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A Rolling Stones photographer remembers

Photographer Gered Mankowitz talks about the photoshoot for the album cover of The Rolling Stones' “Between the Buttons" — among other things.
Rolling Stones during the "Between the Buttons" cover session. Photo by Gered Mankowitz

Rolling Stones during the "Between the Buttons" cover session. Photo by Gered Mankowitz

By Patrick Prince

British photographerGered Mankowitz became well known for his unique images of music artists and rock bands in Swinging London, especially Jimi Hendrix, Marianne Faithfull and The Rolling Stones.

Mankowitz started out as a fashion and theater photographer, but it was the relationship he developed with the Stones that made him feel secure about music photography being his true calling.

It’s Mankowitz’ work on The Rolling Stones’ album “Between the Buttons” that brought him to a creative summit. The album photo session’s spontaneous and innovative imagery brilliantly matched the mystique and the persona of the Stones at the time. Much more concept and planning was put into the cover of the following album, “Their Satanic Majesties Request,” but the album cover image for “Between the Buttons” was far more organic.

Mankowitz told Goldmine the story behind the “Between the Buttons” album cover and how he developed an instant relationship, and then quick falling out, with what would soon be called “the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band.”

Gered Mankowitz: Well, to start at the beginning, I developed an increasing interest in photography in my mid-teens. So when I was about 13-14, I became pretty obsessed with the idea that I wanted to take up photography and that I wanted to shoot in show business of some sort. So I assumed that meant I would work in the theater because that was a big part of my father’s background — he was a writer and producer in the theater — and the theater had always been very important to me. I assumed that I would work in the theater photographing plays and actors. Now I did do that right at the very beginning of my career, which sort of began almost immediately. I left school when I was 15. And I was the youngest ever photographer to have photographed a play in the West End of London when I was 16.

I was shooting young actors for, you know, casting pictures. And two of the actors I worked with were Chad Stuart and Jeremy Clyde, who were also singers (folk rock duo Chad & Jeremy). And they asked me to photograph them at a coffee bar they were playing at in the center of London (in 1963) and we became friends. They got signed to a small label called Ember Records and I sort of went along with them for the ride and my pictures were used for their first album. And then I started working regularly for Ember Records. And that was how I realized that music was the area of show business that was absolutely perfect for me.

Goldmine: In this feeling that it was perfect for you, did you find that the subjects were more alive, because let’s face it, musicians have a little more character to them sometimes.

Mankowitz: Well, yeah, I guess I found them more alive. I think the thing was that although I loved theater and I continued to photograph actors for many years, I've always had several strings to my professional bow, and photographing actors was something I did right up through the '70s and into the '80s. But I think it was the realization that there was a new generation of musicians who needed images and photography, and who felt happier working with a younger photographer. They weren’t bothered by my lack of experience because my enthusiasm, my energy and my interest was enough to get over the lack of experience. And they weren’t experienced either. They were all breaking new ground, they were all, you know, pathfinders, anyway. So I think I realized very quickly that this was a fantastic area for me, that it was still very much show biz. I mean pop music, popular music, was seen as being, you know, part of variety theater. And, as you know, the early tours took very much the form of a sort of variety show, just with musicians of different sorts. So for me it was just a natural place for me to try and establish my career.

And then Chad and Jeremy were really key in other areas as well because it was through them that I met Marianne Faithfull when she was just promoting “As Tears Go By” in ’64 and I immediately fell under her spell. I thought she was absolutely divine, beautiful to look at, fun to be with and I asked her if I could photograph her and she agreed, unhesitatingly. And we went off and I took pictures and I hung out with her in the studio, and my pictures of her were seen by Andrew Loog Oldham who managed her, not on a day-to-day basis, but who was sort of her mentor, if you like. And he asked me to photograph his other band who was The Rolling Stones. And that took place very early in ’65.

GM: In the RCA Studios right?

Mankowitz: That was at the end of ’65. My first session with them was in my own studio in Mason’s Yard out of which the "Out of Our Heads" cover came, or "December’s Children" in America. That was the first session. That was I think around about late January, February, of ’65. That was my first session with the Stones.

