Violence in America

“In every generation, ever since Negros have been here, every Negro mother and father has had to face that child and try to create in that child some way of surviving this particular world, some way to make that child who will be despised not despise himself.”

The above was written by James Baldwin in 1964 in “The uses of the Blues.” I wonder what people in America think about that today, when African American people are being shot every day.

Last week I watched the ESPY’s. In the midst of all the sports awards, they gave out the Arthur Ashe Courage Award. Last year Bruce Jenner won for becoming Caitlin Jenner. The year the award went to a high school football player from Knoxville, Tennessee by the name of Zaevion Dobson. Zaevion was sitting on a porch with some of his friends enjoying the evening when a car drove up and the passenger started shooting. Zaevion threw himself on top of ther two girls sitting with them, saving their lives, but dying in a hail of gunfire. He will never grow up to realize his potential. I don’t know what I would do in that situation- probably nothing as brave as him.

His mom, while accepting the award, reminded everyone that when the high school held a ceremony at halftime of a game to honor Zaevion, his cousin, who went to the game, was gunned down by another drive by on the way home.

Turning the clock back about an hour, the show started with Chris Paul, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade standing on stage each talking about how they are going to start speaking up against the violence filling our country. I hope they do, as they are the roll models that kids look up to. Dwyane Wade was just signed by the Bulls for about 23 million dollars a year, and returns home to a city that now leads the country in street shootings and deaths from them. Let’s see what he does when he comes home!!

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Something weird

Gered Mankowitz took some of the best pictures of Jimi Hendrix in the 60’s. One of them is up for dispute in France. Seems that a company that makes electronic cigerettes obtained rights to a classic Hendrix portrait, retouched the cigerette in the photo and replaced it with an electronic cigerette. Mr. Mankowitz sued and LOST!!

The advertiser ‎argued that there could not be any infringement or violation because the photograph was not original. Under French law, photographs are treated like all other works of art: they are protected provided that they are original, which courts interpret to mean that the work must “reflect the artist’s personality.

Mankowitz argued as such:

This extraordinary and equally rare photograph of Jimi Hendrix manages to capture, for a very short moment, the striking contrast between the lightness of the artist’s smile and of the curl of smoke and the blackness and geometrical rigor of the rest of the image, created notably by the lines and right angles of the bust and arms. The capture of this unique moment and its enhancement through the light, the contrasts and the narrow frame focused on Jimi Hendrix’ bust and head reveal the ambivalence and contradictions of this legend of music. As a result, this photograph is a fascinating and highly beautiful work which reflects its author’s personality and talent.

The court’s response:

First, the Court held that art can have artistic merit without being original, and therefore the artistic merit of this photograph did not necessarily mean it was original. Second, the Court held that the key inquiry is whether the photograph reflects the personality of the photographer. By contrast, the photographer’s statements about Jimi Hendrix’ ambivalent personality were not relevant.

Finally, the Court held that the framing, background, and the choice of black and white were fairly common for this type of portrait. The photographer therefore was obliged to explain the choices he made in relation to the posture of the subject, his costume and general attitude. The Court found that, since the photographer failed to give sufficient explanations about these choices, he failed to establish that his photograph was original.


I guess we are lucky we don’t live in France. They don’t seem to get it at all.


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Billy Idol

Last week I quoted from a letter that a photographer sent to a publicist:

Contracts that limit what I can do with my work are generally intolerable, but contracts that require me to provide images without any compensation are simply insulting. There would be no request for “unrestricted right[s] to use and publish” if my work had no value. Yet, demanding these rights without any exchange or reward is essentially calling my photography worthless.

 So this week I received a contract attached to an email for a Billy Idol concert in town this coming week. It is the first one I have seen that tries to address this issue. Here is what it says:

 In consideration of Artist’s assistance and cooperation in the taking of photographs of Artist, Photographer agrees that he/she will permit the use of a selection of photos by the Artist for general publicity purposes, Artist website, etc free of charge. Those photos should be delivered digitally to the Artists representative without unreasonable delay.

(This is the same crap as almost every contract stipulates, and should be enough for any photographer to say no and stay home and watch television instead).

Then it goes on to say:

Should artist choose to use photos for album packaging (not including the cover), the Artist will pay a one-time $3500 fee as payment for that usage. Should Artist choose to use photos for album cover packaging and/or merchandise, Artist would pay a one-time fee of $5000 as payment for that usage.

