I had the very fortunate opportunity to spend some time with Ethan Russell at Analogue Gallery in Toronto. He’s showcasing some of his work for sale and on display at the Queen Street Gallery until November 19.
Duffy and Russell, dark and light versions of each other, image taken by Analogue Gallery
Going into the Q&A conducted by my pal, Rob Duffy, I had no idea who Ethan Russell was or the work that he did. In his early twenties, he managed to tour with the Rolling Stones, capturing their iconic concert at the Alamont Speedway in California in photographs, which was also the subject of the excellent 1970 Maysles film Gimme Shelter. Russell was even one of the 17 people shipped away on a helicopter from the concert venue, along with the Stones, and folk hero Gram Parsons, who was just twenty-three at the time (!!!).
Myself and the thirty or so people in the tiny gallery were privy to the unbelievable experiences and stories that Russell had to share. It was really amazing to hear this guy willing talk about all of his adventures and the stories behind his photographs. Namely, his experiences shooting album covers for The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, and The Who.
Throughout the talk, I really felt a particular connection with film photography, a medium that I too subscribe to. Russell acknowledged that his style of photography was to capture what was happening in front of him, rather than making things appear, diverging from the gotcha!-style photography that photographers aim to attain today. Russell even stretched to say that it’s difficult to get a real picture today.
Russell made comments about his success as an American photographer in the world of some of rock’s most famous British exports, he credited to his American niceness. Particularly, with his relationship with John and Yoko, stating that people were often very mean to Yoko Ono, but he was nice to her, and that was a gesture that he thought both John and Yoko appreciated. His youthful, kind recollection of his attitude reminded me heaps of young, William Miller, the film Almost Famous‘ protagonist. An observation he brought to the table to support his Americans are nice people theory is that all of the Beatles and some point married an American. I don’t really agree with this, I do think the Beatles married Americans because they spent a lot of their time in the US. I’m chalking it up to proximity rather than the good nature of Americans. This is all certainly not to say that I don’t love my American friends, it’s just not a reputation that one certainly does not hear very often.
**Also, while we’re on it, I just rewatched Sarah Polley’s terrific documentary on her family Stories We Tell. It’s pretty astounding to think she was originally cast to play Kate Hudson’s role of Penny Lane in the 2000 film Cameron Crowe film Almost Famous.