Photo Alchemy

Trevor Hobley discovers lenticular technology when he met up with Gered Mankowitz at Snap Galleries in Birmingham on Saturday the 7th August 2004.

"And when you walk by, Brian Jones pokes his tongue out at you…….."

With my radio tuned into local station SAGA 107.5 FM and sitting at my desk concentrating on putting the Editorial for AfterMath # 4 together, I was suddenly distracted from my attentiveness to the computer screen by the intro of 'Brown Sugar', great, but then almost immediately into the track an overdubbed voice starts talking about Gered Mankowitz's new photographic exhibition at Snap Galleries in the Custard Factory, Birmingham.

Photo AlchemyI didn't immediately catch everything, but what particularly did attract my attention in the brief commentary was a reference to Brian Jones and to look out for what he does on the centre shot of a six foot tall lenticular print – instantly I said to myself: "Lenticular print - what the hell is one of those?" My concentration on the magazine temporarily put on hold I listened out for a repeat of the advert and sure enough, within 30 minutes it re-ran and this time, taking more notice of the content I made a note of the phone number for Snap Galleries and immediately called for more details.

I was greeted by a pleasant voice and informed by gallery assistant Zoe that the exhibition didn't start until a few days later on the 7th, but in the meantime she would post some information on to me, and, true to her word, the very next day a brown envelope dropped through my letterbox with a glossy and informative brochure on their exhibition entitled 'Photo Alchemy'.

Running for the next six weeks, many images captured by acclaimed rock photographer Gered Mankowitz would be shown at Snap Galleries. Gered is widely regarded as one of the greatest rock photographers of the last fifty years. His big break came as an 18 year old in 1965 when, in his first session with The Rolling Stones, he took the cover shot which was used on their 'Out Of Our Heads' album. He was the official photographer on their 1965 US tour, and went on to shoot for 'Between The Buttons' in 1966.

Photo AlchemyHe took what many regard as the classic studio portrait of the Stones and worked with most of the major sixties bands and continued photographing top musicians throughout the seventies, eighties and nineties. His work has been widely exhibited around the world and is extremely popular with collectors of fine art photography. Examples sit in the permanent collections of major public galleries. This particular exhibition would include imagery of Marianne Faithfull, The Yardbirds, Jimi Hendrix, Paul McCartney and Oasis - and of course, Gered's photographs of the Rolling Stones, captured in the sixties, would form the bulk of the exhibition. The brochure illustrates and explains in simple language Gered's individualistic techniques for photo painting and lenticular prints as well as details of his universally recognised traditional photographic prints.

However, the brochure cannot do justice to the 'lenticular real thing' which immediately becomes apparent as you approach Snap Galleries and focus on the huge image of Keith Richards showcased in the window. Whichever path you take towards the gallery a similar but differing image of the guitarist appears, spookily moving, as your perspective changes.

Forewarned is forearmed, but on entering the gallery be prepared, one's eyes are immediately drawn to another incredible six foot tall image, again of Keith but this time sitting in his car with the driver's window wound down. How fresh and innocent the young Stone looks as you walk by the portrait, his facial expression changing to reveal a pleasant grin but one also has a credible sense of motion - of the car actually moving.

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Hard to believe, but your mind really does play tricks by giving a sense of almost being there, back in the sixties  when the celluloid images were first snapped!

lenticular 3But where's Brian with his tongue poking out? - the phrase on the radio that had originally drawn my attention to Gered's first-ever exhibition in Birmingham was eluding me. Turning on my heels I immediately saw the third six foot high photograph over to my left and on the opposite wall. A familiar image of the band from the 1966 early morning shoot from which the 'Between The Buttons' cover shot originated – and as I walked by the frame the image changed and there it was - it really did appear that Brian was cheekily poking fun at you by suddenly popping his tongue out!

Both six foot by four foot images certainly take centre stage on the two long walls of the gallery but there is a lot more to see as one comes to terms with the huge, framed, lenticular prints. Approximately fifty other framed and unframed images compete for space in the gallery, smaller examples of lenticular prints sit alongside exclusive photo paintings, each painting unique in its own right and unrepeatable due to their individualistic construction. Framed traditional photographs, mounted on each wall with others on the desk and tables all add to the mystique and mastery of Gered's unique techniques and talents.

Turning to face the door what immediately grabs your attention is the stunning image of Jimi Hendrix. Approaching the image and altering one's perspective, amazingly not only changes the expression on Hendrix's face but also the background colours change thereby creating an incredible lenticular illusion. The three images used to construct the lenticular were shot during one of Gered's most famous photo sessions in 1967 and the images show Jimi smoking a cigarette with each image being toned green, purple and red respectively to give the viewer such a unique and powerful portrait.

Photo Alchemy

Mesmerised by all of this photographic art adorning the walls of the gallery it's understandable that some items could be missed quite easily and so it was with the three individual portraits of Mick, Keith and Brian exhibited low down, almost at floor level beneath the Hendrix lenticular. On closer inspection however these turned out not to be ordinary photographic prints but special glass photo paintings. Gered later informed me that these were part of a series of never-seen-before shots of the individual Stones that he took for the band's U.S. Visa application forms in 1965.