GM: Do you still keep in touch with Marianne Faithfull now?

Mankowitz: Only at a bit of a distance. I usually speak to her once or twice a year. She lives in, maybe you don’t know, in Paris. And I haven’t seen her for a while. Funny enough I met her grandson the other day who is a budding photographer, which was very nice. But I’m still very close to Chad and Jeremy. In fact, I was in America photographing the last few days of their final American tour.

Goldmine: The first time you met the Stones, what was your first impression?

Mankowitz: Well, I knew of them already of course, because I had seen them on television. And I’d rather been taken by them because I think I was looking for an alternative to The Beatles, whose music I was really impressed by but whose image I found too showbizzy. And the edginess and the naughtiness of the Stones appealed to me tremendously. So I was already, I guess, already a bit of a fan, and I had found them to be extremely charming, very welcoming, not remotely prima donna-ish or in any way difficult. And it seemed to me as though they seemed perfectly enthusiastic about working with me. And Andrew (Loog Oldham) was probably much harder to get on with initially than the band. He seemed to have an edginess to him that was far beyond what I sensed in the band.

GM: All managers do in a way, don’t they?

Mankowitz: I think they feel ... I think they have to. And Andrew certainly was an extraordinary character. He remains a really good friend of mine. And I feel very close to him. I think that he was an incredible catalyst to my career. And I’ve always had huge respect for him, and an enormous amount of time for him as well.

GM: Now, did he at least introduce you to the Stones, like at a bar or restaurant, before going into ...

Mankowitz: No, I went to the office at the end of ’64 and I met them at Andrew’s office. So we just hung out, had a cup of tea, talked about whatever we were talking about in those days, and it was agreed they would come to the studio the first opportunity which wasn’t until, as I say, late January, early February of ’65.

GM: And so did they go over ideas for “Out of Our Heads”?

Mankowitz: No. “Out of Our Heads,” as a concept, didn’t exist. I mean there was no ... “Out of Our Heads” was just one of the shots that I did during my session. Because in those days, album covers weren’t planned, you know. They weren’t conceived. They were produced, usually by the manager or the record company, on behalf of the band. The band often had no input at all into what was going to be the cover. And usually a photograph that had been taken would be looked at, then somebody would say that would make a good cover and, presto, we had a cover. What I already learned and discovered by that point in time was that in order to get my pictures on the cover, I had to make sure that they fulfilled certain criteria that was demanded by the record company. And basically that was, you had to have room for the record company logo, and you had to have the type, the text, the name of the band, the title of the album, usually in the upper right-hand quadrant of the cover. And so I used to try and shoot as many of my compositions as I could with potential album cover use in mind. And “Out of Our Heads,” “December’s Children,” was just one of those pictures where the composition came to me and I knew that it was the perfect record cover composition, but I had no idea at that moment it was going to be a cover.

GM: Were you delighted about the way it came out? You hand in everything to the record company ... when do you first see what they’re going to do as a final?

Mankowitz: (laughs) Well, nobody asks you anything. I mean I delivered everything to Andrew and we talked about it and I think that he knew pretty quickly that it would make a good cover. And I think the next thing I knew it was produced. Things happened pretty quickly.

GM: You saw it in the record store? (laughs)

Mankowitz: Well, almost. Probably, possibly. Or I think that during ’65 I became much closer to the band and much closer to Andrew and his operation but right at the beginning, I don’t think it was really in Andrew’s make-up ... I mean, as far as he was concerned that was a great picture of the band and would make a great cover and that was going to be the cover. Nobody asked me or consulted me. I was just overjoyed, of course. And that particular session got used an awful lot. You know, sheet music always had a photograph on it ... singles, EPs and 45s had photographs on them and sometimes, in some territories, singles had photographic bags. So my pictures were very widely used, and also on the front of music press and that sort of thing. That session was a big success for me on lots of different levels, primarily, not just because of the album cover, but primarily because Andrew got a huge amount of material. And when a band is working as hard as the Stones were working at that particular period in their career, there weren’t that many opportunities to do photo sessions. So if somebody gave you an opportunity to do a photo session that had the potential to fulfill your photographic needs for the next three or four months that was a huge plus. And I did that. I gave fantastic value (laughs). You know, my pictures, I always gave people a lot of value. Because I was enthusiastic, and as I say I was shooting with album covers in mind and I was shooting on a square format. So the pictures were very easy to adapt to almost any publication. So, you know, it was a big success for me, as I say, because they could use a lot of the work and that was really crucial to them. So commercially it was really, really a productive session.

