Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Gijsbert Hanekroot

Pushing limits
Two years ago the pop photographer-on-a-timeout, Gijsbert Henekroot (1945) turned up on SYB Design’s doorstep with two plastic bags full to the brim with photos; vintage prints in all the formats you can possibly imagine. Did SYB fancy designing a book? Well, Hanekroot did and the designer just so happened to be in.

Amsterdam today London tomorrow. The day after that? New York. One day Joe Cocker, the next Chet Baker. Not forgetting Lou Reed, Miles Davis, Brian Ferry, Twiggy or Neil Young. 'Abba to Zappa' paints a picture of the hectic lifestyle of a pop photographer in the '70s. The book gives you an idea about the lives of all those immersed in pop culture: PR agents, A&R managers, assistants, roadies, groupies, record labels - not forgetting the artists. By placing the images in a seemingly random manner the chaos of Hanekroot's existence leaps off the page. Images of live acts alternate with portraits and pictures taken during interviews. The fact that Hanekroot spent so much time with the artists puts the photos into a different class from the iconic, contrived images we've all seen so many times.

Three concerts a week
Without being dated Hanekroot's raw and guttural black and whites have an unmistakable 1970s feel to them. Apart from that is when as a viewer you feel a certain nostalgia for the young faces. Young guns, they surely were, engaging ones at that; Van Morrison, Steve Winwood, Carlos Santana, Robbie Robertson, Keith Richards and Dennis Wilson look like proper kids in the photos. Not that they appear contrived: With the absence of stock poses, there are no early signs of the restrictive upheld, high-profile images they later adopted. These are relaxed, personal and intimate portraits verging on the candid.

The conditions which Hanekroot worked under are unimaginable by today’s standards. Photographers were allowed to work for the entire duration of a concert, as opposed to only the first three songs - as is the case nowadays. During Hanekroot's peak time however, conditions had already started to change. He had to be a bit creative and break a sweat to get to the front of a Bob Dylan concert held in Rotterdam in 1978. Press photographers were banned and so he ventured into the arena alongside the crowd with his tripod and lens and fought his way through the masses to get up front.
Hanekroot always planned to take his best picture at a concert, especially when the artists pushed themselves to the limit. Going to three concerts a week his experience had taught him how to tell whether the musicians were motivated or just trying to get through the gig within the first five minutes. If the performance was out of this world, Hanekroots pictures matched it.

Routine kills
Interviewers always had priority over the photojournalists in the '70s. The journalist would get all the time in the world, after which there was no time for a photo. This led to Hanekroot's demand for full interview presence. This was no era of 10 minute interviews and even less so the era of press releases. This was the era of one-on-one conversations that could last the entire afternoon. Hanekroot would be there and would even crawl under the table if he needed to make himself less conspicuous. He would then shoot off home to develop his films and print his photos. A short time later he would jump on his bike to sling the photos in the post boxes of newspaper editors - press photo agencies, the Internet and digital manipulation were not something he had the use of. In 1983 Gijsbert Hanekroot quit music photography when he started bringing home photos that were less impressive than the ones he had taken of the same act three years before. It had become routine. Brought together in 'Abba to Zappa' three decades later, the book is no mere appendix. It is an enrichment of the history of pop culture in itself.

© Pim Milo, 2008

No comments: