Photo Credit: © GizaraArts.com
The career of many a photographer is as much a matter of serendipity, the good fortune of a timely and privileged vantage point, as artistic virtue. Guy Webster was born to shoot film and music icons. He grew up in 1940s-1950s Beverly Hills, the son of three-time Oscar-winning lyricist Paul Francis Webster. Their home was regularly visited by leading musicians of that era, and his friends were the offspring of movie stars. His sophisticated musical tastes were honed early on, so he was an ideal receptor for the sonic revolution that swept through culture in the 1960s and early 1970s, particularly in Los Angeles.
“I grew up with the blues, going to bed every night with Muddy Waters, Lightning Hopkins, Big Joe Turner, everybody… I knew some of them. I used to go to black clubs at the age of 16. I was a blues man in the ‘50s and ‘60s and this new rock ‘n’ roll was coming in. But the ‘60s was a bit of a disappointment until Bob Dylan emerged…..Once he came out I said, Oh my God I found somebody I relate to. And then everything the Stones were coming out with was the blues.”
It was the era in which bands began to express themselves directly and seminally (“until then nobody wrote their own songs except Woody Guthrie”), and the scene exploded into the frankly personal and the passionately political. Yet few understood until later how much the invention, and inventory, of that time would change music forever and remain as an influential canon to the generations that followed. As a hard-working professional who befriended many of those musicians, Webster had a ringside seat. But he was sage about his influences, more inspired by the eloquent realism of black-and-white films such as On The Waterfront and A Streetcar Named Desire, and by the dramatic light of early painters such as Caravaggio and Bronzino, than by the prevailing graphic style of the day (“psychedelic junk”).
As a ubiquitous photographer charged with capturing the magnetism and élan of young performing artists, Webster’s secret weapon was discretion and canny maneuvering. “They’re having their own energy between them, the band, and I didn’t want to get in there and be like one of the group. So I would back away and stay kind of hidden, maybe in a shady area using a telephoto lens. I learned it when I worked on films early on, so I understood what being quiet was. And it worked, because I never intruded on their intimacy. Later on, after the first cover, we’d hang out and party, but in the beginning I’m very inconspicuous. Hovering is one of my least favorite things, and I don’t hover with anybody.”
Big Shots: Rock Legends and Hollywood Icons (essays by Harvey and Kenneth Kubernick) was released in late October by Insight Editions.
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