By Jimmy Steinfeldt
Monterey, CA (The Hollywood Times) 8/16/22 – Ed Caraeff is an American photographer, illustrator and graphic designer, who has worked largely in the music industry. The Hollywood Times had the opportunity to interview Ed Caraeff.
Jimmy Steinfeldt: How often do you clean your lens?
Ed Caraeff: Constantly. Originally with those lens tissues and even now I clean everything all the time. I had lens caps for everything, front and back. I always carried a sharpie. I wore clothes with lots of pockets. I dressed in dark subtle clothes. I never brought anyone with me to a concert or backstage. I never asked for a photo to be taken with these famous people, never asked for free food or went around to get free drugs. I just was very quiet. I stood in the corner and tried to get photos where they looked their best just like I would want. Lighting, lighting, lighting! I didn’t want a photo where they didn’t look good. That was my M.O. from day one.
I developed all my own film, made all my own proof-sheets and prints so I could control and tweak them. I didn’t want to be Ansel Adams. After I left photography I realized photography was just a piece of the bigger thing I was working on. After taking the photo it could go anywhere, I could tilt the easel, printed it on weird paper, sandwich negatives together, etc. The photo is just the start. Sometimes my mind would say wouldn’t it be good if this was there and that was there or there was a spaceship in the final image. I’m an artist and the photo is just the beginning of the finished piece.
JS: What photographers influenced you?
EC: The biggest influence was not a photographer it was René Magritte. Also Pete Turner, (an ashtray full of cigarettes, hands that are dyed red) Art Kane, Duane Michaels who photographed Magritte (Michaels was kind of a Magritte like photographer). Also Diane Arbus.
JS: How did Magritte get on your radar?
EC: Maybe at age 17 through coffee table books.
JS: What was your first camera?
EC: A plastic Kodak Brownie. I’d run around and take weird photos with it. Like my dad wearing a Halloween mask, do double exposures and roll the film back. The Jimi Hendrix Monterey photos were taken with a borrowed camera from a family friend who was an Optician named Oscar. He had a Voigtlander camera. He said the camera had a great German lens. It was the only camera I took to Monterey and I only shot black and white photos with Kodak Tri-X. I’d take the film to my dark room and I’d manipulate everything. I had a great sound system there and spent so much time there. It was state of the art with Thompson lights so I could see everything and I could even read there. It wasn’t just a red light dark room. I had a stool where my friends could visit and hang out. I’d listen to Stevie Wonder.
When color came around I got a color processer and you can see that in my Dolly Parton work. We’ve stayed in touch to this day. The day I met Dolly I was to pick her up at the Beverly Hills Hotel and drive her to my studio in Coldwater Canyon and bring her back. I was driving a white Volkswagen bug convertible. I went to the hotel and then to her room and knocked on the door. She opened it and boom there she was alone and she invited me in. I asked what she was going to bring to wear, she said go in my closet. Now I’m in her closet in her hotel room, just the two of us. I picked out a Daisy May type outfit with shorts. I picked things based on backgrounds I had in mind. Later if any of her people made a suggestion Dolly would shut them down or tell them to leave. I think I did four album covers with her. Her logo, I art directed.
JS: Do you know the photographer Norman Seeff who I’ve interviewed?
EC: He came to see me when he arrived in Hollywood. He was sent to me by Rod Dyer.
JS: What’s your primary camera today?
EC: A phone and computer.
JS: What do you think about digital?
EC: I love it. There’s only a charge to worry about and you never run out of film. I can do with one hand what used to take a month and $15,000 for dye transfer prints retouching and bleaching. Now I can do it on this phone.
JS: I love to shoot with my Hasselblad.
EC: I’m sure you do and I had two of them and the polaroid back and a Gitzo French tripod. Hasselblad was perfect for an album cover because it’s square. One of my first purchases was a strobe set made in Switzerland. It was a beautiful turquoise color with umbrellas that I saw at Shafer Camera in Hollywood. That was the camera store in the 1960s. I also loved my Nikon 85mm 1.8 lens. I was into lighting. Control, control, control.
JS: The first strobe I used were Norman.
EC: Sure they were made in LA and you could get them serviced.
JS: Did you ever do movie stills?
EC: No. I did models and Jay Leno’s first shots and many comedians. Models were fun. They come over in sweats and no makeup and then they would come out of wardrobe and makeup and every photo would be fantastic. Some people have it.
