Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Picturing The Roses - Ian Tilton's Stone Roses Photographs

Rock photographer, Ian Tilton has pictured some of the most iconic and famous bands of recent times. From Joy Division to Nirvana, his photographs have catalogued rock history.

Some of Ian’s most famous photos were of The Stone Roses, who he pictured right from the early days all the way through to the legendary Spike Island. Ian has recently published a new book, written with co-author, Claire Caldwell, and comprising over 400 images, some of which have never been published before. We caught up with him to ask him about the book and his amazing pictures. 


Atom Retro - As well as The Stone Roses, you photographed many other icons from Nirvana, Joy Division and The Happy Mondays through to Guns N Roses, The Cure and The Manic Street Preachers. Who has been your favourite band or artist to photograph?
Ian Tilton - The Roses were one of the best to photograph - we all came up with ideas for photos and worked on them together to come up with something great. The band were very patient and had to be on some shoots because some were technically difficult to do and we took time to get it right. Other times, like when I travelled around with them, the documentary shots were mostly fun and spontaneous. It was great just hanging out and documenting it all. Another band I enjoyed working with because of the laughs - Pop Will Eat Itself.


AR - Your book, Set In Stone catalogues The Stone Roses right from the start all the way through to the legendary Spike Island gig. Which period or photo session was your most memorable?
IT - The Infra Red  photos we did at Gareth Evans' "farm". The band and me - young, hopeful, happy and experimenting to get great photographs. Before the music biz people ripped them off.

AR - One of the most interesting pages in your book is hidden right at the back - where you talk about the joys and perils of using 'real' film over digital technology. Do you still use real film now or have you moved over to digital cameras?
IT - Glad you enjoyed that technical section! Everyone wants photos turning around so quickly so its always digital now. In low light (which is what I mostly do) digital is now miles better.

AR - What first got you interested in Rock photography and what was your big break?
IT - Well, I became deaf at age 14 and lost most of my hearing. My brother was in a great band called the Membranes and I went to their first gig (Kirkham 'Palms', near Blackpool) and I sat on the stage next to the drum kit when the first band Zyklon B came onstage. I was blown away by the massive sound of those drums through my whole body and got into live rock music there and then. I’ve continued going to gigs ever since. I saw and loved photos by Anton Corbijn in the NME and music papers and my friends bro was taking a few photos of bands. He did some of the Ramones at Lancaster Uni and I thought, "I can do that!" so I saved up for a camera and photographed local bands who liked what I did.
The local paper (Blackpool Evening Gazette) ran 3 of my photos which was a memorable and really encouraging break for me. I signed up for a photography course and a few years later got commissioned on my first front cover of SOUNDS magazine - a band called 'Age Of Chance' from Leeds. Then soon after was my first commission in USA to photograph Aztec Camera in San Francisco.

AR - Many of the Stone Roses most iconic pictures (The Jackson Pollock-esque style shoot, Ian Brown's 'monkey' face, etc) were taken by you. What inspires the ideas behind the photos? Do you plan in advance or is it more spontaneous?
IT - I always planned something in advance and scribbled my ideas down on paper. I always had a starting point and then left myself open to spontaneity during every photo session. Spontaneous happenings were always my best shots I think. Humour has always been a big part of my work, so humour inspires me. Other artists inspire me, and other specific images have inspired me as starting points sometimes. I'll start there then change it naturally to make it my own. Pennie Smith's photos of The Clash; Kevin Cummins photos of Joy Division; lots of David Bailey's black & white studio portraits from the 60s 

AR - If you could photograph any person throughout history (alive or dead) who would you choose and why? Perhaps you've already achieved that ambition?
IT - AC/DC with Bonn Scott, Queen - Sheer Heart Attack era, Elton John in flamboyant stage gear, on the open top tour bus with Paul McCartney & Linda going round Universities in the early 70s, Joni Mitchell, The Doors, Stranglers late 70s... These were the bands and the characters that I first really loved as a kid, even before I picked up a camera.

AR - Do you have any tips to any budding photographers to get them started?

IT - A lot of photos I see are too heavily digitised and rely on the post production software and effects to make them. They can be technically stunning yet they lack personal honesty and humanity because of this reliance.