GM: Now "Out of Our Heads"/“December’s Children” ... that was done outside the studio.

Mankowitz: Yeah, that was literally 50 feet from the front door to my studio.

GM: (laughs) I love it. That was a remarkable photo, as well. How did you come up with that? You just said, I’m going to take it from this perspective, looking out?

Mankowitz: Well, you know something, it’s one of those things. Beside us, my studio was in the corner in this funny place called Mason’s Yard, which was like the back of Piccadilly. It’s really tucked away. And it has two entrances. One is a traffic entrance, if you like, and the other a pedestrian entrance, and the pedestrian entrance went actually underneath the building that was my studio. There was an alleyway, and It went actually underneath the building. And it entered the yard in the corner from underneath my building. And just up, literally, next door, there was a huge building site. And I’d gone earlier in the day before the band got there ... I’d gone and I’d asked the foreman of the building site if it would be OK for me to use the bricks, and the materials and the cage that they used for transporting the bricks across the building site. I wanted to check to make sure that it was okay for us to use that as a background and as a location. And he was fine about it. So I used the location, as I say 50 feet from the studio door, and leaning up against the wall were these huge boardings that we used to lock up the building site at night. And they were just leaning against the wall, one on top of the other. And it created this fantastic, very elongated triangular shape at the end, by looking down between the two boardings. And I saw that and I thought, "Wow, if I can squeeze the band into that space, that would work really well," and that’s what we did.

GM: It’s just directed perfectly. (laughs) You were an art director as well as the photographer.

Mankowitz: Well, you had to be. I mean nobody had art directors, and if they did they ran an art department but worked with material they were given. As I say, I don’t think I did a conceptual cover until, you know, late in ’66 when I did “Between the Buttons.”

GM: Was it your idea to also use black and white? Did you take color as well?

Mankowitz: Well, they chose black and white and, to be honest with you, I cannot remember whether I shot everything in both black and white and color. Black and white was the primary stock that we shot on. Color was ... I covered everything in color but not necessarily every composition. Often in those days before Polaroid, and as I say before the sort of conceptual approach, before the presence of an art director or a designer who would be with you, they would be supporting you going around the corner looking for other locations. But before that, everything was very much on my shoulders. I didn’t even have an assistant in those days.

GM: Did you find that refreshing or ...?

Mankowitz: It was just the way it was. I didn’t know anything different. I mean I’d been an assistant to people but it hadn’t occurred to me that I had reached a point where I’d needed or could have or could afford an assistant. It was just the way we were. You know, there was a certain amount of randomness to the whole process in those days.

GM: That’s what makes it so brilliant, that it wasn’t planned, and that spontaneity really gives it an edge.

Mankowitz: Well, I think, you know, that is refreshing. And that’s very difficult to regain. I mean once you become a hardened professional, you know, capturing that spontaneity in an increasingly professional controlling world is very difficult. So in that sense it must have been refreshing. But it was the norm and therefore one didn’t realize or appreciate what one had. You never do, do you?

I mean in the ‘60s we had to be incredibly versatile and very spontaneous in order to get the goods of any sort. You didn’t have an opportunity to discuss it, or sweat it or even consider it. You’d just say to a band, you know, "Get there." Put yourself into that corner or squeeze yourself into that space. But it was a great time to be working because everybody felt excited about what we were doing. In those days access wasn’t the issue. In a way the issues were much more complex. They were more to do with discipline. And yet the spontaneity of it all was what was making it so exciting and such a sort of a ... breakthrough.

GM: Now after shoots were done, did you sort of hang out (with the artists) and take off-the-cuff shots or anything like that?

