The way they were

Photo exhibition of The Rolling Stones, The Beatles in their youth shows interesting new side to them.

By
November 30, 2011 21:22
3 minute read.
The Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones 311. (photo credit: Courtesy of Philip Townsend)

There’s nothing like being in the right place at the right time, even if the confluence was down to pure serendipity rather than intent.

In Philip Townsend’s case, opportunity came knocking at his door twice – from the same source.

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Some of the results of those happy coincidences are currently on display at the Minotaure Gallery at 100 Ben-Yehuda Street in Tel Aviv In 1960 Townsend was in the south of France taking photographs for Tatler magazine, which started life in the early 18th century as a literary and society journal and was revamped in 1901 as a glossy magazine.

Townsend, then just 20 years old, was on his first professional assignment and happened to hook up with the Daily Express correspondent in Monte Carlo and started taking pictures for the newspaper. A few days later, as the two were hanging out in a square in the seaside principality, a young Englishman wearing riding breeches appeared and summarily informed his compatriots that rock ‘n’ roll was the next big thing and that he was going back to Britain to find a band that would become “the biggest rock band in the world.”

No surprisingly, Townsend and the reporter hardly managed to stifle a chortle or two, and Townsend told the starry-eyed youngster that he should get in touch when that discovery came to be.

The 17-year-old in riding breeches was Andrew Loog Oldham, and the band he discovered was none other than The Rolling Stones. Luckily for Townsend, Oldham called him shortly after the photographer returned to London, and Townsend duly took the first ever photos of the Stones in 1963. Mind you, the photo shoot took place only after Townsend had bought the penniless young musicians a chicken takeaway.

That first photo, outside 113 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea near the Thames, is one of 40 prints on display at the Minotaure Gallery until December 31.

Townsend’s instructions from Oldham was to make the Stones look “mean and nasty,” and that comes across loud and clear in the array of blackand- white prints in Tel Aviv. Mind you, in these days of reality shows and other in-your-face art and entertainment offerings, a picture of five tousled youngsters lounging around on a street bench or – horror of horrors! – hanging out outside a pub brandishing an empty pint glass may not register too high on the shock register. But this was a very different era. Britain was still clawing its way out of the gloom and austerity of the post-World War II period, and the polychromic aesthetics and vibes of the Summer of Love were still way over the horizon.

The exhibition also includes a handful of prints of The Beatles, all taken in 1966 when the Fab Four met Maharishi Mahesh Yogi at his meditation center in London. Townsend was summoned to the gathering by the Maharishi’s PR man and, as it turned out, luckily for Townsend he wasn’t paid for his efforts.

“That meant I kept the copyright to the photos,” he noted. “A lot of photographers did not own the rights to their work.”

Unlike most of the Stones prints, the Beatles pictures are not posed, and they reveal a lot about their initial approach to the mysteries of the East as proffered by the Maharishi. In most of the photos, all four look distracted or bored. Interestingly, one shows George Harrison and Ringo Starr looking like their minds were anywhere but with the Indian guru, Paul McCartney has a look of disbelief on his face, and only John Lennon appears to be engrossed in what the bearded teacher has to say.

The exhibition offers a rare opportunity to not only get a glimpse of the two most famous British bands in the history of rock and pop but also – in the case of The Rolling Stones images – to get a sense of the ambience of London in the early 1960s.

As Townsend commented, “Everyone else did staged portrait shots, but I wanted to include something of the surrounding area, something of the location in the photos.”

He certainly did that, to great effect.

The Rolling Stones and The Beatles exhibition runs at the Minotaure Gallery at 100 Ben-Yehuda Street in Tel Aviv until December 31. For more information: www.minotaure-telaviv.com and (03) 522-8424.


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