Tuesday, October 22, 2013


by Jamie Goodsell
All images © Brad Elterman
website • www.bradelterman.com

Once upon a time, there was a more care-free existence in America. This was before everyone was scared of getting HIV and before the Internet. This world allowed you access to the stars, the parties backstage, and they never seemed to mind if you had your camera around. Iggy Pop, John Lennon, The Sex Pistols, Bowie, Kiss, Michael Jackson, The Ramones, The Runaways...need I say more? Put yourself in L.A. during that time and you're just a young kid with a camera who wants to take pictures of icons. You wanna maybe get published and see what happens - how hard could it be, right? Brad Elterman was that kid and he ended up gracing the pages of magazines like NME, Rolling Stone, Creem, Hit Parader, the list just goes on. The good news is, some of that freedom still exists today. That dream is very obtainable for any young person who realizes the importance of documenting their scene. You never know, the band that is playing small clubs one day could be playing arenas the next, so document your scene and be aware of the significance.


Around what age did you start taking photographs? 
Thirteen, probably. 

Were you formally educated or self-taught? 
I went to a summer camp called Camp Roosevelt in Idyllwild, California that's long gone now and there was an instructor there who taught me how to use the darkroom. I spent a lot of time in the darkroom there because I didn't really like summer camp that much. Natalie Cole was an instructor there and she would sing stuff like "These Boots Are Made For Walkin'.

Who were some of your influences in the beginning? 
I was only exposed to rock 'n' roll photographers at the time that were in Rolling Stone and Creem Magazine. So the photographers I really liked were Bob Gruen in New York and this guy Richard Creamer who's a real mentor of mine. He was kind of eccentric, he was kind of a funny looking guy, but he had a real raw style of photography. He looked so out of place. He looked like an accountant or something but he was hysterical and all the rock stars loved him! I mean, Robert Plant adored Richard. When I started learning about the more technical aspects of photography, I became very impressed with Helmut Newton and the way he could mold his subjects. He loved the natural light in L.A., that's why he was here for so many years. I liked Ron Galella also, he was a famous paparazzo with just kind of a raw style. 

Maybe there's a paparazzi question coming (who knows), but I would never consider myself as a paparazzo. Every once in a while, there would be some kind of legend who was around or in town and I really didn't probably have much to lose. I was this precocious young kid. If it meant driving from my parents house literally down the block to the local neighborhood park in '78 (or whenever it was) and I saw Robert Plant there in these Speedos, I had to take a picture you know? I'm glad I did! When they do books on Plant (and there have been some), I don't think they really want a shot of him singing in a microphone, they want something casual and that's why that picture comes up all of the time. 

What were you shooting with back then? 
At first, just one body with black and white film (because color was too expensive to shoot). Most publications just wanted black and white, so two rolls of Tri-X and a Sunpak flash (that never really worked right) and I think just one lens, like a 35mm lens.

What was your favorite camera and film type to use? 
Tri-X would be the film. Back in the day? Maybe the Nikon FE or FE2.

From my understanding, the Bob Dylan concert you photographed in 1974 was what made you want to be a photographer. How did you get access to that particular show?
Well the Dylan thing, a lot of it was luck. I was one heck of a lucky kid. I didn't have any contacts or relatives that worked in the industry, but there was a thing in the L.A. Times that said Bob Dylan was gonna tour with The Band and he was playing L.A., here's the date...tickets are available. It was like a mail order thing, you had to mail in your check for the tickets. They were gonna play the Forum in L.A. to like 18,000 people a night, it was unprecedented. It was like five nights, a couple of matinees and it was probably a couple hundred thousand tickets being sold. I really wanted a good seat, so I wrote a letter and said, "Can you sell me two tickets in the best possible position?" I went and got construction paper and I wrote it really cool with like gold stars on it and I ended up using this big envelope that I decorated. I think I drew something of Bob on it. I got a bunch of one cent stamps and made a collage, so I made it like kind of a little piece of art. Thank god who ever was sorting through the mail saw it and thought it was pretty neat, so I got two front row/center seats to one of the matinees and couldn't believe it. And back then you could bring your camera in, so I brought my best friend with me and I brought the camera and just sat there taking shots. I think I shot one roll of black and white and maybe two rolls of color and that was it. 

