unobtrusive, allowing him to more easily
meld into the scenes he documented. “Notable newspaper photographers who shot music — Bruce Jarvis and Trevor Coppock — probably had gym memberships so they could [lug] their heavy Nikon gear, mega-lenses, and gear bags,” he says. During this period, he shot on Kodak Tri-X film, which he would overdevelop in Promicrol to achieve higher film speeds. “With the film in my camera usually rated at 800 for night-time and concert work, when photographing bands in the daytime, I would get greater contrast in the image, enhancing bone structure and bleaching out bad skin,” Murray says. “No such thing as make-up artists in those days, but, by rating my films at 800, it cleaned up spotty skin and made older musicians look younger.” Having never learned the intricacies of flash lighting, Murray contented himself with shooting solely with natural light. This lends his images an un-staged, earnest quality, but could also present trouble for the photographer in less-than-ideal conditions at gig venues. His usual approach was to find a spot just shy of the active audience — “I accepted that I was the intruder on the edge of the dance floor, so if I got knocked about a bit by bigger, more mature Hello Sailor fans, no worries” — or to take refuge at the fringe of the stage, shooting beneath whatever lighting rig had been thrown together. “I would like to wander and find multiple angles to shoot from,” says Murray, “but sometimes shite lighting would pin me in the one spot, as there was no other position I could shoot from.” Due to his unadulterated style, Murray was not often the first choice to shoot more stagey press events, but sometimes simply being available at the right time is more valuable than the flashest
“With the film in my camera usually rated at 800 for night-time and concert work, when photographing bands in the daytime, I would get greater contrast in the image, enhancing bone structure and bleaching out bad skin,” Murray says.
of gear. When Bob Marley visited Auckland to play Western Springs in 1979, he was awarded with a gold record, given to artists who have sold 500,000 units in a territory. At the time, Marley and his band’s international popularity was just heating up, and this may well have been the first gold record they received — Murray was asked to shoot it, primarily (he claims) because it was Easter, and nobody else was around. “Using the minimal outside lighting by the White Heron Hotel pool was one of the dodgiest uses of available light I was ever involved in, and I had to stand on the very edge of the pool to get the whole band in,” he recalls. “The initial photo was meant to be Marley and two music executives, then the whole band turned up and joined in the photo, forcing me to back up towards the swimming pool.”
It might have had him teetering on the edge of his comfort zone, but the buoyant image of an emerging legend, who would never return to these shores before his early death, was worth the possible soaking. Murray has recently assembled some of his favourite music images (Bob Marley included) into a superb exhibition, entitled AK•75–85, which has been shown in both Auckland and Sydney. Although the show has a clear cut-off point, the photographer carried on shooting music into the grunge era of the ’90s and dedicated himself to shooting ageing soul singers, like Solomon Burke and Bobby Bland, in Los Angeles during the first decade of the 2000s. While Murray no longer brings his camera to music gigs, it’s still his constant companion, and we can look forward to an exhibition dedicated to the fading artefacts of Americana at some time in the near future.
SPLIT ENZ, TE AWAMUTU RUGBY CLUB PARK, JANUARY 1984.
BOB MARLEY AND THE WAILERS RECEIVE GOLD DISCS, POOLSIDE WHITE HERON HOTEL AFTER CONCERT, APRIL 16, 1979