As I wandered around the gallery on this, the opening day of the exhibition, Gered was circulating and talking about his work to the many visitors constantly passing through. I was keen to introduce myself but wanted to concentrate first on his exhibits before talking to the man himself.

As they chatted, each visitor in turn had Gered's undivided attention which gave me the opportunity to take in and study almost every piece within the gallery, however I kept coming back to the 'Between The Buttons' lenticular, I was particularly curious as to its construction and the origination of the concept so when the opportunity arose to introduce myself to Gered, the burning question on my lips was, where did this static, almost 3D effect originate?

Gered: "The extraordinary thing about this technology is that the first time I ever became aware of it was when I was with the Stones in America in 1965 and I saw a lenticular postcard in Times Square, a rather vulgar postcard as it happened, but it caught my eye, caught my imagination – I bought it and took it back to show the guys who had a good laugh. In those days because of the limitations, the printing limitations and the technical limitations, it meant that you could only print lenticular prints in a small size, about six inches by four inches and in fact the Stones had a small lenticular on the front of thier original Satanic Majesties cover. I don't think that very many were printed, about 5000 I believe because it was just too expensive to produce. So it's curious that there's this link with my experience with the Stones back in the sixties. And then I didn't give it another thought until last year, 2003, when I was working on some huge prints for another exhibition and the people I was working with said to me, do you know about lenticular printing? I told them the story from 1965 and I said y'know its a bit gimmicky, and its a bit limited and cheesy but they said, well it isn't anymore because you can now get the lenses in eight foot by four foot sheets and I thought wow, to do a life size portrait, or larger than life-size portrait would be interesting and so I did just that. I did an experimental one with Keith; I did Keith smoking a cigarette, a huge six foot by four foot one. I did it as a decorative piece for a Rolling Stones show that I had and it was just a huge success - we sold out. I did a limited edition of five and it sold out straight away and I was absolutely amazed that people would be able to buy such a big piece. And then Richard Goodall in Manchester, the Richard Goodall Gallery, wanted to do a solo show for me up there and he said why didn't we do some new lenticular's and that's how this show came up. I created ten new images and that's it, that's how we did it".

Photo AlchemyI asked: "Gered, wandering around the exhibition I was very impressed with the lenticular technology and the actual range of sizes you're able to produce and as you mentioned, it's fascinating, the link between the Times Square smutty postcard incident back in sixty five - and the sophisticated images now on the wall here. I particularly like the huge group shot which, as you pass by, Brian actually sticks his tongue out at you…."

Gered: "Oh yes, that's the Primrose Hill, 'Between The Buttons' session, yes that's nice. When you can put three images together you do get this animated feeling and it's sort of surreal as you walk past and they do come to life. I mean, it's just a trick of course but it's quite an eerie feeling because you see this sequence, you see hair move, eyes move, arms move, people smile and it's very odd, very engaging, very interesting. The photographs themselves were taken very early on a beautiful morning after an all-night recording session. I'd built a rather clumsy filter of black card, glass and Vaseline which I hoped would create a strange, ethereal and slightly 'stoned' look to the photos".

I asked if under the glass, was there just one sheet, one photograph?"

Gered: "Yes, it's a digital print on a single sheet of paper. Each of the three individual photographs used to construct the lenticular is digitally split into vertical strips and depending on the final effect depends the width of the strips; over the final print is laid a special lens - a corrugated plastic lens and that's all framed together. The corrugated lens reveals the three images as you alter your perspective. It's very complicated but that's the gist of it".

I was extremely fortunate to monopolise Gered's time for almost an hour both inside the gallery and sitting outside on the wall of the large water feature in Gibb Square. With the sound of fountains in the background we chatted about Brian; Gered gave me a frank and unbiased insight into the life of the talented but troubled musician from his own personal experiences, and for me, it was remarkable to listen to this man's memories of the person who has become such a huge part of my life over the past eighteen months. Gered was particularly complimentary about AfterMath and appreciated the amount of effort put in by everybody to produce such an 'informative fanzine' for our Fan Club members.

In the past he's been a good friend to the BJFC, always very co-operative and supportive and whenever we've asked to use his images of Brian and the Stones in our magazine - he's always said yes; a case in point being the Christmas card that we sent out to members last year - a copy of the 'Spirit' photograph requested for the cover was immediately despatched by Gered when we sought his permission and, as many recipients commented, made an extremely evocative Christmas cover shot.

'Photo Alchemy' runs through Saturday 18th September 2004. For anybody who wants to know more or would like to visit Snap Galleries their contact details are as follows:-

Snap Galleries

16 Gibb Square

The Custard Factory

Birmingham B9 4AA

Telephone – 0121 224 7345

http://www.snapgalleries.com

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Visit Gered Mankowitz website at: http://mankowitz.com

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