 So they actually put a value on a photographer’s work! That is the good part. The bad part is that they still will only let photographers shoot the first three songs (covered in a separate email), thus making the odds of taking CD cover quality photographs very unlikely. So this contract is very disingenuous. It holds a carrot in front of the donkey by saying they will pay you, but make it almost impossible to take good enough photographs to get paid. Meanwhile, they get to use your photographs for publicity, a job that record companies used to pay about $1000.

Maybe they need to start there, and actually pay someone to take publicity photographs.



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More Contract Talk

A couple of weeks ago, I was talking to a fellow photographer in town. He had just asked for a photo pass for a band (not a very big one) and received this email:

Photo policy is first three songs, no flash and set time is 9:30pm. After picking up your ticket and photo pass from the box office please walk to Gate 2, where a venue staffer will escort you to and from the photo pit. If you have any issues at the venue please give me a call at …..

 Please review and sign the attached photo release and send it back to me before the show, please note we cannot release your credentials until I have received this from you.

 The release had the usual clauses that we have seen many times:

This release expressly precludes any use of Photographs in any outlet other than the Publication without written consent from BAND NAME HERE. I will provide copies of all Photographs immediately upon request. This release grants BAND NAME HERE and its designees irrevocable and unrestricted right to use and publish the Photographs without restriction and without my inspection or approval.

So he wrote the publicist back, about as eloquently as I have ever seen- better than anything I could write:

Thanks for getting back to me. If this is a non-negotiable agreement, then I respectfully decline.

 Contracts that limit what I can do with my work are generally intolerable, but contracts that require me to provide images without any compensation are simply insulting. There would be no request for “unrestricted right[s] to use and publish” if my work had no value. Yet, demanding these rights without any exchange or reward is essentially calling my photography worthless.

 I have great respect for the musicians I photograph–artists of all stripes face many challenges and must overcome significant obstacles to achieve success and fame. My photography is not a commodity, but an expression of my own artistic vision and many years of experience–I expect the same respect in return.

 Lo and behold- the next day the publicist wrote back and told him to scratch out anything he didn’t like in the contract!!

I am sure he wouldn’t mind if you used his wording next time you come across the same issue. Probably won’t work but at least it will be a good try!!




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Last weekend we celebrated the Blues in Chicago. An under courant of grief passed through the Chicago Blues Festival on Sunday as we heard of 49 people murdered in a nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

When will it stop? There seems to be a gun atrocity every week in America. Yet, we seem to have a routine of national mourning. We have a moment of silence. We hold a candlelight vigal. Then we go on with our lives until the next one. We now have Donald “The Idiot” Trump telling us that it is the president’s fault, as he won’t shut the borders to all Muslims. Funny that he didn’t say anything about the most high profile Muslim of all in America. When Muhammad Ali died, not a peep from The Donald!

Paul Ryan tried to have a moment of silence in the House of Representatives after the Orlando tragedy, but was shouted down by a Democrat demanding a vote on gun control. Ryan beat his gavel on the podium and declared the session ended. Free Speech, anyone?

Then there is Representative Robin Kelly from the Chicagoland area, who broke down in tears during a speech a few weeks ago, who said:

“I am so relentless on this issue because moments of silence in Congress just aren’t going to cut it anymore.”

 The luncheon audience hosted by the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform applauded.

During a question and Answer session, she brought up a six year old girl fighting for her life after being shot about a mile from my house while playing in her front yard. Made me think that there were more people shot or killed on the streets of Chicago this year that were killed in that nightclub in Orlando. But not on the same night!

Ms. Kelly is right. A moment of silence won’t cut it any more.

This week Neil Steinberg, a columnist from the Chicago Sun Times set out to drive to the suburbs and buy an assault rifle. At the store, very pleasant young men told him which one would be “Best” for him, he handed over his FOID card and credit card, and went home for the 24 hour waiting period. That afternoon he got a call from the store saying his purchase was being denied, due to his (Well publicized) bout with alcoholism and spousal abuse from a few years ago. Too bad the guy in Orlando wasn’t checked that thoroughly.

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The Greatest

Cassius Clay (later Muhammad Ali) once said that “It’s not bragging if you can back it up.” And he did, over and over, in his boxing career and also in his personal life. He died this weekend at the age of 74, after accomplishing many things beside being a great boxer.

