They don't take them like this any more. Pop photographs change with the times and Gered Mankowitz's soft-focus photograph of The Rolling Stones is firmly grounded in the Sixties while the glitzy colour portrait of Annie Lennox draped in fairy lights is unmistakably early 1980s. As a record of ground-breaking pop photography and good old-fashioned nostalgia, Mankowitz's new exhibition, Entertainers, is unbeatable. He seems to have snapped them all. Surprising, then, to hear that the Beatles passed him by. But then, 'there were two camps,' says Mankowitz, 'the Beatles / Epsteins and the Stones / Oldhams. And I knew where I wanted to be.'
Taking photographs was an early ambition. The son of screen-writer and playwright Wolf Mankowitz who owned the Embassy Theatre, Swiss Cottage, he grew up with an awareness of show-business glamour. 'Taking photographs fitted in with my love of sets, theatricality and interest in make-up and costumes,' he says. At 15 he became apprenticed to his father's friend Tom Blau, who ran the Camera Press photo agency.
His first pop commission was to photograph singing duo 'Chad and Jeremy' for the cover of their first single. He did it as a favour for his friend Jeremy Clyde - who then introduced him to Marianne Faithfull. The results of a shoot with Faithfull delighted his subject and drew the attention of the Rolling Stones' manager Andrew Loog Oldham and an even bigger commission. 'I became the unofficial official Stones photographer,' Mankowitz says, 'and was with them constantly from 1965-67 until they moved into a new direction.'
He moved easily into the next decade and a new direction of his own. And it's not just the hairstyles or even the heavy- duty Seventies make-up that anchor his photographs in their respective decades. Mankowitz's black-and-white images of The Rolling Stones and Marianne Faithfull are perfect reflections of the laid-back Sixties - sometimes in soft-focus and almost all in relaxed, informal situations. The Seventies brought a harder edge - studio-based, sharp-focus set-up shots with stark backdrops. And Billy Idol, Suzi Quatro, Elton John and The Eurythmics pose aggressively in serious glam-rock gear. 'They started working much harder for the camera,' Mankowitz says: 'the navete of the Sixties gave way to a real awareness and image-consciousness. With Hendrix, all I had to do was set up the lights and the exposure and let him burst out of the picture. Even though I didn't really get on with Hendrix's music at the time, I could see what he was about - and he made the picture himself.'
Bands like Ride and Suede are now queueing up to be immortalised by the man who shot the Stones. Hardly surprising when you see the pictures on the wall. As images go, they're spot-on: Suzi Quatro, in 1974, sporting flicked-back hair, a tight leather bodysuit and the rest of her band draped round her body, a heavily made-up Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart, and baby-faced Billy Idol in ripped T-shirt and maximum sneer mode. But the best of the lot is Charlie Watts in 1965 in the executive lounge of Heathrow Airport with, in the foreground, Mick Jagger scanning a newspaper report on The Beatles receiving their MBEs. Irony, indeed.
'Gered Mankowitz: Entertainers' is at the MAC, Cannon Hill Park, Birmingham (021-440 3838), from Sat to 24 July
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies