Brian Rasic: The Life of Brian
All About Jazz: How did you get started in photography? Can you give us a brief history of your background, regarding your humble beginnings? Why photography?
Brian Rasić: I started taking pictures back in my teens. My father had a Kiev cameraRussian make, 35mmand it gave me the idea. It was like magic, taking images and getting prints out of it. Took pictures of a lot of girls and friends and all kinds of different things. In the early '70s I spent several months in Zurich, Switzerland, where I went to see lots of concerts and took pictures of the likes of Rory Gallagher, Chicken Shack, and, as I love music, I started taking the camera to concerts back home in Belgrade after that. Mid-'70s: Deep Purple, Jethro Tull, Ike and Tina Turner, etc. I would take pics and make prints for my mates as a souvenir from the concerts we saw. I do not remember why, but once when I started taking pictures, there was no way back.
AAJ: How has music and music culture influenced your personal work?
BR: I believe, quite a lot. I loved the music since an early age, and it was like being in paradise when I started seeing my heroes live. Offstage, too. Taking pictures of them was almost unbelievable at first. Obviously, music has to do a lot with culture and even politics and all aspects of life. Being here in London the past 30 years surely has been a big influence on my work.
AAJ: How did you get into the photography business? Where did you learn your craft?
BR: I am a self-taught photographer. Started with black-and-white films, processing them and making prints, the whole procedure; game of light. I just needed to understand how it all works, and then it was pure pleasure. As a business, it all started when I got to London in 1979. Actually, it was in June 1980 when I got in touch with a Yugoslavian music magazine to back me up as their photographer as I applied for a photo pass to photograph Led Zeppelin in Brussels, Belgium. I did get the backing, and they did get my pictures. That was the first. Then I sent more and more stuff, met lots of people from all around the world here. Some wanted to see my work, and they liked it. Started selling pics everywhere, and in 1983 got in touch with my agency, Rex Features, that is still syndicating my work to over 50 countries in the world.
AAJ: What was the music climate in your native Yugoslavia when you began working?
BR: In all honesty, I was more into foreign groups and music in the early '70s when I was at home. I remember seeing Blood, Sweat and Tears, Mungo Jerry, but most of all seeing and listening to great jazz music at the Newport Jazz Festival that was coming to Belgrade: Miles Davis with Keith Jarrett, Herbie Hancock, Jimmy Smith, Kenny Burrell, Ray Charles. Local groups that I loved were Korni Grupa, Time, Yu Grupa. Then came Bijelo Dugme. But my spell of living in Zurich back in 1973, when I saw The Rolling Stones for the first time, changed my life forever. Seeing King Crimson, Roxy Music, just blew my mind. Back in Belgrade, life was good and we had a good time. It was nice in each and every way. At the end of the '70s, local music became much stronger too, and I remember seeing some memorable concerts by Bijelo Dugme, Smak, and then I left.
AAJ: What made you move to London and pursue photography?
BR: There was no intention to move to London. I got here, and I stayed. It took years for me to accept that I live here. I guess it's normal. The first few years, I was a visitor, and later on it became my home. That was my lifethe way it went. Once being here with all the concerts by people that I loved, I had to find the way to get into it. Photography was the way. I loved music and taking pictures, so combining it became my business. It took some time, of course, but I was stubborn and never gave up. After all, it was a joy.
From left: Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Pete Townshend
AAJ: Photographers are often told that they need to develop a personal style to set them apart. What would you say sets you apart?
BR: Difficult to answer that. I only know to see and do as I do. It's for the others to say how good it is. I guess I must be doing something right, as I lived off of my work the past 30 years here in London.
AAJ: What motivates and inspires your work?
BR: I like to say that I am "lens objective," that I capture what is given: different people, different pictures. But I give my best in whatever I do.
AAJ: Of your photographs, what were some of your personal favorite projects, and why?
BR: At the end, it is a dream come true when you work with your childhood heroes, and I have been privileged to work with the likes of The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, David Gilmour and Paul McCartney, among others. They all put their trust in me, and I am proud of that. For instance, when The Rolling Stones played their biggest ever gig at Copacabana Beach in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, I was their official snapper. Around two million people were there. Needless to say that it was my biggest gig, too!
When it comes to David Bowie, I worked several times with him, and that was cool. David Gilmour hired me to cover his famous gigs in London's Royal Albert Hall, and my pics are at the DVD from that event. Same with the Stones. I met and took pictures of Ringo, George and Paul. Did Frank Sinatra, too. I was there for the Live 8 gig in London, and did a few more memorable concerts in my career.
AAJ: What would your dream assignment be?
BR: Comes to the living. I've been there and done it. And some great ones that are not with us anymore, too. I wish I could turn the clock back and do John Lennon, Elvis, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, and Janis Joplin.
AAJ: You shoot a lot of celebrity portraits. With their tightly controlled images, is it hard to get them to do something interesting?
BR: It is, I guess, as it's all controlled. And most of them know what they are doing, anyway. Especially these days, it's hard to get almost anything.
AAJ: Is there anyone whom you're recently photographed that particularly impressed or surprised you?
BR: The last person I can think of was David Gilmour. He's one of the nicest people I have metsuch a normal and down-to-earth guy. Lovely person.
AAJ: Would you agree that the publicity photos and cover art are at the forefront of how people visually perceive the music?
BR: Those pictures are there to sell the product, and they of course play a big role. But I wouldn't always count that they show what's in there and compare them with music.
AAJ: When shooting The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, or Bowie, do you listen to the music before? Who decides on the style and the locations? How important is the music in the process, if it is at all?
BR: As I love music, [there's] no need to listen to it before I do my work. I see those people visually; even live, I think that most of the times I can't even hear the music. I'm in my bubble, searching and waiting for that shot. Big artists are totally in control of things. Most of the time, I only execute their wishes. The reason why is that I am mainly a press photographer. Only sometimes I am part of the creation of the image.
AAJ: Any anecdotes to share?
BR: There is an anecdote that I have to tell about The Stones. At the time when Keith fell from the palm tree, there was a lot of panic going on. First it was serious, big news, then they made fun out of it. The truth is that Keith was seriously injured. Once when he recovered, the postponed European tour was back with the start in Milan instead of Barcelona. I was shooting the show for them. I remember Keith kind of being happy to be back on the stage. Afterwards, when they were looking at my work, they were saying that you can see that on his face in my pictures.
During the show, as I was trying to get the best view, at some points I was kind of climbing on the side of that catwalk that was going out from the stage, to get a better view. All of a sudden, a security guy asked me to get down and stop shooting. I was confused. It took only a minute for him to explain that the word was that Mick was concerned about me. He told them, I guess between the numbers, that he didn't want me to "do the Keith" on the first night. Mick was kind of taking care of me. Cool.
AAJ: How important is humor when you work?
BR: It can be, but usually I get lost in my work.
AAJ: Music journalists have to wrestle with the notion that writing about music is like "dancing about architecture," as music is something that is so intangible, and one cannot really express it as an experience. How do you go about expressing an experience of music in a picture?
From left: Noel Gallagher, Paul McCartney, Paul Weller
BR: Like I said earlier, I am there to capture what is given to me. Therefore, I don't find it difficult at all. First you take pictures, and then select the best. Selection is of huge importance, too. Less can be very often more.
AAJ: Is there a memorable image that you have taken that has become your favorite?
BR: Difficult to say, really. There is a shot of Liam Gallagher throwing beer into my camera that, according to my agency, is one of my most iconic images. There are two shots that capture British music in total: one with Jagger, Bowie and Townshend together, and the other of Noel Gallagher, McCartney and Paul Weller from the Beatles to Oasis. Love some Stones that I did; used to love photographing Prince. There's a gallery of images, as you can imagine, after 30 years of work.
AAJ: When photographing music, what's it like having a backstage pass and being right between the crowd and the artist?
BR: I guess I am used to that. The funny thing is that sometimes you have to sign the contract that you will never ever use any of what you saw there in anything that you do.
AAJ: Have you ever had to photograph someone you didn't particularly like? And, if so, how hard is it to be professional in those circumstances?
BR: Oh, that is no problem. I don't remember working with anybody I don't like, to be honest. I am not saying that I like everything either, but I do have respect for one's work, and that is crucial. I do my job, they do theirs. It's down to being professional, and I am.
AAJ: What advice would you give to a beginner, when it comes to photography?
BR: One has to follow his path. Every now and then, I am being interviewed by young students who are looking at my work as inspirational. They ask me the same kind of questions. I am an "old-school" [photographer]. Everything is so different today. Digital photography brought lots of good, but bad things too, in this business. All I know is that it's harder now than ever. But that doesn't mean that one should give up. Different times, different rules; but for sure, young people will find the way.
AAJ: How do unknown photographers get their work published?
BR: Same as above. To do a pic, you need to be there. How do you get there? Is it a chicken or an egg?
AAJ: On a technical level, what are the basics that you must ensure are in place with each image?
BR: It's all about light, really. Too much light is just as bad as too little. Think light; that is the basic. Composition comes next; don't butcher your object. Easier to do than to talk about it.
AAJ: As someone that has photographed so many concerts, how on earth do you manage what must be such a massive archive of photos?
BR: Most of my work is with my agency in their files. The film, that is. That is the only way they can sell. Some are in the attic, but more and more they are on external hard drives. The new stuff is there, as the past few years, it's all digital. Then some old work is being scanned to digital, as that is the normal way today.
AAJ: What makes a great image?
BR: Million Dollar question. Still in search of that one.
AAJ: With such an impressive career behind you, what challenges remain? What do you have left to achieve as a photographer?
BR: I really don't know. I am always looking for more work. I still love it, and I'm still here. I do believe in surprises, too. Things will happen as I work, for sure.
All Photos Courtesy of Brian Rasić