JS: Tell me about your career as a chef and your restaurant the NewsRoom. Which was one of my favorite restaurants.
EC: I had two NewsRooms. The original in Santa Monica for 30 years and also the the second one on Robertson. I started cooking for my kids as a single parent. We were eating out all the time in NYC and I decided I needed to cook. I loved it. I also realized you could be an expert in Italian cooking and not know anything about Mexican cooking. Then there’s Indian and Chinese etc. It’s endless. And my family and friends could enjoy it.
JS: I would go to the Robertson NewsRoom in the 1990s with my dear friend Jack Sherman guitar player for the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
EC: Anthony used to eat there all the time. Also Chad. Of course I enjoyed seeing these types of people at my restaurant but I would never bother my customers, it’s not my style. However, one time I left the kitchen to get orange juice from the bar. Sitting at the bar at 8:30 in the morning having a bowl of the granola I’d make there was Tom Waits. It was right at the time the first iPod came out and so I talked to him about that. Then I said “I did your first album cover” and he said “Ed, what happened to your hair?” I had had a big afro back in the day. But I said to him “What do you think of this new iPod? Isn’t it great.” And he said “I don’t know shit about any of that stuff.”
JS: Any advice you have for a young person who wants to pursue photography as a career?
EC: I say don’t do it. I don’t know how you can make it. Everyone’s a photographer now. Also it seems everyone’s a chef if you get my drift. At least they think they are. I followed my passion. I loved music and still do. I have about 6,000 songs on this camera of mine. I am surrounded by music and always have been. That’s how I got into photography and I still love to make images. Cooking, music, and photography, those are my passions to this day. I was really fortunate to make money doing it. But it is work. I realize that. When I went under a Cardiologist’s care nine years ago I thought I’d worked long enough. I had grandkids coming. So that led to my bucket list and what I’m doing now with this Volkswagen camper van. I’d never camped out before. I took the Jimi Hendrix photo when I was 17 and I already had jobs even before then. I was already selling photos. Monterey wasn’t my first gig. I was getting checks sent to me from Hollywood radio stations. I didn’t know what I was going to be when I grew up. My parents wanted me to be a dentist and that wasn’t going to happen.
JS: You mentioned your Jimi Hendrix photo. Your career is limitless but that photo is so well known. Can you comment on it.
EC: Last night I had dinner with my friend photographer Tom Gundelfinger O’Neal and we started telling stories and it can go on forever. We worked with groups on Dunhill records. So I thought he and I should do a book or speaking tour about the “Stories Behind The Covers”. As an example, I did the Steely Dan cover for Royal Scam. I was doing art work for Van Morrison’s album “Naked in the City” but it got scrapped. Then Donald Fagen called me and said “We’re finishing up a new album called the Royal Scam and do you have anything for the cover”? He wanted it later that afternoon. It’s always like that. I said how about tomorrow? I took that art work from the scrapped Van Morrison project and I went into the dark room and I came across a photo of a homeless guy on a bench. I combined these elements and made a color print. I showed it to Donald (Walter Becker was never involved in any of these things) and that became the cover.
JS: The Jimi Hendrix burning guitar photo?
EC: People think it was a lucky shot, that I just happened to be there. That’s not true at all. But also no one for 20 years after I shot the photo said anything to me about that moment. No one said did you see that? Did you get that shot? Nothing. 20 years later I’m a chef on a job in Santa Cruz. I was done for the day it’s about 4:30 in the afternoon and I hadn’t been a photographer for years and the phone rings. The voice on the other ends say “Ed Caraeff?” and I said “Who wants to know?” The women says “Ed Caraeff you are a very hard person to find, hold on for Jann Wenner”. Jann comes on the line and says hey Ed (like we’re old friends) I’m doing an issue on the greatest live performances of all time. The cover won’t say “Summer Fashion.” The cover will be clean and tasty and I’ve got it down to two shots but I decided I want to use your shot of Jimi burning the guitar. The first thing I said was “What’s the other shot”? I was starting a negotiation. He said “Pete Townshend doing the windmill.” I had never heard it referred to like that. So I said, “well I have that shot too of Pete, he does that every night!” I knew my friend Jim Marshall had photos of Jimi from the Monterey show but Jim Marshall had a pass to be on stage with his four cameras. The problem there is Jim could get photos of Jimi from the side and the back of the head and musicians are going to be uptight if you are in their way. If you want the shot you gotta be out in front of the stage. He was back stage eating the food, doing the drugs and I’m out front. I found a folding chair the first day and set up right in front, against the stage. My stomach is touching the stage. The back of the chair was against the stage and I would stand on it. I couldn’t move left or right.