Mankowitz: I was never very good at that. If we hung out, I tended to put the cameras away. I never felt very comfortable. I was never one of those people who had a camera with me at all times. I never did that. For two primary reasons. One I never felt comfortable doing it but also I was predominantly a Hasselblad photographer. I did shoot 35mm but not really out of choice. My first choice would always be medium format and that was just too big a piece of kit to carry around.

So I never had a 35mm camera over my shoulder and I really didn’t feel comfortable photographing everything that they did or everything they saw. And I’m not talking about just the Stones, I’m talking about any subject. I just never felt good about that. I wanted my sessions to be controlled. I wanted the bands to be committed to having their pictures taken and when we finished I put my cameras away.

GM: Did you know about all of the other photographers (on the scene)? Did you find it competitive?

Mankowitz: I knew about David Bailey, of course, and Andrew would tease me endlessly about Bailey. I mean, in a way, Bailey has haunted me. Because even one of my very earliest jobs as an assistant — when I was a baby, I was only just 15 — was with a fashion photographer and he took me to Paris to photograph the Autumn fashions in 1962. We were having dinner in Paris, there were three very loud, leather-clad blokes in the corner. And he said to me, "Whatever you do, you don’t really want to be like those sort of photographers." And I said, "Who are they?" And he said, "Well, that’s David Bailey, Terence Donovan and Brian Duffy and they’re known as the Terrible Three." (laughs) And from that moment on from the age of 15 I was sort of haunted by Bailey. And of course he was, you know, a wonderful photographer and he’d photographed lots and lots of marvelous, beautiful people and he’d photographed the Stones before I did. He’d had the cover just before I did. And I felt, you know ... I felt very competitive with him without really knowing him, and Andrew used to tease me all the time and say “You know if you f**k this up I’m going to take them back to Bailey.”

Goldmine: So Andrew was basically trying to light a fire under you. (laughs)

Mankowitz: Well you know he did. And ever since, really, at various odd moments in my professional career, Bailey has been there taunting me with his enormous success or his extraordinary talent or whatever it was, you know there was Bailey. And he still is there, I mean, you know...

GM: Did you eventually become friends or did you...?

Mankowitz: No, we never became friends. He was always very ... he was never very friendly. I met him a few times socially and he was always very offhand. Photographers weren’t wildly friendly with each other in those days. I’m not sure whether it’s because we felt competitive or whether it was something to do with the nature of being a photographer. I’ve never really been clear about that.

I had a few photographer friends but not many. And I always hated ... I never went to press calls or press photo shoots. I hated taking photographs in front of other photographers. I always felt terribly insecure and it’s the usual sort of self-employed paranoia of sort of feeling that somebody was going to knock on the door and take it all away.

GM: Which is kind of common for artists, creatively I would say. For anyone, but particularly artists I would say.

Mankowitz: It is, I believe. Yeah.

GM: That’s interesting because he sounds like a guy who took on the rock ‘n’ roll persona as well. Did you find yourself doing that as well?

Mankowitz: No, I don’t think I did. I mean I think I definitely went through moments when my ego and my vision of myself got a little out of control, there’s no doubt about that. There was a period when I definitely dressed inappropriately (laughs) but I’m sure I behaved like a complete asshole on occasions. But no, I never aspired to the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. I think it was something that ... I think it really saved me. I was always very happy to be a photographer. I felt that I was making a really important contribution. I felt that photographers were important in the overall scheme of things. Andrew always had tremendous respect for photography and for an image. I mean, image-making was what I wanted to be and do. I wanted to be an image-maker. I wanted to create images for these people. And I think I was very happy with that role. So I never really aspired to the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle and I was always very circumspect when it came to drugs. Sex was something that I always enjoyed an enormous amount. So rock ’n’ roll and sex, but the drugs I pretty much could do without. I was a soft drug person, I wasn’t a hard drug person.

GM: You really upped your game on the “Between The Buttons” cover. I mean that is a work of art. It really is. I guess you knew how the Stones were kind of stepping into the foray of psychedelia ... that had to be in your mind leading up to the cover shoot. Andrew probably informed you, right? That you were going to take (those kind of photographs) after their studio sessions?

