Photographer Robert Knight was on yet another plane to another exotic location (this time, New Zealand) when these questions reached him. Iíve known Robert for many years though it has been much more of a professional relationship than a personal one. Iíve seen him scurrying about backstage, or running around the Guitar Center on Hollywood Boulevard, wearing his trademark beret and doing what he does best. What he does like no other.
Interviewer Steven Rosen: At the time you shot Hendrix back in the day, did you have any sense that these shots would become so important in your catalog? Could you tell that Jimi was going to be a very important musician in the history of music?
Robert Knight: I knew Jimi Hendrix would go on to be a great guitar hero but at the time had no sense of how important these photos would be come to helping my family out later.
Name two or three sessions/concerts/photo moments that really stand out for you.
The first time I shot Jeff Beck live in 1968 at the Fillmore West, I was watching true greatness.
The final day of Stevie Ray Vaughanís life. I shot all day on stage and off stage and these images went on to be more than likely the most important images I had ever done. They bring great joy and sadness at the same time.
The first Led Zeppelin show in America.
Choose your three favorite shots in the book and tell me why they are your favorites.
Led Zep at Honolulu airport. I was the only guy they knew in Hawaii; it was on their first tour and they are carrying the tapes of Led Zep II in their arms. I drove them around Hawaii in my VW for several days hanging out with them.
Jeff Beck arm raised. I feel I finally got the shot that most defines Jeff
Elton John double page. He stopped the show and looked at me and let me shoot a few frames and then went on with the concert.
Were there ever any musicians that you shot that didn't like your photos?
I have had some funny shoots with Ed Van Halen who said, ďWhatever you do, do not let these out.Ē
Are there any sessions where you now think, "Oh, I could have done so much better?"
I wished I had pulled my camera out when I was hanging with Jimi Hendrix at his rented house in Hawaii. He was in his bathing gear and kind of did not want me to shoot as this was not how he wanted to be seen.
As cameras improved, did your photos improve? Do certain cameras have certain looks (i.e. Nikons look a certain way)?
I always loved Nikons. And yes, as the cameras improved, so did the images.
When you look at photos from other photographers, can you look at them in a sort of detached manner as just another admirer? Or does the professional in you kick in so you say, "Great shot but the lighting could have been better ... blah blah blah?"
I see all of us rock and roll photographers as a horizontal line not vertical. I am a huge fan of most rock and roll photographers and love their work. Sometimes I wish I had the chance with some of the guys they got access to and I am sure they are the same about me. But letís face it, how many guys actually shot Jeff Beck, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix back in the day that are still shooting?
Who are your favorite rock photographers?
As magazines improved the quality of their graphic processes, did this also mean a leap in the quality of your published photos?
It did until everything went online; now it really does not make much difference!
Did you ever have an "uh-oh" moment? In other words, you ran out of film; no batteries; bad cables?
You bet; many times. Not enough film, or flash cards and missed the great shots.
Are you more a live/concert guy or a studio guy?
Love live; itís harder than a place where you control everything in the studio, but what most people do not know is that for 40 years I was also a major advertising photographer and did a lot of major studio and travel work for some of the largest companies in the world.
What makes a great photographer? I know a little bit about framing the subject and the lighting is important, of course. So, if you gave me a camera and 10 rolls of film and I went to a concert and stood at the front of the stage and shot 160 photos or whatever, I'd probably end up with one or two really good shots. Not knowing what the hell I was doing.
Know when to take the photo and when not to. Most pro guys shoot in focus and compose well. Itís down to how you play with light and capture the moment, and knowing when it might be coming.
If you went to a concert and took 160 photos, you'd probably end up with 159 great shots. So, what is that quality? And I'm not talking about the technical aspects (f-stops and stuff). It's an emotional element, right? Something you feel?
I need to be into what I am shooting, I never, never would shoot bands if I did not like their music. The Dead, Janis, and many others I would never work with when I actually had many chances.
Who was the hardest artist to shoot? The least cooperative?
James Brown, but in the end we both figured out how to work with each other.
Was there a session where you initially thought, "Oh, I don't think I got exactly what I wanted." And then, when you saw the final shots, you were totally amazed?
SRV [Stevie Ray Vaughn] live in MSP in 1989!
When you pick up a copy of your book and hold it in your hands, what do you feel? What do you truly feel? Can you step away from the book at look at these photos and think, "Wow, some guy took these amazing shots of Hendrix and Slash and Jeff. That's cool."
I feel disconnected, like I did this? To have Slash write the forward blew me away as I did not see what he wrote until the book came out!
Robert Knight's career spans from the
1960s to the present as one of the premier photographers for the music
industry, rock publications, and music equipment manufacturers. Knight is best known for his "Guitar Legend" archive, having worked with such artists as Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Led Zeppelin, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eric Clapton and contemporary performers like John Mayer, Slash, and Green Day. When he's not photographing, Knight serves as the co-director of Hollywood's Rock Walk in Los Angeles. He is a feature photographer in the Rock and Roll Gallery and a retrospective of his work is currently exhibited at over 160 Guitar Centers across the United States.
Steven Rosen interviewed photographer Robert Knight, author of Rock Gods: Forty Years of Rock Photography (see accompanying review), about
his book for curledup.com. Steven Rosen/2009.