Andy Earl took many photos of Eurythmics including the photo on the cover of Don't Ask Me Why
Andy Earl has never been the sort of music photographer to play the back-stage pass role or hang out with the bands he photographs. Indeed, his professionalism precedes him. As Adrian Deevoy writes in the introduction to Earls retrospective tome Vista, Robbie Williams has described working with him as a doddle, no ego involved...he got there, did the job, shook hands and left. Why cant all photographers be like that? This a classic example of an Earl encounter with a celebrity client. Having accumulated more than 120 album covers, Earl fully understands the pressures placed on artistes time, takes his pictures and lets them go. No fuss, no stress, no ego.
The Sussex-born photographer has come a long way since the summer he played mechanic to then Formula Three playboy James Hunt. But first, in 1977, he studied photography at Nottingham Trent Polytechnic, which he says had very much an art approach to the subject at the time. It was full of guys who were giving us books to read like Carlos Casteneda and all of that finding yourself stuff, and I thought oh blooming heck, Ive come on some sort of hippy thing. But actually it was the best education I could have had because it was very much about finding your own way of taking pictures. Everyone used really to question what they were doing, and that intensity was fantastic.
During his second year at college, Earl studied photography in Baltimore, where he was influenced by American colour photography, particularly that of William Eggleston and Steven Shaw. When I came back from America I decided I was just going to shoot colour and a lot of the tutors said I was blowing it, having been doing fairly well in the course. When I started shooting in England, in order to get the colours to kick out I put a flash gun on initially just to sort of saturate the colours, and because Nottingham is always grey and there is no blooming light.
As he experimented with colour photography Earl chanced upon a particular technique that combined flash with a slow shutter speed to produce sharpened colour and blur. I had seen something like that in America, but not in colour, and I suddenly thought, that looks great. It took away the realism and gave my photographs a surreal effect.
Dressing up in top hat and tails, Earl took his approach to Royal Ascot, where he knew he would get colourful, quirky photographs of the English aristocracy. I had a Pentax 67 with a great big flashgun and a wide-angle lens, and I was literally within a metre of the subject just barbecuing them. It was the opposite to Cartier Bresson, it was completely confrontational, and if anyone asked what I was doing I would say Tatler and walk off. He returned the following year with a five-four camera and multiple flash system. I looked like a Christmas tree walking around with all these plates in one hand and power packs in the other, he admits. It slowed the process up a bit, but I got great quality.
Off the back of the Ascot project Earl was offered a show at The Photographers Gallery and later represented Britain at the Venice Biennale exhibition. Sue Davis, who was the then director of The Photographers Gallery, was one of my assessors at college and she put the show on, he explains. The tutors said the colour stuff was too commercial, but I had also done these animal pictures I was taking a shot on the five-four of a woman lying down in Chatsworth Park with all these chickens running around, and as I went to take the picture I tripped over the flash lead and ended up with a picture of a chickens arse. I took it into college and they proclaimed, oh this is art. You are back on course!
On the strength of the London show Malcolm McLaren commissioned Earl to recreate the Manet painting Dejeuner sur lHerbe for the album cover of his early Eighties pop act Bow Wow Wow. Earl found a lake with a tiny island in Reigate in Surrey, and the group dressed up in Vivienne Westwood