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An Exclusive Interview With Photographer Brian Rasic

February 9th, 2020 | by admin
An Exclusive Interview With Photographer Brian Rasic
Interviews
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If you randomly think about a pop singer or a rock band from the last 40 years, he has surely took a photo of them. When a talented singer or a legendary group walk on a stage, you can be sure that Brian Rašić is there, to press the button of his camera, to do the hard work that only an old school photographer like him knows how to do. Rolling over and over again, just like his beloved Stones. I interviewed this man not only because his work is absolutely remarkable but because I think that only a few photographers are in the right place at the right time like him. He loves rockers, and rockers love him because they know he will do excellent work when they will be performing. David Bowie knew it very well, as Rašic photographed him since 1983 and in all his following tours, but also outside a stage. In the last few years he had some important Bowie exhibitions in different cities of his country, Serbia, and a very successful one in Lima, Perù, proving that The Thin White Duke is followed everywhere. Rašić shared with me many anecdotes about Bowie and talked diffusely about what it means to be a photographer in these days, a time in which photography and rock have become two very different things from the past.

 

Mr. Rašić, you started to photograph at rock concerts in Serbia when you were young. At the time had you ever thought that it would become your job, and that you would meet so many talented artists?

Yes, that is right, everything started in my country, because of my love for music and photography. I kind of put the two things together and it was a very normal thing to do for me. But at the time I couldn’t even dream about. Everything that happened later was just my life, the path I was following.

 

The Rolling Stones – Mick Jagger and Keith Richards

 

From the beginning of the ‘80s you photographed lots of famous bands and singers, from Chuck Berry to The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney and U2, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Stone Temple Pilots, Bjork, Eurythmics, Queen, Taylor Swift, Beyoncé and many others. The list is simply stunning and endless. I know you are very close to the Stones, but I would like to know which of them gave you the best professional satisfaction.

Just being there with The Stones was always amazing. They are one of my all time favourite bands and to get there and be part of the shows was unreal as I never stopped being a fan as well. Mick is simply the best front man ever. Charlie is the backbone of the band. Ronnie is the ‘new member’ and always adding his guitar to the sound that makes The Stones. Keith is the soul of the band and my favourite. Together, they make it what it is. Mick is easy to take pics of and yet, very difficult. That is because he does give you the pics but at the same time, to get the good pic, and for me that means that artist looks good and that action is there, is not always easy. I do not consider good pic where one of those two things is missing. My personal preference is Keith. Fans around the world keep telling me that I took amazing shots of Keith and I am very grateful and happy about that. He is always a challenge but in some way, I know his licks and what he does comes to certain songs, when he really does it … when he and his playing becomes one and I guess, those moments are there for me to get and I love it. That cheeky smile or face of master telling his guitar what to do … Keith is simply the best and greatest challenge. Love the man!

 

The Rolling Stones – Charlie Watts, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood

 

Have you ever tried to evaluate how many concerts have you attended in your life, more or less?

I used to do even a few gigs in one night back in a day. These days not as many. Most of my years I used to work almost every night. So, if I say that I did… on average, 150 gigs a year, times 40 years… well, lets say around 5,000. Even though it must have been more.

 

Keith Richards and Mick Jagger – The Rolling Stones

 

What does it mean to work for Getty Images?

For 35 years I was with Rex Features, the biggest independent photographic agency in UK. I was happy being there and Selby family, that was running it as private business, were like my family. Then, like four years ago, inevitable happened that a bigger corporate company bought Rex. That was the end of Rex as I knew it. At the same time, Getty asked me to join their ranks. As all business went corporate, I was thinking, why not join the biggest one of them all. I was given certain privileges but the contracts only last for as long as you sign them. Getty is quite good to me but I have to say that these days it is all about my back catalogue. I have over 100K images with them as well as all my archives and pictures that you can’t today sell. More then what you can photograph today. Being an agency photographer can be just as bad as good. Getty wouldn’t sign these stupid contracts that are being offered more and more. They are big enough and they can afford it. As photographer you loose. Some you loose, some you win. But, I have to say that most of the time I’d sort things by myself. Some like agencies, some don’t. You have to make the best from both worlds. I was always an independent freelance photographer and agency was there to sell my work. I used to bring my work and the agency was happy. Now lots of things are different and if you’re an agency snapper, everything has to be organised. I mean, you can’t even send your work without their permission and certain codes. They are controlling everything. Times are different.

