A conversation with 70s Iconic Photographer: Brad Elterman
I had the opportunity to speak to 70s Iconic Photographer Brad Elterman. Brad grew up at the right time; the 70s, in the right place; Sunset Strip, and was able to capture a generation on film. He shot everyone; The Ramones, John Lennon, Frank Sinatra, Ringo Starr, The Sex Pistols, Bob Dillion, Iggy Pop, Joan Jett, The Runaways, and Jackie O to name a few. Brad was just coming from shooting Stella Maeve when we spoke.
You have had quite a career in photography, what has been your favorite moment?
The highlight was to get to meet Bob Dylan. That was in 1976 and I was a huge Dylan fan. I saw him in concert in 1974 and of course I always wanted to get a candid picture. I was introduced to him by a mutual friend and he wanted me to take a photo of him with this young actor named Robert De Niro. I didn't have a clue who De Niro was. I had a lot of great photo opportunities but Dylan was definitely on the top of my list. I never got to see Elvis but I sure wanted to take his picture. I did go to his funeral in '77 on assignment from a German magazine. Back then it was so easy to get an assignment with a foreign magazine. I would call and say "I want to go to Elvis' funeral" and they would say "Sure, whatever, just keep your receipts and bill us a day rate". It just doesn't happen like that anymore.
How do you think the fact that everyone has a camera has impacted the photography industry?
It is massive. When I did this photo shoot today, I ran into these friends of mine who are both photographers and they are beside themselves trying to think of another career to do. You got to understand that in 1976 when I would send a package of photos to my first agent in Japan they were called Orion Press. I just had lunch with my agent Nakamura-san. I hadn't seen him in 30 plus years when I was there in Tokyo in November and we were trying to figure out why the business has become so messed up. He said listen "When you would send me this package in the mail it would take 5 days or a week to get to me. I would get this manila envelope and there would be transparencies of Queen, Kiss, Bay City Rollers and so on." These were rarities as there were very few of us covering it and very few of us who had the initiative to send original prints and so on all the way to Japan. Creem Magazine would do a print and it would be 1/8 of a page. The Japanese would do double and four page layouts. They would throw a party. The fans ate it up. They were great icons. It was an expensive process to develop the film, make the prints, make the slides and to mail every week or twice a week to Japan. Now fast forward to today, it is not an expensive ordeal, click! click! click!, upload them and click of the button they are everywhere.
What do you know now that you wish you knew then?
I would have taken more photos. I would have turned the camera more towards the kids and the crowd. I would have photographed the groupies and all of the Glitter Kids. I did very little of that and those were incredible images. Guys dressed up as girls, girls dressed up as dogs, everyone had glitter on, gorgeous groupies and so on. It just doesn't exist like this anymore. When is the last time you went to a concert and the attraction was the crowd? It was wild. The audience was really amazing to see.
What made you first decide on a career in photography?
Well I enjoyed the whole photo thing, I thought it was cool. I was living with my parents and I came from a great family but I wanted to be independent and live on my own. I wanted to be on the Sunset Strip where all of the action was that I read about in all of the cool rock magazines. It was just a stone's throw away so I just concentrated on photography. I want to do this. I want to make money. I want to be independent. I was able to make a living and move out and get my apartment for $300. Of course there were girls, groupies and I got to meet Rock and Rollers. I went to countless parties.
Can you talk about the formation of BuzzFoto and what you have been able to achieve?
I sold my first business to Getty Images and I traveled for 5 years. I realized this deal wasn't enough to retire on. I missed the photo industry. I started this other photo agency. It has been fun and we have had a lot of growth. I saw a lot of cowboys in the paparazzi industry today. Photojournalism doesn't really exist anymore, it is just paparazzi now which is a photojournalism but raw. What stories are there out there to cover? Someone walks from Starbucks to their car with their Starbucks and you shoot it in a provocative way, and that's the story believe it or not. That is what the magazines publish. I thought let me do it better. I'll find a great business partner which I did in Henry Flores. He knew all of the Paparazzi and I said let's just work with the ones that really appreciate this as an art. We did a Gallery Show on Melrose. We didn't sell many pieces but we had so much press, ABC News was there and Reuters covered it. We are still trying to build out a global brand. We are still trying to figure out how to do it. What I didn't realize when I started out was that everyone and their kid brother was going to do the same thing.
What was the first photo that you sold?
It was Dylan on stage in 1976. It was the come back tour. I sent it to a newspaper in London called Sounds and they actually published it. Back then you had a photo published and you got a little byline and a photo credit. You want to show it to everyone at the record company as it meant you were an aspiring journalist. We were all trying to get interviews with Rob Stewart and the Faces when they came to town. My friend worked for the free press so if he got hooked onto something I would go along to take the pictures.
You have had the opportunity to photograph a lot of famous people. Which did you enjoy photographing the most?
Hmm...I met a lot of famous people. When I shot Frank Sinatra at the Beverly Hills Hotel, I didn't really get a chance to talk to him as it was a press conference. John Lennon with Ringo Starr was cool. David Bowie. Those were more paparazzi style photos, working with the Runaways, the Sex Pistols, and the Ramones.
What was the most awkward encounter you had with a celebrity?
Probably with Boy George where I was suppose to take some pictures of him on assignment with the Daily Mirror which is a London paper and he had a big feud with them and he had me thrown off the set. I had other times when I would give celebrities a print and they wouldn't like the print. I think that happened with Rob Stewart once. Robert Plant wasn't happy when I was taking his photo.
What was your most popular photo you took?
OJ Simpson selling lemonade. No one could figure out why he was outside selling lemonade.
What was the most controversial?
Probably Ron Gallela with Jackie O. Ron was a famous Paparazzi. He hounded Jackie for years and years and one day she had the Secret Service in New York arrest him. There is a documentary on his life called Smash his Camera. The judge in New Year put a restraining order and says you have to stay 25 feet away at all times. Ron would always spend the winters in LA taking pictures. It was really rare for Jackie Onassis to come to California. I got cleared to go into the event, he didn't, and he said follow her out to the car and I am going to give you a great picture. I wasn't really sure what it was but I followed her out to the car and he is out there and pulls out a tape measure he made himself that says "Ron keep your distance 25 feet" and he starts unraveling it and measuring the distance between him and Jackie O. It made a lot of European magazines at the time and when she died Time Magazine ran that as a half of a page. She was one of the most photographed people in the world so I thought it was pretty cool to have a photograph in that issue.
What was your favorite?
My all time favorite photo is called the Party Crashers which were these guys who would crash parties. They were just regular guys who held days jobs, one was a meter reader for the gas company but at night they crashed parties.
What gear do you use mostly when shooting?
I shoot a Canon 7D, a canon S90 and a Contax T3 that shoots film. I just started taking pictures again over the last year. I haven't take pictures in like 2 decades as I was too busy running my agencies.
What message would you like to tell people starting out or thinking of getting into photography?
Find a niche. If you can, go into advertising. Everyone wants to shoot celebrity stuff. The way people get advertising jobs is by doing editorial and photographers today need to do the editorial for free so they can get spotted by advertisers.
What's next for Brad Elterman?
I am promoting my book that just came out. It's available at one place in LA, one place in NY and then in Paris. It is limited edition of 500 all signed and numbered. I am very emotionally connected to Japan and want to continue to build myself there. I went there twice in 2010, once in 2009, once in 1987 and initially in 1979 with Leif Garrett. I did an exhibit, spoke at the Apple Store in Ginza and people there are just fascinated with these early pictures. I would love to shoot something for a Japanese fashion company.
My favorite photo of yours is Gene Simmons and Brook Shields.