Do you ever feel challenged by the creative energy of your subjects? The pressure to create something unique when you're walking amongst giants? I had a chance to talk with renowned music photographer, Denis O'Regan about shooting some of the biggest names in modern music history.
O'Regan's online exhibition and special print sale, 69 DAYS, features some of his most iconic shots of David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, and Freddie Mercury. 69 DAYS runs until January 1, 2023 at West Contemporary Editions.O'Regan's work with bands leading the trends in the pre-punk, punk, new wave, rock, and arena rock genres is legendary. I personally can't imagine the pressure of having to create something artful with such enormously inventive subjects. Humble, O'Regan notes that he was a documentarian, capturing the events around him, rather than creating something in studio. A quick look at his work shows that O'Regan was doing much more than just pointing and shooting. O'Regan's framing and use of light helps to express the hidden personality of the stars he photographs. Even so, O'Regan did explain that he always feels pressure to bring something new and innovative to the likes of David Bowie and the Rolling Stones, given that they've basically seen it all by now.
O'Regan's anecdote about regular slide shows with Bowie while out on tour makes my blood run cold. Imagine trying to impress Bowie? For O'Regan, Bowie's interest in framing his backstage world in an informal yet theatrical way meant that the two hit the ground running, slipped into a fertile groove, and didn't really stop.
O'Regan did admit to being human. He can feel edgy before a big concert. O'Regan loves live shows and seems to thrive on the moment to moment fluidity of watching musicians on stage. For O'Regan, the moment of truth comes after the show, when he shares images with the band. For instance, in 2008, when he was contracted to work with KISS for one show, but they insisted he stick around for an 8-week tour after he wowed them during a post-concert presentation.
Still, I pressed a little. There must have been an artist or event that shook the unflappable O'Regan? Of course, it was Live Aid. A concert like Live Aid was unique, and it was massive. Working with Bob Geldof, O'Regan was one of the day's official photographers. O'Regan does acknowledge that for him, the pressure was on.
In terms of musicians, it's no surprise that Bowie stretched O'Regan's talents the furthest. Together, Bowie and O'Regan pushed music photography into new territory. In particular, O'Regan and Bowie spent a few weeks in 1983 in Asia at the end of Bowie's eight-month Serious Moonlight tour, creating some stunning imagery. Between Serious Moonlight and the Glass Spider tour of 1987, also covered by O'Regan, Bowie has never been photographed so much. Clearly, Bowie's comfort with O'Regan allowed them to create the resulting iconic images.
Of note, a percentage of sales from the show are going to Great Ormond Street Hospital’s charity, GOSH.
All images courtesy of Denis O'Regan and West Contemporary Editions.