 

Could you please tell me what – from your point of you – did mainly characterise the concerts in the ‘80s, the ‘90s and the Naughties?

Well, basically back in the ‘80s photographers could hang around and photograph the whole show. You’d plan to use couple of rolls of film and wait for your shots during the course of the gig. Good times. Then it started with ‘first three songs – no flash’. Nobody knew what they were saying but it just got adopted. And from there on it just went from bad to worse. With some bands ‘three’ became ‘one’ but the worst thing is shooting from mixing desks. And it became very common now. You can’t be creative in that way, we all get the same shots. Then you have contracts for only a week. Nobody thinks that when digital pics go out to the clients around the world that that is it. Can’t just pull them out. And of course, cherry on the top is – ‘no pictures’ policy. That is happening more and more.

 

In front a live stage is better to have a good position or to be a talented photographer?

If you’re allowed to be in front of the stage under the normal circumstances, that is job done. At least to me it is. Talent… well, they say that I have talent. It is important to like what you do and that will teach you along the way and you somehow became talented. Then, you can give a camera to somebody and he wouldn’t know what to make out of it. So talent has to count.

 

You photographed David Bowie for the first time in 1983, at the press conference for the launch of Let’s Dance album. A close-up you did at the time is absolutely amazing: I think you were able to catch David’s aura: he appears really fascinating and at his best. What are your memories of that meeting?

I remember it well, yes. Bowie was away for a while. He had a problem with his life style that was taking its toll. He left RCA for EMI and the new record company was presenting us the ‘newborn Bowie’, so to speak. He did look great though. And there’s a new album to promote. As it happened, his most commercial of all time and the one he did like the least. I personally love it and I guess it left the impact on me… as the whole hype was great too. The ‘whole press world’ came to Claridge’s Hotel in London. I was both happy and proud to be there. David did a Photo Call first. There was a bunch of us, Fleet Street snappers plus few of us that were sort of music photographers. Bowie was the great news for everybody. I think that he was never as huge as then as EMI wanted to put him back on the scene. I managed to get right in-front of him and did some frames. Just a few. It was a bit of a chaos and it lasted for a short time. I love that pic myself. That was him as he was then. At his best. Soon after I did the pics I went to my near by Lab where I processed my films and something dragged me back to the hotel with the pics. As soon as I got in, I bumped into his PR of the time. I told him that I got the pics. He took a look and asked me if he could go and show it to Bowie. I said yes. “But please ask him for autograph for me”, I said. You have to be a fan when it comes to David. The PR went upstairs and when he got back, he told me that David did like my pics a lot and I got my autograph too. Happy days. I couldn’t really think at that time that one day I’ll work with him.

 

David Bowie

 

Is it correct you took photos at each one of his following tours?

I believe so, yes. I was at his tours mainly covering shows in London and once in Boston, US. I was in Rotterdam, Holland, for The Glass Spider Tour. And the Tin Machine tours as well. In Europe they started from Denmark, so I was there. And I was in Denmark again when A Reality Tour started. I covered it for him. I covered also some specials shows broadcast by BBC, for fans only.

 

 

In every tour David did, he used to appear with very different styles in terms of music and fashion. Which, in your opinion, was the strangest and which your favourite, and why?

Maybe the strangest were the Tin Machine shows. Personally I loved The Serious Moonlight Tour. It was my first time to photograph David live. And he was back as healthy and good looking as ever. Great shows. The Glass Spider was strange a bit for the gimmicks. Each and every one of them was special, one way or the other. He was a great performer.