He was one of the three people I have called my heroes, along with Lew Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul Jabbar) and Billie Jean King. Ali once said “ Impossible is a big word thrown around by small men.” All three of these people stood for something along with being great athletes.

 In 1967, he made a decision to not allow himself to be drafted by the US Army, saying: “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Kong.” Earlier in that year, a summit meeting was called in Cleveland by Jim Brown. Also included were Bill Russell and Lew Alcindor (and others). The purpose of that meeting was to try to talk the young Cassius Clay into not going up against the US Government on the draft issue and destroying his career. During that meeting, Clay talked the others into agreeing with him. Because of this decision, he lost three years at the height of his career, until 1970, when the Supreme Court allowed him to fight once again. He later regained his heavyweight championship two more times.

In 1967, I was in high school, knowing that if I didn’t go to college, I would get drafted and probably sent to Viet Nam. Cassius Clay made me believe that I could stand up for a principal, and I prepared to go to jail rather than be drafted. College became the option that I chose, and I wasted 2 ½ years of my life going to an overcrowded school and learning nothing. I always though jail would have been better, but I didn’t have the guts to do it.

I heard a quote this week, saying “ He made people brave for standing up for something.”

Even the people who photographed Ali inspired me. Neil Leifer was one of two photographers asked to shoot the Ali-Liston fight in 1965. He saw a lot of photographers on one side of the ring, so he went to the other side. Because of that decision, he got possibly the most iconic sports photograph of all time, Ali standing over the fallen Liston. All the other photographers can be seen behind the two men. Since I read about that night I always gravitate away from the “Pack” to find a different angle. It has worked many times.

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Otis Rush

Going back to the James Brown bio I am reading, james McBride, the author suggests that “one of the richest nations in the world does so little to aid the artists whose sacrifices created one of our greatest cultural and economic exports.” He goes on to say, “What’s the difference between a guy who plays music that came from the back roads of Vienna in 1755, and a guy who plays music that comes from the back roads of Toccoa, Georgia in 1955?”

Near Toccoa sits the military base that the soldiers from the HBO series “A Band Of Brothers” trained. It also became the boys prison that held James Brown! The soldiers get honored (and they deserve it) but not James Brown.

So that brings me to Otis Rush. Otis is one of the seminal blues guitar players of the last 100 years. When I was growing up, I would go to any club he was playing at, just to see and hear his amazing left handed guitar work. Shortly after starting in the business, he played the Chicago Blues Festival, and brought the house down. At the end of his set, he brought Luther Allison out to do a number with him. It still is one of the greatest moments in Blues fest history.

CHICAGO, IL -JUNE 3: Luther Allison and Otis Rush at the Petrillo Band Shell on June 3, 1995 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Paul Natkin/WireImage)


Shortly after that Otis signed a major label deal, and finally all the guitar magazines came calling. I became the designated photographer for all of them. Three weeks in a row, I drove to Otis’ house, picked him and his wife Masaki up and brought them back to my house for a photo shoot. One of the greatest thrills of my life!!!



Otis continued to play around town until he had a stroke in 2004 (he is now confined to a wheelchair). This year, on June 12, the Chicago Blues Festival will declare it “Otis Rush Day” in Chicago and celebrate his career with a two hour set of music played by almost all the musicians that played with him in his prime. Not to be missed

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Two more

In the middle 1980’s I met a guy named Lonnie Mack. He was a guitar player and songwriter who, I later found out, was a big influence on guys like Stevie Ray Vaughn, Duane Allman and Jeff Beck. He was living a pretty quiet life in central Indiana, occasionally going out to play some shows. He did a tour opening for George Thorogood. Then Alligator Records signed him, and I did a photo shoot for his album package.Then Epic Records signed him, and I was asked to photograph his album cover. He was playing somewhere in Indiana, so I went to photograph him there. After the show he invited a bunch of us back to his house, and we decided that it was easier to just stay there than find a motel. So we all slept on couches and extra beds. The next morning I got up to find Lonnie getting ready to go fishing, so I joined him for a while down on the dock.