So how did you end up getting your images published? 
It wasn't so much to get money for them, it was to have my name in a publication. I think it was the opening date of the tour and nobody had seen pictures of Dylan in years ever since he had that motorcycle crash, so there were no fresh photos. I would always read these English newspapers called Sounds and New Music ExpressThey had all the information, who was touring, and what was going on. That was a weekly and it would have to be flown into L.A., so we'd get it like a week late, two weeks late and it cost a buck or whatever. So instead of sending it to Creem or Rolling Stone, I sent it to this English newspaper and they published it. They didn't give me a credit at first, so that was a bit of a bummer but I made the connection and I think I got paid like ten bucks for it or something like that. The credit was worth more than the ten dollars, but I just kept persevering you know and things finally started to happen. I spent so much time and money shooting bands, developing the film, making the prints, drying the prints, writing the caption by hand, putting my stamp on the back, writing out the envelopes, taking it to the post office and mailing it...it was a big process you know.

You worked so hard, what was your motivation? 
It was a way out of my parents house. I wanted my own car, my own place, I wanted to be independent and to have financial success. All of my friends were going off to college to become whatever. For a kid my age, it was a pretty damn good living...it was a good business.

What's your favorite Dylan album? 
I don't know if I have a favorite album, but my favorite Dylan song is "Mr. Tambourine Man" on Bringing It All Back Home

So some of your first paying gigs were for MCA Records? 
I did a lot of stuff with MCA, I can't remember exactly how I pulled that off. I'd call up the PR people at this label and say, "I took these photos, do you wanna see them?" And they were all pretty receptive, occasionally they would buy one for twenty five bucks and they would send it out to wherever. But then I started to get hired. MCA was one of the first and getting hired meant you go and you shoot a couple songs of the gig and most importantly you be backstage afterwards so you get pictures of the band with the executives, the A&R guy, the management, the president of the label and then those photos would go to the trades...which was Record World, Billboard...and that was so important to them. You know I got like thirty-five bucks for doing that and I did it for all of the labels. I just thought it was so degrading doing that stuff you know, that I had to brown nose all of those people. Unfortunately, a lot of that stuff I shot for the label is gone. They got all of the negatives and everything which is really a shame. But who knew? I was happy to get a few hundred bucks. 

Where was most of your money coming from? 
My bread and butter was in photo syndication, so if I had a picture of Dylan with Robert De Niro I didn't just make one print for Sounds, or two prints...one for Sounds and one for Creem and another one for Circus, Rolling Stone. I wanted to make some money and the money at that time was in Japan. There were two magazines and they are called Music Life and Rock Show, they paid big bucks and they bought everything that I sent them. They'd open up the envelope and it was kind of like a message in a bottle, the pictures would get to them about five days later. 

Japan was great, Germany was incredible (there was a magazine called Bravo there that bought everything), then I became a correspondent for this magazine in Switzerland called Talk, there was a big magazine in Sweden called Poster which bought everything also. I learned early on that it's important to have a relationship and to meet these people. So I started going to London in the late 70s to meet the photo editors and then traveled all over Europe building a relationship with these editors. Eventually I became their correspondent and my name would be in the magazines which would help get more entrĂ©e. 

What was the competition like back then? 
The most interesting thing is that I had very little competition because most of those idiots who were taking pictures were only shooting the show and none of these magazines really cared about stage stuff. They wanted the real candid stuff, they wanted it to look like it was in California, you know? So very few photographers were shooting anything candid, they always laughed at me when I would be hanging around backstage with my flash on the camera. They were dumb because they didn't know anything about the foreign market. I'd tell them about Japan and they'd laugh and say that they didn't want to get ripped off, well they were wrong...they were the most loyal clients ever. They appreciated everything I sent them and that's the same with the Germans, the Dutch and Sweden. I'd sell the same picture of Robert Plant and eventually it got to like twenty different countries. 

What advice would you give to photographers about how to get their work published nowadays? Is it the same process you think? 
Well, the magazines are gone...so forget about that. All of those magazines are gone except for Bravo in Germany. You know it's kind of come to my attention that anything that's left...any of these digital magazines and blogs, I mean none of them have a budget to pay for anything. So for a young photographer I would suggest taking photos in whatever medium you want and send them and get a bi-line. It's up to you as a photographer to then take that bi-line back to the bands or the PR people and show them that this is your photo and that you'd like to have a relationship with them. Ask them if they're in town again to let you know if you can do anything. You gotta figure out how to monetize it and that's the toughest part of what's going on today for the young photographer. 


I don't know if at this stage of the game that it's about good photographers because most of the stuff I see on the Internet all looks the same. I think the most precious commodity today is original content. If you don't have original content then you've got to be creative and unique, you've got to have your own look. And the other thing also, I think today's photographer really needs to be a global brand. It's gotta be someone who has a lot of followers on the Internet. 