 

You shot Bowie at his tours but also on special live occasions and parties. Did he sometimes require specifically your work or were you always so lucky to be in the right place at the right time?

Usually I would get a call from his PR Alan Edwards. I worked with Alan and his artists since the early ‘80s and I gained his trust. He used to offer me to do this and that. I am very grateful and Alan is one of the greatest PR’s ever. My work with Bowie is connected with him as he respected me and my work.

 

Photo by Brian Rasic / Rex Features (391148d) David Bowie performing at the Hammersmith Apollo, London, 2 OCT 2002.

 

When David performed at the BBC in 2000, two different photographers took at the same time a photo of you with him. The one by Mark Adams (BowieNet’s editor) was heavily retouched by the graphic designer Rex Ray. Your figure was removed and the shot became the cover for the live album from that event.

That pic is taken after the concert at the party. I asked Gail Ann Dorsey to take a pic and she did. But, that was only the beginning. I never knew that Mark took another of us at the same time. It was at another after show at Royal Festival Hall where Bowie was curator at Meltdown Festival (and closed the event with his performance) that Mark told me about the pic he took and I never noticed it. When he explained to me that it has been used, well, partly, for the album cover, I couldn’t believe it! Mark did a print for me of the pic he took of David and me and of the album cover, where it is obvious that I am ‘taken out’. I have it signed by David. I love that story. ‘Silent partner’ on the cover!

 

 

A weird thing! Any anecdotes from that night?

There were quite a few stars after the show back stage but none of them as big as ‘the gladiator’ Russell Crowe at that time. He was there with Meg Ryan. They were ‘the item’ at the time and there was just one pic of them together, taken by a paparazzo. That was the shot everybody was after. And I ‘had them’! But, not really. One had to behave as I was the official guy there. Still, I managed to take one posed pic of David and them two. Bowie was in the middle. That pic went around the world. Three of them. Couldn’t have ‘love birds’ on there own. Meg and Russell. When Meg left with Anita Pallenberg, Russell was teasing me: “your bird has flown”… it was funny. But regardless, it was very lucrative night comes to few pics from that night.

 

 

I’d like to ask you some details about a very particular shooting. 30th June 2002, Waterloo Station. David Bowie is boarding the Eurostar with his entourage. He is dressed like an old fashion gentleman: a suit and shoes from the ‘20s, a fedora.. and carrying a seasoned suitcase. Was it a mask? Or maybe a bizarre detail he wanted to put in his new musical incarnation. Do you know anything about that?

That was straight after David was curating and performed at the Meltdown Festival, Royal Festival Hall, London. On the day, I took the pics of David arriving at the RFH by a black cab. They asked me to do it. I was there when he opened the door and was going out of taxi. It was his idea. Staged, but looked as paparazzo did it. He had a friendly smile though. Then I’ve been asked to do the quick pic at the Waterloo Eurostar Station. That was day after the Meltdown Fest. It is well known that David didn’t like flying. Therefore, as he was performing in Paris, they took the Eurostar Train. So he came dressed as an English gentlemen in tweed suit and suitcase. He looked great. Why, I don’t know. That was him. Ever changing Bowie. Image for a day? It was all very quick. I took a nice pic. It was used for papers next day. Gentleman Bowie. That suit was at David Bowie Is exhibition that went around the world. And the shoes, too. But they never asked for my picture that would make sense comes to the suit. Shame.

 

David Bowie leaving London for Paris on Eurostar.

 

You were also at one of David’s last live performances. His surprising participation at David Gilmour’s concert on 29th May 2006, at Royal Albert Hall in London. Was it a surprise for you too?

I was working with David Gilmour as his photographer at his RAH shows in 2006. I was nicely surprised when I’ve been told that Bowie was coming to do couple of songs as a surprise guest, for the first (out of three) nights. So I did know, as David came for the rehearsals in the afternoon. I took pics of that too. I remember Coco Schwab, his PA, telling me: “Brian you can shoot, but you know I won’t approve any pics!?” Coco was always tough, but I had a good relationship with her. I am glad I took some pics there of now late as well Rick Wright and David Gilmour during the rehearsal, but the approved pic happened during the show. Two of them. Coco was OK with it of course. She approved them as Gilmour was always fine of course.