Mankowitz: Well, it wasn’t quite like that. In those days the recording studio was a sort of hangout. It was a social event in many ways. And I would spend quite a lot of time in the recording studio with them — in photographing what was going on, but also just hanging out. And early one morning, because the band were recording through the night — they tended to start at about 10 o’clock at night and they would finish around 5 or 6 o’clock in the morning — and one morning we all came out of the studios onto the street, and I looked at the band as they sort of hugged themselves against the cold. And I just thought, you know, they look like the f**king Stones. That’s how the Stones should look. And I said to Andrew, I think we should do a session early in the morning after an all-night recording session. I think the band looked great. And everybody agreed. So we set it up.

Whether it was for the next night or a few nights later, I really can’t remember. But we geared it all up, came out of the recording studio, piled into two or three cars and headed from Barnes where Olympic Studios was, which is in west London, to Primrose Hill which is this high point just north of Regent’s Park in NW London where I thought we’d get really good early morning light. Because I guess we’re talking about November, so, you know, at 7 o’clock in the morning its still pretty dark. And I took them up to the hill, and you couldn’t drive so we all piled out at the foot of the hill. We walked through the gates, we wandered slowly and a bit stoned and cold as I planned. I was confident by this point in my relationship with the band and in my ability as a photographer, and I felt I was able to make a contribution, photographic, a visual contribution. And I had made ... I had constructed a filter which I strapped onto my Hasselblad. I made it out of black card, glass, on which I smeared Vaseline.

And I discovered that I can change the distortion by smearing the Vaseline in different ways ... in a circle, or diagonally or whatever it was, and I set this up and this is what I planned. And what I wanted was the band to sort of blur ... to disappear into the environment in a sort of trippy, acidy way ... I’d never taken acid so I didn’t really know what I was doing but I just guessed. I just guessed on sort of a visual trippiness. And that’s what I did. I guess I had about 20 good minutes with them before they got really cold and grouchy. And in the middle of this 20 minutes, Brian (Jones) was really playing up. He was being difficult. He was not looking at the camera, he was hiding in the sort of collar of this great big teddy bear coat that he had, he was reading a newspaper, he was generally in my mind not really contributing. And I turned and said to Andrew that I was worried about what Brian was doing. And Andrew said to me, you don’t have to worry about Brian. Because anything that he does can only contribute to the image of The Rolling Stones. So don’t worry about him. If he’s got his back to you, it will make a great picture. Just do what you’re doing. And of course that freed me up completely, released my anxiety about Brian. I ignored him and his shenanigans. And of course Andrew was completely right. He knew that the Stones had reached a point that it almost didn’t matter what they did individually because that just contributed to what The Stones were visually and their identity in the eyes of the public. They were this group, this gang, who could do anything they liked. And you just had to accept it. That was the Stones.

Photo by Gered Mankowitz

Photo by Gered Mankowitz

GM: Well, the photo that was chosen for the cover, it really seems like they were just hanging out ... but they really did blend in (with the background). It looked like Salem’s Lot. You know it had this eeriness, with the trees (laughs) ...

Mankowitz: I know, it really worked. And what was so great, what was so amazing, really was of course we didn’t have Polaroids and of course I would manually stop down the camera just to try and see what the depth of field was doing with the filter. But the lighting, the sun was only just coming up, and I was pushing the film and the exposure was probably f/4 at a 30th or something. So from what I saw, I could see that this was working and I just went with it and I didn’t really worry too much about whether half of Keith’s face was dissolving into the sky or not because it just felt weird and freaky and trippy. That session was all color except for one roll at the end which I did in black and white because I felt they were still going to need black and white as a support for whatever it was, but primarily I shot color. I think I only shot three or four rolls. I don’t think I had time to shoot much else.

GM: Color works with the psychedelic feel of it. And of course(later) they focused on Charlie’s jacket buttons, which comes from the “Between the Buttons” title.

