Your photos are everywhere, but there’s not much information about you out there...
Whatever I’ve done is about the people I’m photographing. None of it is meant to be about me. The truth is that I’m crap at self promotion: I have a Twitter account, but I’ve never tweeted. I saw a picture in The Times of the new ambassador for London going into his office. My Johnny Cash photo’s on the wall and I thought I really should tweet about it. I didn’t get round to it.
When do you first remember picking up a camera?
My dad had a dark room under the stairs when I was a kid and I’d go in there and help him. I would have taken and developed my first prints at about the age of seven. My father was very encouraging but I never really saw it as a career. All I wanted to be was a racing driver.
Your first job was as a mechanic on James Hunt’s team, right?
At sixteen I was touring round the Formula One circuit but at the end of my first season there was no longer a job for me. The only other thing I liked doing was photography, so I decided to go to art school.
Tell us about your time at Nottingham Trent University...
There were three great places to study photography then, but Trent was on the rise. The tutors were real mavericks and so enthusiastic. You were made to explore yourself and what you wanted to do, as well as the art of photography. They were trying to make us more self-aware and look around ourselves a bit. They encouraged a general inquisitiveness and that preparation has really stayed with me and really helped me with my career.
Whereabouts in Nottingham did you live?
My first year I was in a bed and breakfast place. After that, on a houseboat in Beeston Lock. It was such a lively city with a great creative energy, Paul Smith had just opened up his shop and people there were doing these edgy, interesting things. It still seems that’s the case. My daughter has just finished at Nottingham University and she had a brilliant time there.
Your big break was when Malcolm McLaren commissioned you to do the Bow Wow Wow cover. There was a bit of controversy around that...
Malcolm wanted to re-enact Manet’s Le déjeuner sur l'herbe (Luncheon on the grass), a painting of two men having a picnic with a naked young girl. That painting itself caused a lot of controversy in its time and, that’s what McClaren wanted. Unbeknownst to me the girl he had sourced, Annabella, was only fourteen. When the photos came out her mother said that there was no way she’d allow us to use it. Then the police took all the negatives away.
This was my first professional job and because the record company couldn’t use it, they weren’t going to pay me. The album came out with a normal press shot but McClaren put the picture out in The Face and various other magazines in Europe. Then after six months the mother allowed us to use it. So the album was re-released with just that photo. It went to number one and I got paid £2,000 - thirty years ago that was a hell of a lot of money - and bought my first proper kit. It really kick-started my professional career. The next job I got was a little known band from Birmingham called Duran Duran, who I shot in my Nottingham studio on Carrington Street.
Have you done many photo shoots in Nottingham?
I did a lot of the band stuff there. I was based there in the late-seventies and early-eighties and took photos of people like Boy George, Spandau Ballet, Ultravox, Heaven 17, a lot of new romantic stuff. I finally moved down to London in about 1983, but for many years I would just drive the photos down to London. I liked Nottingham and it was cheaper to live there.
Tell us about the Rolling Stones music video you did...
It was for Michel Gondry, an amazing director, for the song Like a Rolling Stone. He wanted to make a video completely made up of stills – the video has 12,000 stills all morphing together to get a 3D effect. The technique I used was actually something that I did as my final year project at Nottingham Trent. I’d been playing with it as far back as then.
There are so many iconic pieces in your portfolio. If you had to pick out a favourite, what would it be?
The Bow Wow Wow ones really kick-started my career, but I really enjoyed the Johnny Cash sessions too. I shot them out in Australia while he was touring. The rest were taken at his home in Nashville, it was a real pleasure to work with him. One thing I’ve always enjoyed about my career is that I’ve never planned that far ahead and so it’s always stayed exciting.
Is there anyone in particular you’d like to photograph that you haven’t had chance to yet?
I would have loved to have a crack at Michael Jackson. There was so much energy to him in his earlier days and I would have loved to have captured what that energy was about. That’s what I think I do best, I get to know a person and then I help to show that through their images.
Andy Earl’s photographs will be shown as part of the Since 1843 Exhibition at Bonington Gallery, Nottingham Trent University, from 8 January to 7 February 2014.
Andy Earl official website
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"When I left, I bought my first proper camera and spent a few years of teaching myself before I was happy to say that I could do it for money"