The Who? Led Zep­pelin? I’d

For the best part of 35 years, Ross Halfin has been the king of rock pho­tog­ra­phy, tak­ing iconic images of some of the

The Jewish Chronicle - - Arts & Entertainment -

‘THE TER­RI­BLE thing about dig­i­tal cam­eras is that they make e v e r y one t h i n k t h e y ’ r e a pho­tog­ra­pher,” says Ross Halfin al­most as soon as we have sat down in a dark corner his favourite Ja­panese restau­rant in Soho. “It’s the same as some­one hav­ing a lap­top and as­sum­ing that they are a writer. It’s a ridicu­lous idea, isn’t it? Al­though I do use dig­i­tal oc­ca­sion­ally, I think the idea of pho­tog­ra­phy as art has been to­tally de­val­ued in the dig­i­tal age. Pho­tog­ra­phy takes years to master, if you’re ac­tu­ally des­tined to do it for liv­ing.”

Halfin had no idea that he was des­tined to be­come a pho­tog­ra­pher un­til he dropped out of Wim­ble­don School of Art, where he was study­ing as a painter. Dis­il­lu­sioned with the school’s pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with Mod­ernism, he started shoot­ing pic­tures of groups like Led Zep­pelin and The Who.

“I ac­tu­ally en­joyed paint­ing, but all of the tu­tors had this holier than thou at­ti­tude to­wards mod­ern art. They con­cluded that I was ig­no­rant be­cause I re­fused to ac­cept mod­ern art. It all seemed to be about things like that Warhol movie where he filmed the Em­pire State Build­ing for 24 hours and ex­pected peo­ple to watch it, and I was like: ‘Please tell me where this is art?’ I orig­i­nally re­ally wanted to go to art school, but when I ac­tu­ally got there, I found it ex­tremely dis­ap­point­ing.

“I al­ways used to look at pic­tures in mag­a­zines and go: ‘I could do bet­ter than that,” Halfin con­tin­ues, shov­el­ling a fork­ful of soba noo­dles into his mouth. “I queued up for 11 hours to get tick­ets for The Who in 1975, and I re­mem­ber this re­ally snobby lec­turer say­ing to me: ‘What’s more im­por­tant? Go­ing to see this pop group or go­ing to your draw­ing class?’ I told him that see­ing The Who was far more im­por­tant to me, and I made a con­scious de­ci­sion to give up paint­ing for pho­tog­ra­phy. I got a job work­ing in a gui­tar shop, and in the evenings I’d take my cam­era to shows and I started sell­ing pic­tures to the mu­sic pa­pers, al­though the money was ter­ri­ble.”

In 1980, Halfin be­came chief pho­tog­ra­pher of mu­sic mag­a­zine Ker­rang! and spent the next 20 years shoot­ing iconic pic­tures of the big­gest rock bands in the world, cap­tur­ing the essence of ev­ery­one from Iron Maiden to Me­tal­lica, whose lead singer — James Het­field — calls him “the best rock pho­tog­ra­pher of all time”.

“For me, an iconic pho­to­graph is one that looks like it was taken yes­ter­day, even if it was ac­tu­ally shot 25 years ago,” says Halfin. “Some of the pic­tures I’ve done of artists like The Who, Phil Lynott, Keith Richards and Led Zep­pelin have that qual­ity about them. You re­ally just know in­stinc­tively which shots are go­ing to be good, but you cer­tainly don’t know they will be­come iconic when you’re ac­tu­ally shoot­ing them. “You can see a tan­gi­ble dif­fer­ence in the pic­tures when a pho­tog­ra­pher has a good re­la­tion­ship with an artist, but re­la­tion­ships c a n c r a s h very quickly in this busi­ness b e c a u s e they’re all so ego­tis­ti­cal. You can cer­tainly have a good time with the artists, but very few of them are your friends. They re­ally just want you to do the job.”

Did he live a very he­do­nis­tic life­style in the ’70s and ’80s? “Oh, I was quite a bad boy, but then you just sort of grow out of it,” he shrugs. “You’d al­ways see these drunk mid­dle-aged men in the pub and think: ‘I wish that id­iot would go away’. Then even­tu­ally you re­alise that you’ve turned into him.

“You can get a buzz out of tak­ing pho­to­graphs the same way you can do­ing drugs. I cer­tainly don’t get it all the time, but I still get that buzz now and again.”

Al­though it would be a huge un­der­state­ment to say that Halfin’s life in rock ’n’ roll has been what you might call i nt e r e s t i ng, his own fami l y s o u n d s a l m o s t a s e x t r a o r d i -

Halfin ( with gui­tarist Jimmy Page

PHOTO: © ROSS HALFIN

PHOTO: © ROSS HALFIN

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