Mankowitz: That’s “Between the Buttons” but I mean of course as with all things that Andrew and the band did, there was always something else underneath it. So “Between the Buttons,” you know, it always had slightly erotic connotation as well. And the buttons were just happenstance. I mean Charlie (Watts) had this very cool jacket — dark blue woolen blazer-type jacket with these two buttons which just glowed in the early morning light. And Andrew was inspired to put the text, the type in there. I mean that was his idea. I’m not sure whether the record company was wild about it, but they went with it, you know? Because you know in those days, in that mid-60s period, the record companies, although, yes, they asserted themselves, they insisted that their logo went in the top left or the top right. I think Decca was always top right, London was always top left. They were immovable on those things. But they were also in the dark about why this music was such a phenomenal success and they needed people like Andrew and I guess me as well ... young photographers, young managers, to keep them in the loop.Because these old men who ran the record companies, they had no idea.

GM: There was the persona of the Stones, publicly. But personally, if you look at Charlie, he’s a bit of a dandy. He’s very reserved, right? I mean he’s not the troublemaker at all.

Mankowitz: No, he wasn’t. But he had this sort of slightly monosyllabic... he was great looking, but he was very square jawed, he didn’t say very much. I mean, yeah, he was always beautifully dressed. Clothes were incredibly important to him, always. And he had this sort of hip, Manhattan, jazzy look to him. But you know that contrast between that and the sort of sharp Keith Richards and his granny-takes-a-trip, double-vested velvet jacket. And Brian and his ridiculous teddy bear fur coat. You know everybody is a character. Everybody is an important person in their own right.

GM: Right, but they weren’t really these ‘bad guys’ behind the scenes.

Mankowitz: No, they weren’t. I mean of course they weren’t. But that bad guy thing, that was really in order to create the antithesis of The Beatles. Andrew, who’d after all worked for The Beatles, he knew that the public needed... the young public needed a band who their granny hated. The Beatles, you know ... grannies loved The Beatles. Nobody had seen the Hamburg pictures. Nobody knew about Hamburg.

GM: (laughs) If they only had seen the Hamburg pictures!

Mankowitz: Yeah, if they’d seen those pictures, they might have been somewhat disillusioned. Because the band that Brian Epstein presented, you know, they wore ties and little cute shiny suits, and their hair, and they were clean and they were polished ... I was watching the Ron Howard “Eight Days a Week” the other night and I was reminded, you know, the way they bowed after each song. And what they were witnessing was still very show biz. It was a performance. They bowed after each and every number. And I thought that was extraordinary. Because the Stones ... if they bowed they would have been taking the piss.

So there were these lovely clean cut guys with their lovely suits and their shiny hair, cute and really sweet, making funny jokes and bowing after every song. And granny loved them. They were an artist that the entire family shared. And Andrew knew that the next big thing was going to be the artist that granny hated and that there were these kids that wanted to kick back and rebel and that this was going to be the band to do it. So whenever, you know, whenever there was a negative press story, Andrew would leap on it and exploit it. And we all did. Everybody thought that when the big newspaper said that they should be caged up like wild animals, I photographed them in a cage.

I mean we loved The Beatles’ music, but you know it was the ... image was so important, you know certainly to me because even though I didn’t know what was going on necessarily, I instinctively was drawn to the Stone’s image. The individualism. You know, I don’t remember seeing the Stones in their uniformed jackets because it was really a very brief moment and its only retrogressively that one has gone back to looking at those very early 1963 pictures of the Stones, that you remember they were for a brief moment being set up almost as a Beatles identical band. So there was something. It wasn’t just Andrew.

I mean the Stones were absolutely ripe for this individualism, and the most important thing was that the Stones were set up to be a blues band. And that was the most important thing, in a way. And that is what really drove them originally. And although Andrew was ... he knew that if they were going to go beyond that, that if they were going to make money and have a career that might last a year or two, they needed to write their own material. Andrew realized that. But I think that was the primary difference. You know, they were a blues band.

GM: It was the Blues that naturally gave them ... it made them different from The Beatles.

Mankowitz: I think so.

GM: Now you talked about a brief period ... interviewing people from that time, musicians, that there was this perception that rock 'n' roll was thought to be like a shooting star, that will flame out by like 1970. Did you feel that?

