Friday night, my wife and I had the opportunity to attend the Murray Hall presentation of Behind the Lens: An Evening with Henry Diltz and Pattie Boyd.
Henry Diltz did not plan on being a rock and roll photographer or even a photographer of any sort. It just kind of fell into his lap. Back in the 1960’s Henry was a budding folk musician living in California. He naturally had plenty of musician friends. One day he purchased a used camera and began taking photographs of friends and the local landscape. He always had the camera with him and would set up slide shows for his friends to watch at night. Then some of his friends began to get famous. Friends like David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash who asked Diltz to help them out and take a few photos of them.
They needed a photo for their debut album cover. Diltz and the group went out on a hunt though not sure what they were looking for. Eventually they found a ram shackled house with a beat up couch outside against one of its walls. The three musicians sat on the couch. Nash, sitting on the back with his feet on the seat, Stills in the middle holding a guitar and Crosby on the right with one foot propped up on the seat. Diltz shot a lot of photos that day, both close ups and some from further away. But it was that one shot that everyone said “Yes!” to. That would be the cover of their debut album.
Since that time, some 50 years ago, Diltz has had his photographs grace plenty of album covers, many becoming almost as iconic as the albums themselves. Among them, James Taylor’s Sweet Baby James, Steppenwolf’s At Your Birthday Party and most famously The Door’s Morrison Hotel. He also photographed plenty of publicity shots for artists like Mama Cass, David Cassidy, America, and John Sebastian. Other assignments included Diltz spending three days at Woodstock. Among his many photos during that period was one of the great Jimi Hendrix on stage. He also had the opportunity to photograph Paul and Linda McCartney, at their home in Scotland, a photo which ended up on the cover of Life magazine.
After Diltz completed his talk, on came Patti Boyd. Best known as the young 16 year old model who won George Harrison’s heart after appearing in A Hard Day’s Night, and later after divorcing George, marrying his good friend Eric Clapton. Boyd is an author and has done her share of photography even having an exhibit in Europe.
Boyd’s presentation/discussion consisted of professional photos of her taken by others, as well as her own photos, many of which were at the snapshot level and definitely not in the same class as Diltz, but still interesting. She highlighted her famous friends and moments in life. Most of it was familiar to anyone who has read her memoir or any of the hundreds of Beatles biographies. At best, she was pleasant and friendly, managing to tiptoe around the unsavory romantic entanglements without her or the audience feeling uncomfortable. Fortunately, an hour and a half of the almost two and a half hour show was focused on Diltz whose behind the scene, making of discussion and look at his photos was fascinating.