Lonnie Mack on 6/28/87 in Cincinnatti, Ohio (Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images)

He was an amazing guy, and a true gentleman. He was one of those guys who never made it over the hump. Just kept on playing, and making music for his fans. This week, while going through my Getty sales report, I saw a large amount of Lonnie Mack images licensed. I Googled him to find out that he had passed away at the end of April.

Lonnie Mack on 5/3/85 in Chicago, Il. (Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images)

In April of 1982, a publicist from Polygram asked me if I wanted to do a shoot with a new band they had called Girlschool. I agreed and the next day the band arrived at my house! In the ensuing hours, I became friends with four very nice women. I went to see them that night, and they rocked the house! Loud and fast (very loud), they exploded onstage and the audience went crazy! I followed them for a few years, shooting a few shows, doing a few photo sessions, and then they kind of ran out of gas. Their records kept on being rereleased, and they seemed to still be touring.

CHICAGO, IL APRIL 15: Girl School at the studio on April 15, 1982 in Chicago, Illinois (Photo by Paul Natkin/Wire Image)

Last week someone posted one of my photos of guitarist Kelly Johnson on Facebook with a notice that she had passed away in 2007!

It is amazing how the level of fame of a person determines how much press coverage they get. Kelly received almost no coverage, and Lonnie the same. A friend told me that he had an obituary in the New York Times, but none in Chicago.

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Prince and James Brown

I am reading a new book by James McBride called:

Kill ‘em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul

 It is interesting to see a biography of an African American musician researched and written by an African American musician!! Also one that lived a mile from James Brown’s mansion when he was a little kid. Just getting into it, I saw a lot of parallels with all the recent news about Prince and his estate.

It seems strange that someone who was such a great businessman would pass away without a will, leaving his music, which he fought so hard for during his lifetime, up for grabs by greedy relatives (and even a kid who says that he is Prince’s son). If a paternity test proves it, under Minneapolis law, the son wins. So all that money and all that great music changes hands to people that might not know how to curate it.

This brings to mind a passage from the forward of the James Brown book:

James Brown, The Godfather of Soul, America’s Greatest Soul Singer, left most of his wealth, conservatively estimated at $100 million, to educate poor children in South Carolina and Georgia. Te years after his death on December 25th, 2006, not a dime of it had reached a single kid. Untold millions have been frittered away by lawyers and politicians who have been loosed on one another by various factions of his destroyed family.

I hope the same thing doesn’t happen with Prince’s estate.


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Neil Leifer

There is a great article in the latest issue of Sports Illustrated. It is excerpted from “Relentless: The Stories Behind the Photographs” by the legendary sports photographer Neil Leifer, arguably the best that ever held a camera in the sports world..

A lot of the stories are funny stories about elaborate practical jokes he played on other photographers and writers, but there are a few that can easily translate to the music world.

He was asked to go to Moscow in 1961 to photograph a USA-USSR track and field meet. When he got there he presented a letter to the guard, signed a sheet of paper next to his name, and was presented with an armband as a credential. He was told to return it when the meet was done, as they used the same armband for every event. As he collected all of his credentials, he tucked it into his camera bag and came home. (He was 19 at the time and saw no problem with that). In 1963, he again flew to Moscow to cover that years meet. When he handed the same guard his letter, he was given a one work answer- Nyet. The guard then pulled out the paperwork from two years earlier, and showed where he had not returned his credential!! Only because he was working for Sports Illustrated was he allowed a new credential, which he returned when the meet was finished.

This makes me think of the way photographers are treated these days at most big concerts. You are not even given a credential. You are herded to the area that you are to shoot from, and then herded out of the building when your allotted time is up. God forbid you shoot a photo after the first three songs! I have always collected credentials- especially from the really big shows. That will never happen again in our world.

He also talks about how he gained access when he started out at age 16. Ay Yankee Stadium, they had a ramp where they rolled wheelchair bound army veterans out on to the field, and lined them up along the outfield wall, So Neil volunteered to help the veterans, camera under his coat. Once they were all settled, most of the volunteers disappeare3d into the stands to find a seat and watch the game. Not Neil. He stayed on the field and avoided security, although at times he would fetch coffee for the guards and they would look the other way while he worked.

I remember that when I started I made a point of befriending as many security guys as I could. (I am still friends with a lot of them today). They are much more important to know than any band manager, as they control access!

So I am proud that my career took some “sort of” similar paths as a legend in the business!! (and I still have a great collection of passes from cool shows.)

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