 

Please choose two favourite shots of David: the perfect one from a technical point of view and one for your memories of him…

I love that first shoot of him I took at Claridge’s Hotel. I love the black and white of him from The Serious Moonlight Tour in London, where he’s looking like a ‘president’. Then, the train pic we quoted before of course … there’s nice shoot from Boston with Bowie sign behind him… I also love the silhouette shot I made of him from A  Reality Tour in Copenhagen … there are too many to be honest. Last but not least that one with Gilmour, as that was one of his last performances live…

 

David Bowie

 

A very particular thing of your work is that you often portrayed Bowie side by side with a plenty of colleagues: Mick Jagger, Bono, Kylie Minogue, his old friend Lulu, Brian Eno, Robert Smith, Sharleen Spiteri of Texas, Brett Anderson, Pete Townshend… what was his attitude with them and theirs towards him?

Yes, and I dare to say, back in a day, it wasn’t that usual to have those kind of pics… first thing that springs to mind is mutual respect to be honest. Colleagues or friends or both… Bowie was cool and happy to do it and vice versa. Some of them were huge fans of David obviously and were happy to have pics with him taken.

 

Mick Jagger, David Bowie and Pete Townshend at the Bowie after show party, Pop, Soho Street, London, 1999.

Last November was opening in London Heroes – The Exhibition, a photography collective exposition of 60 years of music at the SSE Arena in Wembley. The photographers involved are Michael Putland, Dave Hogan and… you! How many photos have you provided and of which artists?

Well, I’ve been photographing music at Wembley Arena as it was called and now SSE Arena for four decades now. So, it was appropriate when they used some of my pics for the exhibition. Yes, the great Michael Putland had one great shot of Bowie there. I had none. Shame. To be honest, sometimes it is about captions on pictures. Researchers count a lot on captions when they do their work. As a huge number of my work went to Getty from Rex, captioning wasn’t all appropriate and some details are missing. It was selection done by Getty. Not an easy work though. I had quite a few on the show. Oldest being June Carter and Johnny Cash from the ‘80s but had pics of Lenny Kravitz, Taylor Swift, Mariah Carey, Foo Fighters, Kasabian, … among the others. It was nice to be part of that exhibition.

 

A couple of months ago two great photographers like Michael Putland and Terry O’Neill passed away, in a week. They left us an incredible number of fantastic images. In your opinion, what is their legacy?

I know Michael personally and I was really taken when he passed away. Terry even before Michael… they were so special. They had great access and worked with so many huge stars. Their legacy is all of what they did in my opinion. Those times they captured and stars at the time, that is the best of times ever I think. Bless them.

 

Once I asked to Terry O’Neill which was for him the best rock photo. He answered the one by Ed Caraeff of Jimi Hendrix burning his guitar at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. And for you?

That is the most difficult question ever. I admire many photographers and their pictures. Recently I got Ethan Russell book of his photographs. With it, I’ve chosen a print of Keith Richards where he’s underneath poster ‘Patience please … a drug free America comes first’ at US Customs in 1972, I love it but love also pics of Jim Marshall, Baron Wolman, Rolling Stone photographers… Henry Diltz. They photographed the music when it was the best times for music and photographers as well. There are so many great photographs.

 

In the last few years the exhibition David Bowie Is travelled around the world. Did you visit it? Your sensations about it?

Yes, I have seen it as it started from London. V&A Museum. It was nice. Most of it I know but for the average person, must have been even nicer. It was the first of its kind. I think that Rolling Stones took it a level up. Then there were Pink Floyd. And the world will follow. Bowie one was quite emotional as he was gone. I did enjoy it.

 

In the latest years you had some successful exhibitions dedicated to Bowie in different cities through your country. How was the response of the people?