How would you describe the world pre HIV? 
Sexy. It was dreamlike...the feeling that anything was possible, it's hard to explain. It certainly had a very sexy quality to it. Very carefree. 

How did you get involved with The Runaways? 
My relationship with them was all because of Kim Fowley and Kim believed in me. He would call my parents house at two in the morning (he was a real nocturnal guy) and he would say like, "Where's Brad Elterman, I need to speak to him...I have a new band called The Runaways and I need some photos." Kim knew that I would take pictures and he also knew that I would hustle them, that I'd get them printed in magazines. I was very shy, very quiet - still am today - and I just kind of let things unfold with them. There was a time where I'd go over to their houses and take pictures because what was starting to happen is Japan would be calling and saying, "We need more Runaways photos and we want them at home, doing the dishes." I was just talking to Lita Ford like three hours ago and we were talking about the pictures that I took like at her house in Long Beach - nobody took pictures like that. I caught her inside of the refrigerator, I caught her swinging from a tree. Nobody thought about taking rock pictures like that. The Europeans and Japanese just ate it up...it made people look very personable. 

Joan was my greatest subject and she, like me, was very shy. She was living at the Tropicana Motel and we'd hang out there, we'd go to the coffee shop which was next door called Dukes and have enormous hamburgers. And for desert they'd have frozen Snickers bars that you could like, break your teeth on.

So you were selling these images to magazines as well? 
I knew I'd make a little bit of money on them...but then they just kind of took off and more and more people were calling for photos and then like...poof...overnight it was gone. They broke up in the late 70s and nobody cared about their pictures anymore. I just put their photos in boxes in storage for twenty-five years...

What is your relationship with Kim now? Have you worked with him lately? 
Kim is a wonderful friend and a brilliant guy. He is the smartest person I ever met. Probably the funniest too. He trusted me with all of his bands and that included The Runaways. Recently he had been very ill and we thought that we would lose him. He called me and asked if I would come over and to bring my camera. I did and I brought my friend Kelly Cunningham, a stunning model. The two clicked right away and after a couple of hours of hanging and taking photos, Kim shocked his nurses and got out of bed and walked around the apartment for the first time since his surgery! Everyone deals with illness and pain differently and Kim just keeps having fun and creating. He has zero time to be ill.

"The photos of The Ramones was just either hanging out or I would call Danny Fields their brilliant manager and ask if he could set something up for me to shoot for Music Life, this giant Japanese magazine. It looked like a telephone book."

What went down in the 80s man? 
Everything was changing, Jamie. Heavy metal was coming in and nobody was asking for any pictures of heavy metal. I mean I shot Van Halen but I hated the whole scene...I hated the girls, the groupies; I hated the sound. It was loud you know? And then the dreaded publicist came onto the scene and the record companies had tighter control, wanted to approve pictures. Then this thing came up where you could only shoot three songs maximum. I didn't wanna be hassled by PR people and I had the marketing down so I just started a photo agency at the time and put my cameras away. 

Tell me about Dog Dance. 
The name Dog Dance came from a Kim Fowley term that kind of meant...we're having a party or a gathering, you know a dog dance. Sandy Kim loved the name and she designed the book. It's kind of small and compact, I think most of my Tumblr followers are quite young and probably little so they can like cuddle with the book, take it to bed with them. The size is really nice and there's different types of paper in there...like a glossy stock and a newsprint that gives it this really cool contrast. I was just blown away, New York Times did something on it, Q Magazine, and a couple of digital things in French Vogue, so I'm really happy about it. 

Who are you shooting for lately? 
I am taking photos of cool young bands for Purple Diary. The essence is on "cool!"

So what are currently working on?
I'm working on a screenplay on my life from the whole period and I'm going to do a short that should go into early production next year. Basically it's going to be about getting my first camera, getting my independence to get out of the house and to go onto photo heaven I guess. I also started this website called Factory 1977 where I'm gonna open it up to young emerging photographers who kind of have their own unique style. So I'll post some old pictures and I'll post some new bands and I want to open it up to young photographers to share their work also. I'm also thinking about doing a zine or two on my modern work. It's an interesting industry still in the infancy stages.

What would you have done if it wasn't for photography?
would have sold Contemporary art or office buildings in Manhattan.

Where do you feel the future lies with photography?
I don't know, you know. I think we're in uncharted territory and in the infancy stages with the Internet and imagery, so it definitely feels like something wonderful is gonna happen. 

Thanks to the overwhelming flow of support to Brad's Tumblr page, he's picked up his cameras once again! Follow him here: BRAD ELTERMAN