It’s time for another edition of Behind the Lens! This time, we’ll be hearing from photographer James Fortune, who has over 15,000 photographs from the 60’s and 70’s under his name. How do you get from being the photo editor of a college newspaper to a rock ’n roll photographer? Find out after the break!
James Fortune was a college student in the late 1960’s when he started photographing rock ’n roll icons. He has had the opportunity to take photos of music icons such as The Doors, The Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, Paul McCartney, Led Zeppelin, and a whole lot more. You might have seen many of his photographs, but what else do you know about the man behind the lens?
Were you always interested in photography?
My interest started when I was in my early teens. My first camera was a Polaroid Instant Land Camera. You know, peel it off? When I was 17 I purchased a used Minolta SR-7 35mm. Also that year I purchased a Minolta 120mm. I was attracted to the larger format right away. In my senior year of high school I was asked to photograph two weddings. They gave me money!
How did you get into photographing rock icons?
As the photo editor for my college newspaper, Los Angeles Pierce College just 20 miles north of Hollywood, I started to ask record companies if I could shoot and interview any of their recording artists for the possibility of getting free albums. No kidding. The first call-back I got was to show up at Sunset Sound Recording Studios. The band was The Doors.
Who was your favorite subject to photograph? Why?
Paul McCartney. He was so very easy to get along with. He even invited me to come back for a second day of shooting. He seemed to like my style and invited me back to take pictures of him with Linda and the family. He later purchased six 11×14 shots of family photos that I had taken during those initial sessions.
Please share one of your favorite photos and the story behind it.
The first photo that I took of Paul McCartney (holding the towel in front of him). He was just getting out of the pool and someone introduced me as his new photographer for the day. He immediately struck that “Gypsy Rose Lee” pose. I never had a chance to look through the viewfinder, but still captured this as the first image of that session.
What’s one unusual experience that you had while shooting?
Led Zeppelin in 1973 at the Continental Hyatt House in Hollywood (The Riot Hyatt). I was there that evening to try and get a new “group” photo of the band. No easy task. I went to each of the guys individually and asked them to sit in a chair for the group shot. This was not going to happen. I explained my situation to their manager, the notorious Peter Grant, and he said, “Hell. Is THAT all you want?” Whereupon, he physically picked up Jimmy Page and plopped him in the chair. He then had the rest of the band gather around for what became a famous photo. That became their 1973 Official Press Kit Photo.
We read that you were also on active duty with the US Navy Pacific Fleet Combat Camera Group. How was that like?
This was The Bummer in the Summer. Had I not joined the Navy, I would no doubt have been drafted by the Army. The Navy placed me in the Combat Camera Group where I did two years of active duty as a combat photographer, six months of which were in Vietnam.
If there’s one person that you’d like to have a photo session with, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
Keith Richards. He is the ultimate Rock & Roll Pirate.
What other activities do you enjoy besides photography?
Listening to the music of the 1960’s and 70’s.
Do you have upcoming photo exhibitions or projects this year?
I have recently been listed at Rock Paper Photos, which is kind of cool. I’m also working on a book about my experiences in Los Angeles in the early 1970’s. At that time it was the center of the music universe.
What’s one advice that you can dispense to our readers regarding photography?
Know your craft. It’s not about fancy cameras. It’s about the composition of the image, and your mindset in getting that shot. It’s about using the power of the lighting, and the surroundings that contribute to the image.
Which of these photos do you like the most? Are there other rock ’n roll photographers that you would like to see featured on the magazine? Leave a comment below! Meanwhile, read other articles on Behind the Lens.