My Bowie exhibition in Belgrade, my home town, was quite extraordinary to be honest. It was a huge production and from its opening it was accepted really well. Belgrade was really responding with love to Bowie and my work with him. I am very proud of it. It wasn’t my first one here but it was probably the biggest and the best. Lots of people saw it and everybody loved it. I am so grateful. In Zagreb Bowie was at MUO, The Museum of Arts and Crafts, the most prestigious Museum in Croatia. It was received with huge interest and respect. There were a few more as well.

 

 

 

You exhibited also in Lima, Perù. It surprised me a bit. How did it happen?

I had two exhibitions in Lima so far. First one was with my Rolling Stones photographs at the time when Stones played in Lima and Perù for the first time ever, at Estadio Monumental on March 6, 2016. That was at the National Library in Lima and it was great. Two years after, in 2018, I had a David Bowie exhibition at Centro Cultural Ricardo Palma. That was in March as well. How? Well, I have been approached by a Peruvian friend that lives in Vancouver, Canada, to do something and I said yes. She knew the right people there and we put it together. It was great and I have friends there now.

 

 

Just over four years ago Bowie passed away. What was your first thought when on the morning of 11th January 2016 you heard the news?

I was so sad. I know that he wasn’t well but it was kept under wraps somehow and when I heard it, I was shocked. I couldn’t believe it. So many nice memories went through my head. I was so sorry. Still I am. It felt as I lost something so close to me. I believe most people did. His songs and music somehow became part of many lives and it felt like a personal loss. I remember that every daily paper in UK had David on the front cover. I don’t think that any musician had something like that before, not even John Lennon. I guess times are different and popular music and its creators are much more part of establishment now then before.

 

Photo By Brian Rasic / Rex Features

 

You took many photos of several artists who paid homage to him in different concerts and tributes during 2016 and 2017. What was the prevailing feeling through the audience?

The first tribute was by his band at Brixton Academy, David was born in Brixton. With many special guests. What was great about those gigs is celebration of Bowie and his music. Everything and everybody was happy. There was no place for sadness there. Everybody was celebrating Bowie’s life with his music.

 

You also worked at the 2016 Brits Awards, when his band played with Lorde and Gary Oldman remembered his old friend David…

Yeah, Gary was at the Brixton gig as well. They were good friends. BRITs were great with the tribute to David. It was different and I think David loved it. It was inevitable that BRITs will show some kind of respect.

 

Which artist from the past would you like to have shoot?

Only the ones that I couldn’t and I can’t as they’re gone. Jimi, Jim, Janis, John Lennon… the all time greats. Duane Allman…

 

You moved to London at the end of the Seventies. A very proper choice for your career. Do you think the city is still so significant for the music scene, as the landscape has totally changed?

I guess I was lucky. I never had plans of what I am going to do, to be honest. It simply happened. I was following my path. I loved music and photography. When I managed to ‘marry’ my biggest obsessions, I was just enjoying myself doing what I love. Luckyness.  Things are different now. Music is business like any other. Huge business. I kind of caught ‘last days’ of the music as it was. Photographers are more in trouble then ever. As for before where we were working together, artists and photographers, this days artist do not want to give anything away. They don’t need us no more. They sell their gigs in minutes and don’t care if there will be reviews or not. Lady Gaga has no photographers on tour. It’s all so different. Digital photography was kind of curse to be honest. It diluted the art of photography to ‘everybody is photographer’.

As for London, well, London will always be special. For music too. Music changed and is changing all the time and London is here to accommodate everything and everybody. Yes, it did change, but, younger generations are always following what is going on and the Arenas and Stadiums of London are always sold out.

 

The Rolling Stones – Keith Richards

 

I have to admit that rock is a very different thing from the past, especially because of the disappearing of some giant musicians. I sometimes think that nowadays the new generations of singers are not at the same level of their forefathers. What do you think about? Is there anyone who excites you like some you met and immortalised in your photos?