Mankowitz: I don’t know whether I was intellectually, philosophically-minded enough to think about it. What nobody imagined ... nobody thought that you would have a career in popular music. Everybody assumed that it was going to be a sidestep to a career in show business of one sort of another. I guess in ’65, (the Stones) were beginning to consolidate. They’d been to America, they’d moved on from the Blues — although they were still doing covers. They were beginning to write, having done so in ’64. They were emerging and I think at that point they thought maybe, if we’re lucky, we’ll have a couple of years. Maybe. And I think there were a lot of bands who were definitely dismissed as one-hit wonders. There were a lot of bands who were beginning to have success in America which we couldn’t really fully relate to like Herman’s Hermits and Freddie and the Dreamers, who we thought were pretty, you know, lame. There were bands like The Pretty Things and Them, who were very much in the same genre as the Stones but just didn’t seem to have ...

GM: The appeal?

Mankowitz: The look, the image, the individualism, you know, they just didn’t seem to have it. And I don’t think anybody imagined that any sort of career in music would last. That it would fall away in 18 months or two years. It was just inevitable.

GM: It’s amazing how it evolved.

Mankowitz: Amazing how it evolved. And here they are ... the band, you know, 50 years later, doing a blues album (“Blue & Lonesome”). Going back to the blues. And being No. 1. They’ve been No. 1 in 15 or 16 countries. You know, I mean it is quite phenomenal.

GM: I think Brian Jones would be pretty proud if he heard this new album.

Mankowitz: I think he would too. And I think it was his terrible struggle with those changes and his inability for him to write songs himself and his general ... who knows what was wrong with the guy. Clearly he had some terrible personality issues. Perhaps he was bipolar. But nobody knew how to treat it. Nobody knew how to behave towards it and nobody knew how to deal with it.

GM: Getting back to “Between the Buttons.” ­ — when you developed the film, you must have been like, Wow, this is better than I even expected.

Mankowitz: I was. Well I’m sure you’ll understand, that the first priority for a photographer in those days was, it has to come out. So once it comes out you’re just like, My God, and you start looking at them and you say, Oh that’s great, that’s really interesting. And I felt really comfortable going to Andrew and showing him stuff.

I think he was really pleased and ... we haven’t talked about it, but you know what was really important in those days, that disappeared, is trust. Andrew trusted me. I mean he encouraged me, he nurtured me, he mentored me, but he trusted me. And the band trusted me. Because you had to. You know, if you’re going to work with someone in those days you had to trust them. There’s nothing to look at until it’s done. So you have to trust them. And trust was a really important element in my relationship with all my subjects. But particularly in those days... those pre-Polaroid days. And I’m not sure....I didn’t really have to explain myself. I can’t remember whether I had discussed it with Andrew or if I had even begun to introduce it, There are some recording studio pictures taken with a similar filter. If I began to experiment at the recording studio, in which everybody would have seen this sort of clumsy home made filter on the front of my camera, or whether or not it came out for the first time at Primrose Hill, I can’t remember.

GM: That’s true about the trust. Because they saw you with, as you said, a clumsy looking filter, and they never questioned it.

Mankowitz: No I don’t think they did. I think they probably would have laughed if anything.

GM: And as years went on did you still have a relationship with the Stones?

Mankowitz: My relationship with the Stones really fell apart in ’67 when they began to fall apart with Andrew. I mean, by that time, the recording studio was where it was all going down. The atmosphere was pretty awful. Andrew was very frustrated, not really sure what was going on. Mick and Keith were becoming increasingly insular and darker and they were more stoned or more drunk, coming in at all different times. There was a sort of ... there was a chaos. And it was all about rejecting the daddy. Getting rid of Andrew, wanting more input, wanting more say. And I knew my days were numbered because (photographer) Michael Cooper suddenly appeared in the recording studio. He’d arrive with the band and, you know, they were sharing a new lifestyle which I wasn’t part of and didn’t have any desire to be part of. So I knew the writing was on the wall. And then one evening Andrew and I were in the control room, Mick walked in with Michael Cooper in front of me, and said to Andrew, “This is what the new cover is going to be and Michael is going to be shooting it.“ And I knew then that the writing was on the wall because up until that point, Andrew had been, not necessarily 100% in control of the image, but he’d been incredibly influential. He had been very much a part of making that image work. So that was it. It was all over and I didn’t really see them as a band again for, I don’t know, 15 or 16 years.