JS: Weren’t there other photographers there besides you and Jim?
EC: There was a German photographer who told me to save film for Jimi Hendrix because he had seen Hendrix in Europe. I had never heard of Jimi Hendrix. 99% of the people at Monterey had never heard of him, never seen a photo of him or heard his sound. By the way I was brought to Monterey a few years ago for the 40th anniversary and that’s when I reconnected with Tom Gundelfinger O’Neal, and Lisa Law who, lives in Santa Fe. Henry Diltz, Jerry Wylde and Elaine Mayers, all the living photographers from Monterey.
JS: So there were all these other photographers back in 1967. What do you attribute all these years later to the fact that it’s your photo that is the most famous? Fate? Talent? The chair?
EC: The chair was center stage so that worked out good. Kodak gave me an award for the greatest rock photo ever taken. Tom reminds me that when I came up on the chair Jimi came down on his knees. I shot the whole sequence with the lighter fluid. I guess I was focused on getting good live shots. Also, I would wait for the shot. I was not like Jim Marshall, a human motor drive with an unlimited budget. Sure, later I had a Nikon with a motor drive but not at Monterey. When they would turn to catch the light I’d take a shot. Sometimes after shows I was the first person the band would see when they came off stage and they’d ask “How was the show, how was the sound, could you hear my vocals?” I was like I didn’t hear anything I was so focused on getting the photos. Imagine you are out hunting, you are quiet and you wait for your shot. In high school I was the year book photographer and I photographed sports and I learned to capture the moment. I learned these things from my photography teacher Mr. Mead, who I’m still in touch with. He said there is a point in a high jumper where they stop. Yes, the jumper goes up and before he comes down there’s a split second where they stop. I have shots of Elton John jumping up in the air and that was going through my mind. I’ve got two iconic shots of Elton, one at the Troubadour and one in Santa Monica where he’s jumping and I waited. By the way, Elton and I signed that print a few months ago. I sold my archive to Robin Morgan of Iconic Images in December. Robin flew from London and came to my campsite in a limo and brought 100 prints of my Elton photos (two different size editions 16×20 and 20×24 gallery prints). I numbered and signed each one and he flew right back to Europe where Elton signed the same prints. They will be sold for a big chunk of change.
JS: The Troubadour show is a legendary show.
EC: I met Elton and Bernie in London before they came here. That’s why I was with him that afternoon for that show when I did the cover of Honky Chateau where he’s sitting on his bed.
JS: What’s next for Eddie?
EC: I’m going to a memorial for a friend even though I said I’d never go to those again. But regarding work, I’m retired. There is a great filmmaker named Doug Nichol who contacted me in 2005 and for the last year and a half he and a crew have been filming me and next he will be shooting me doing drone shots as I drive the Northern California coast. Then on November 26th he’s following me to Portland, Oregon where I’m being honored at the Portland TED talks. Jimi Hendrix’s cousin Tyrone Hendrix will do a 15 minute musical set of Jimi tunes and there will be a highly choreographed showing of my Hendrix photos. I’ll be introduced and I’ll be in the front row with my seven year old granddaughter and Doug will film all this for the project. Also a great exhibit of my work “Eyes That See In The Dark: The photography of Ed Caraeff” opens on October 6 and runs through October 29 at Modern Rocks Gallery in Austin Texas.
JS: Any final thoughts?
EC: I was the accidental photographer. My whole photography career was 15 years during which time I had an unlisted phone number. No portfolio, no business manager, no agent, no photos on my wall, yet I worked all the time. Finally, I started to wonder maybe there is something else I was supposed to do. Then I became a parent, got divorced, started cooking and was a chef and restaurant owner for almost 30 years. Again the Hendrix photo was not known for 20 years before it was the cover of the Rolling Stone (like the song). By the way, Jann asked if he could color it. It is a black and white photo. I said yes and of course that exposure made it very popular and famous. I have a book of all my Jimi Hendrix photography.