 

I agree. Most of great ones are long gone and they are disappearing. I was always open to new young music. And it does happens but not very often at all. And even then, just as you thought something good, they manage to change. That is how it is today. I have to say, that my ‘problem’ is that I have seen great artists and that I know my music and love my music. Yes, it is ‘old’ but there’s quality and it is original. So, for a few years now, I have a ‘problem’ because ‘I know’. It is easier if you’re young and know nothing and just enjoy yourself. There’s no… this sounds like that to what is this… so, the world of music goes on and on and it will be forever. I have to mention Amy Winehouse as good example of those good ones. But she’s gone too.

 

You took some very particular photos of her…

Yes, it was 19th June 2011, in Belgrade, my hometown. I was asked to photograph Amy’s show by her PR and manager. Amy did have problems on her last gig in Brazil, so nobody knew what to expect. Of course 20,000 people who payed fairly expensive tickets to see their beloved Amy didn’t expect nothing but a great gig. That day my mobile didn’t stop ringing because every daily papers were asking my work, because I was the only photographer allowed to shoot the show! I never knew that. A managements decision that I wasn’t even informed about. But, Press was angry with me. Of course, this was because people knew me in Belgrade. I was the ‘local guy’ and everybody knew me, I became ‘guilty’ that nobody else could photograph Amy but me. I remember that I promised to send a couple of pics to all the papers for no fee. Amy came backstage late with her entourage some time before the gig. It was all well guarded. Nobody could even see her. The local press was waiting for my pics that I promised and deadline was gone. My techie was waiting for pics to send them. From the first moment I kind of knew that something was wrong. As she got out, Amy stumbled and fell and was looking like ‘under influence’ in a way. She was doing everything but singing for a while. The crowd was going mental from excitement as they were waiting so long to see her. Amy was talking to the band members and stumbling all over the place. When she started singing, it wasn’t really what everybody was expecting. I could hardly see her as she was deep on stage and the stage was really high and pit very narrow. I did a few frames and my techie took the card to send what I promised. We even made some daily papers next day. Amy wasn’t in a good shape at all, but she was mumbling through her songs. Kids at the front, that I could see, were kind of enjoying themselves seeing their beloved Amy, but Iater I heard that the crowd was booing her all the time and even the Prime Minister of the time, who came to see her, left soon after the show started. People were not happy at all. Amy somehow managed to ‘sing’ through the fairly short set. She looked upset and out of her head. It wasn’t nice and I felt sorry for the whole thing, especially for Amy herself. There was no explanations except that it was ‘another bad show’. I took pictures and soon they went out to the world via my agent. As ever, I was protecting my client and did my best to put out pics where Amy looked fine. She was due to perform in Istanbul, Turkey, in a few days but obviously it never happened. Amy wasn’t well and the tour was cancelled soon after. I saw her few weeks after on stage with her cousin Dionne Bromfield joining her on stage for a song. That was the last I saw her. Soon after, tragedy happened. Amy was gone. We lost a truly great performer. World was in mourning. As I remembered what I saw in Belgrade, I went thorough my photographs again and decided to put out Amy as she really was back then. I felt that it should be seen. The way Amy really was. The way she felt. It was such a loss and tragedy and my photographs were a true document of it.

 

 

I take for granted that you are a rock lover… what is your favourite music and artist?

You could say that, yes. We’re talking The Rolling Stones and the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, the Kinks, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, David Bowie, Bob Dylan, the Allman Brothers Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd. I love Frank Sinatra and Bob Marley, Creedence Clearwater Revival. I like Radiohead too. And Primal Scream, U2… some of it. Eric Clapton on his own, with Cream and Blind Faith. I could go on and on. I love music. I love the Motown music, Stevie Wonder… But I used to go to Modena for many years to cover Pavarotti & Friends at Parco Novi Sad. I have done a lot of work with Maestro Pavarotti! I was Maestro’s photographer! Very proud of that.

Interview conceived and realised by Matteo Tonolli, exclusively for David Bowie News, © 2020.

*All photos © Brian Rašić.

*Except main article photo by Mark Adams.

Edited by Nick Vernon.

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