GM: And that album cover was “Their Satanic Majesties Request.”

Mankowitz: Satanic Majesties. It was going to be the lenticular. That sort of was their response to “Sgt. Pepper.” And Michael Cooper had done “Sgt. Pepper.” And Michael Cooper was an extraordinarily ‘in’ photographer, you know, he was very in the cliquey, arty world that Mick and Keith were moving into, he was very into drugs which Mick and Keith were getting into. They were moving up, if that’s the right word. They were moving to a different place. And, you know, Cooper was part of the world they were moving up to, and I wasn’t.

GM: Well I’ve got to say, the album you took the cover for is favorably looked upon and “Their Satanic Majesties Request” ... not as much. It’s seen as just an experimental album. In fact, “Between the Buttons” is often mentioned by critics as one of the best albums the Stones have done.

Mankowitz: Yeah, it’s a funny thing. I’ve always felt that was the high point of my career with the Stones. And also it was a turning point for me as a photographer. So it was a very major moment in my life and in my career and it’s, you know, very thrilling, all this time later, to have people feel so positive about work that you did so long ago, and that in particular.... So for me, it’s endlessly rewarding and it’s always going to be, you know, probably the most important moment in my career.

GM: Well, you said you still keep in touch with Andrew, you’re a friend. Do you still keep in touch with The Stones? I mean you were a big part of their career, their history.

Mankowitz: Well, I hope I was and I feel I might have been but I think that what one of the great strengths of the Stones is that they’ve always moved on. I mean they’ve always moved on in terms of people they worked with and collaborated with and photographers they’ve worked with. And I never expected them to come back, I never expected to ever have a role to play again. I saw Mick and Charlie earlier this year at the opening of Exhibitionism, their big event in London which is now in New York. And it was the first time I’d seen either of them for, I don’t know, 20 odd years. And they were both very affectionate, very friendly, they were both really lovely. Again I treasure that moment. But I’ve never been someone who wanted to force myself onto my subjects in a social way. It was always a professional relationship. I always felt that it was really important to keep it like that. I was friends with the Stones and I felt very close to them. Mick and Keith and Charlie in particular, I felt very close to. I felt that we were friends at this particular time. Because we were sharing an experience and a period in history where we perhaps were pushed together more. But as things changed and I became more professional, I wanted my relationships with my subjects to be professional ones. I wanted to be part of the team that made them successful. And therefore I was never, you know, I never assumed I would hang out, I never really wanted to hang out. I always felt a little uncomfortable hanging out, so you know, I kept my distance, I think.

GM: Yes, I can see. But it was a little bit odd that Mick would make that (Michael Cooper) announcement in front of you with Andrew.

Mankowitz: It was. That was really unpleasant and it was sort of upsetting, but it also came as a relief because everything that had been so wonderful for a couple of years, was changing. And although I didn’t know, I wasn’t wise enough to recognize what was going on, by that time I was firmly in Andrew’s camp. You know, Andrew had Immediate Records which I was very much part of both as a photographer and as an art director as well, and there were lots of other things. I had worked with Hendrix that year in ’67. My career was going great guns. And it wasn’t fun being around the Stones anymore. They weren’t the people who I’d loved in ’65 and ’66. They were changing. And I didn’t really question that. It just wasn’t fun. And if it wasn’t fun I really didn’t want to be part of it.

GM: It’s interesting how you said that you thought that was part of their strength, that they were able to evolve and move on, instead of hold onto the past.

Mankowitz: Well, I think that is part of their strength. I mean, I think that's that. You do not survive in their industry this long if you aren’t extremely clever and good at what you do. It’s not an accident. And I think one of their great strengths, particularly visually, if we’re talking about the visual side of things and photographers, is that they’ve worked with new and current photographers, photographers who are part of the current trends or part of their current life. But in terms of image, album covers, promotional images, they’ve always picked up on new people. I don’t think they’ve gone back. Not since the '60s anyway.


Fifty years of “Between the Buttons”