Andrew Whittuck on Pink Floyd, The Beatles and the art of reinvention
30 May 2017
We caught up with AOP member Andrew Whittuck about his incredible life in Photography
The early days
When I left school I worked for a portrait photographer, printing her black and white prints. I learnt a lot just being around the studio and I remember she said, “‘listen to this” it was Miles Davis ‘Kind of Blue’, only recently released in 1962.
I worked in a bank for 3 years and in my spare time did lots of friends’ portraits, weddings, shooting stills at my friend’s first attempts at Film, and wandering around London and developing and printing in my spare time.
I shot Helen Mirren being filmed in a clinch, on Hampstead Heath just as she was about to be attacked with a sword – heady stuff. She must have been 18, but I think we were already aware of her emerging stardom.
I had an exhibition in the foyer the Everyman cinema in Hampstead, followed by one at a camera shop in Kensington. There I met Hiroshi Yoda still at the LCP and realised I must go to college to proceed.
I was accepted and started in the first year. Later the next year, 1966 there was the tragic disaster at Abervan, where 88 children and teachers were killed in a coal slag mudslide, during school assembly. I went down with an American photojournalist shortly after the terrible tragedy and later for the burial 10 days later. We rushed back to London, processed and printed our pictures overnight and his agent took them to Life Magazine, but their photographers had shot, surprisingly in colour, some from helicopters above, and they had already sent them off to New York. The atmosphere in Abervan where they were historically used to some extent to mining deaths was horrendous - nearly a whole young generation was wiped out. We could only photograph at a distance.
I had an exhibition at the LCP that winter of my Abervan pictures. I was 22 then and realised that college wasn’t for me. I left and started shooting freelance photo stories.
Pink Floyd and The Beatles
I did five stories in that next six months with writer Farrukh Dhondy which included The Pink Floyd, The Maharishi and the Beatles, Kathakali Dancers from Kerala and “Dialects of Liberation“ at the Roundhouse with Allen Ginsberg, the beat poet, RD Laing (Scottish psychiatrist), Emmet Grogan, father of the hippy children from Haight Ashbury in California and Stokely Carmichael, the black power leader, after Malcolm X. I remember that at the end of this weeklong event Stokely Carmichael disappeared through curtains at the back of the stage surrounded by 10 huge bodyguards. A shocking thing to see in London in 1967, it was the end of Flower Power.
I had a friend who knew the Pink Floyd managers and they were keen for any publicity, since the Floyd had only been formed 18 months before. Before that they were called ‘The Tea Set “. They all came to my Studio/Bedroom in my parents’ house in Hampstead with all their instruments and most importantly for me, with their lighting guy. The only illumination I used was the lighting they used in their gigs, a 35mm Kodak projector with glass slides with a mixture of oil/water and coloured ink, heated by a hair dyer close up, so that the ever changing bubbles of colour floated over them.
I shot them against a white Colorama, individually and together mainly in colour but also in black and white using mainly a Hasselblad and also a Nikon on a tripod with high speed Ektachrome pushed to asa 320, and Trix pushed to asa 600. They were all quiet and studious waiting patiently in my brother’s bedroom or maybe it was the LSD, which was around at the time. My mother ever interested came up at one time, noticing Syd Barrett, particularly out of it, in the corner, brought him up a strong cup of sugary tea which we thought, brought him round a bit.
I shot all the Abbey Rd stuff in black and white and some colour, shot with my Hasselblad mainly so that they could use the Hasselblad shots for their forthcoming LP ‘Piper at the Gates of Dawn’ being square format. Sadly it was not to be. My agent had asked too much for the use of the pictures so I sat on them for 25 years before finally putting them with Redferns Picture Library and now with Getty.
I also followed them around to the UFO club, Ally Pally and the Royal College of Art gigs and also to Abbey Rd, where they were finishing off ‘Piper‘.
The only one that paid out quickly was the “Maharishi and the Beatles.”
I went with my Indian friend and writer, Farrukh Dhondy to the Hilton Hotel, in Park Lane for our meeting with the great man. What a weird location, the Maharishi siting on what seemed like a hundred cushions with chandeliers above saying in a sing song voice ”More joyfulness, More joyful happiness “ again and again. The Beatles and their girlfriends, without Ringo were in the front row. We could not believe our luck we were about to make our names! We followed The Maharishi and the 3 Beatles back stage to a small room for the private initiation. I grabbed a quick picture of John Lennon in a white suit looking a bit like a prophet, people standing back a bit as they well they might with the other great man.
Farrukh was hoping to sell the story to the Listener, the BBC weekly magazine at the time, entitled “Beatles get off this trip its going nowhere “ which he subsequently did!
I think Farrukh must have chatted a bit with Paul, because the next day we went to Kings Cross station, where the Beatles and other followers were going to mountains of North Wales with his Holiness. Paul recognised us and said Hello. We were being touched with greatness! I managed to get a pic of the Maharishi on the platform before he disappeared onto the train plus his acolytes. I suddenly noticed Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithful sitting quietly on the train and grabbed a quick shot through 2 lots of glass, what luck I thought.
