by Jimmy Steinfeldt
Hollywood, CA (The Hollywood Times) 12/10/18 –
Jimmy Steinfeldt: How often do you clean your lens?
Alec Byrne: Only when I can’t see through it.
JS: What photographers influenced you?
AB: Early in my career it was Snowden. He said “When someone looks at my work I don’t want them to say ah that’s a Snowden.” He didn’t want to be locked into any particular style. Some of the legends of photography had a certain look or style like Karsh of Ottawa, or George Hurrell of Hollywood. I wouldn’t want to have one particular style.
Later in my career I did go gaga over the F64 club. Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Minor White. I was totally infatuated with this type of photography. I went to Yosemite even before I lived in America. I tried to meet Ansel Adams at his studio but he was out of town for several months so I never got to meet him.
JS: who influenced you besides photographers?
AB: I loved the musicians. As a 16 year old I was buying the vinyl, going to the clubs, going to the shows. I loved the music scene. I didn’t go to plays or poetry readings, barely went to cinema, It was music, music, and more music.
JS: What was your first camera?
AB: The first camera I used was my brothers Pentax. A beaten up piece of crap. The first camera I bought was a Yashica-Mat which cost 42 Guineas in the U.K. and my wage was 5 Guineas a week .
JS: What camera are you shooting with these days?
AB: Now it’s Canon SLR’s with every lens from a 16mm wide lens to a 400mm F2.8 long lens. I can also use a lens doubler to make it 800mm F4.
JS: Is there a camera you always wanted but never got?
JS: Did you do stills for movies or TV?
AB: I did some in the U.K. where you had to use a blimp. Then I did quite a lot in the U.S. on TV shows and movies. I did get a bit lucky. I did a photo shoot with actor David Soul of Starsky and Hutch. David liked my photos and often invited me to shoot on the set. At first his co-star Paul Michael Glaser didn’t like me being there and said if I took any photos of him he’d have me thrown off the set. Eventually when he saw more of my photos he asked if I would shoot some photos of a scene they were both in. Later on they were unhappy with the network because the network was selling merchandise and not paying them for merchandise sales. They stopped allowing the network photographer to be there. So I did all their pictures for the last 6 months of the show. Since I was freelance I owned all the photos I took. I was able to sell my photos from this hit TV show to magazines and newspapers all over the world.
JS: Is there anyone you would like to photograph that you haven’t photographed?
AB: As I was leaving the music business there were two people I always wanted to photograph that I didn’t get to photograph and they were Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley. Today there is really no one I ‘d loose sleep over not being able to photograph.
JS: What advice would you have for a young person who wants to pursue photography as a career?
AB: Whatever it takes, retain ownership of your photos. You may think photos you take today are not relevant but they may be in the future. When I started I figured five months after I took a photo it won’t be of interest to anyone. Thankfully I was wrong about that and I saved most of my negatives.
JS: Regarding your new book, I think the preface by your childhood friend Tony Norman is great.
AB: We go way back. We went on tours together. Tony was part of my first trip to America and also trips to other parts of the world. So after 50 years he wrote a great forward. We spent hours going over old diaries and we did it all on FaceTime.
JS: I love the design of the box the book comes in.
AB: I have to give credit to Drew Evans who came up with the concept. A box that only a photographer like yourself Jimmy would immediately recognize. It’s similar the classic yellow and red box that photographic paper used to come in.
JS: Graham Nash is quoted on the back of the beautiful box.
AB: Yes, he said very kind things about my photographs. Photos of Graham appear in the book and on the cover. Also Graham is a brilliant photographer, printmaker, and publisher.
JS: I’d like to talk briefly about some of the photos in the book. At the back of the book you have several proof sheets or contact sheets. What do you call them?
AB: Contact sheets
JS: Keith Moon (page 57)
AB: Keith Moon was a total mad man. Just try to corral him. Well I eventually did and got the entire band to sit for just a few moments. It was at a party in the backyard of Keith’s house.
JS: The Rolling Stones with Mick Taylor (page108)
AB: That’s the concert at Hyde Park and Mick Taylor’s first gig. That was the largest audience I’d ever photographed. Keith Richards said it was over half a million people. I was shooting from the pit and not able to get any good photos. So I walked around backstage and said I was shooting for the TV production company and they let me on stage. I found a great place on one of the two towers with a fantastic view of the stage and audience.
JS: Brian Jones (page110)
AB: That is possibly my favorite photo of Brian Jones. I shot that at the Stones office. It was just a plain office wall background where I bounced the flash off a side-wall. When I cropped the photo it ended up looking like a studio portrait.
JS: Paul McCartney on a swing over a lake (page 146)
AB: If there was a Beatles or Stones event going on you made damn sure to be there and get the photo. I found out McCartney was doing a biographical TV show
Called James Paul McCartney with his wife Linda. It was amazing to shoot them in the studio and on location. I thought I’d be allowed to shoot for a few hours but they let me stay there for days. I got the whole band Wings to sit in a little rowboat and I pushed them off into the middle of the lake.
JS: What about the photo at the beginning of your book of a young Alec Byrne on a Vespa scooter?
AB: That Vespa scooter is probably responsible for where I am today. That got me working in Fleet Street, which got me involved in a dark room, where I became hooked on photography. I bought that Vespa BEFORE I bought my first camera. The movie Quadrophenia will give you an idea my scene. Mod clothes, Mod culture, teenage revolution!
When I got the job in Fleet Street I was the only dispatch rider that was a Mod. Every paper in the U.K.: The Sun, The Daily Mail, The Guardian, The Mirror had their riders. Those riders dressed in heavy leathers and rode big Norton and Triumph motorcycles. Here’s me on my little Vespa. But somehow it all worked out and here is this book that should have never been. 1000s of my images have been lost over the years. These photographs literally survived Fire, Flood, and Earthquake.
Don’t miss Alec Byrne’s appearance January 20 at 3pm at Book Soup, W. Hollywood