I did not realise until 30 years later after listening to a radio programme that John Lennon was sitting opposite them. No wonder Mick was looking a bit fed up, with Lennon fancying his bird all the way up to north Wales! What a coup that would have been Lennon and Jagger in the same shot, with Marianne Faithful! It was time to get on with my career. The picture stories had not sold either quickly or well so I had run out of time and money. The snakes and ladders my photo career.
Food, Still Life and Portraiture
I went in search of a studio-assisting job, finally working for Len Fulford, at the time one of the very best food and still life photographers in London. He wanted me to run the studio so that he could gradually switch to shooting commercials, for which I was hopelessly unqualified. It was all shooting on 10x8 with studio flash and I lasted 5 months, I don’t know how.
Freelance assisting jobs came and went until I thought I could and should set up on my own making my flat into my studio too. Lots of hard lessons followed but gradually I became more competent shooting white pharmaceutical pills on white backgrounds, and occasionally shooting very spoilt child models and 6 babies at a time, you were lucky to get 5 mins to grab the shot. I did pack shots, industrial shots for Plessey Radar and Atomic Power stations, Textile factories, Ford at Halewood, where they had allegedly 22 football pitches in the factory for when things were slow. I gradually moved more and more into food photography doing lots of McCain chip shots, pies, and fruit tarts.
I still occasionally shot portraits for mainly publishers including Melvin Bragg and his writer wife, and Sidney Nolan and his writer wife. I was also asked to shoot for an American publisher for a stills film of writer Christie Brown in Dublin. One evening we were all singing, on St Patricks Night in the upstairs bar of a Pub in Clontarf, Dublin. On leaving we had to negotiate the spiral staircase to get Christie into his wheel chair. Something went wrong and Christie tumbled in free fall down the stairs. Somehow we him got into his wheelchair unhurt and we continued our sing-song at the family house until the early hours. I thought ‘this could only happen in Ireland!’ I also shot a murderer who was a writer who had been a marine, trained to kill, who had fought at Arnhem and after being found guilty spent 15 years in Brixton Prison.
In the early 80s food photography really got going and I jumped on the bandwagon shooting editorially for magazines, part works, cookery books and some advertising.
It was a good time and I moved to a very expensive Holborn studio with 2 parking spaces and a colour lab in the building. I even shared an agent with David Bailey. It was a great time until the next recession came in the late 80s /1990. I think I and my generation of photographers weathered at least 4 recessions in our careers.
Like some of my fellow photographers with heavy overheads it was a difficult time. I moved home and made a studio /office on the first floor and began shooting for Art Galleries artists including Damien Hurst, Donald Judd etc. I shot mostly sculpture, lugging my heavy location flash, balancing daylight with flash as the colour changed during the day and using a £600 colour temperature meter and filters, using 5x4 and 35mm too, using Fuji Provia Film to get faithful colour. It was taxing but good. The galleries quickly moved to digital and I missed the boat so it was reinvention time again.
I went to the City Lit for a year, to study as a teacher for 1 day a week getting my City and Guilds diploma and then started teaching photography at The City Lit in Covent Garden, my old college LCP and other colleges around the country.
Over the past years I have also covered performance art events including that of my wife the Performance Artist, Bobby Baker for 25 years, and that developed gradually as I documented various venues around the country. For 10 years I also had a one Sunday a month photo group. We shot all over London, some times by night, going to the seaside, portraits in the studio and with an exhibition at the end of each session.
Thus I continued over the next 10 years teaching and documenting Performance art events.
Landscape Photo Holidays
I had always thought it would be good to run some kind of photography courses, leaving London and setting up in the country. I soon realised that would be too expensive in the UK, but I managed to buy a simple bungalow in the Corbiere region of France near the Spanish Border, which could sleep 6/8 people. It took 2 years to sort out. I had a launch party where I was teaching in Islington and with a Journalist friend writing me up.
It slowly got going, running the Landscape Photo Holidays. I was just a few steps ahead of my students, having to develop my photo skills yet again in quick time. Luckily I had finally switched to digital and was slowly getting to grips with Photoshop, I was on my way. I would pick students up from the airport, drive them around to the wonderful locations and put them up and wine and dine them too.
Luckily the house is very close too the dramatic Cathar castles set in the amazing landscape of the Corbiere with fabulous colours during the spring and autumn.
I now also run short landscape photography courses, near the Seven Sisters and Birling Gap in East Sussex. That is the story pretty much up to date and I am looking forward to the next challenge. I think travelling the world, funds permitting, to photo waterfalls.
Five years ago I switched to Fuji X Series, which have been great especially now with the new X-pro and XT2, because my Nikon stuff was getting so heavy. My location kit now includes 3 camera bodies and 3 zooms, normally no tripod and just a few filters. Shooting by the sea and with wind it’s so easy to get dust on the sensor. Now what’s the next camera, completely waterproof I hope?
You can see Andrew's Pink Floyd photos at
‘Their Mortal Remains' exhibition at the V&A in London until September
and also at
'Captured in a Moment: 50 Years of Iconic Rock & Roll Photography' at The Royal Albert Hall, until 25th June, Saturdays and Sundays only.