“I would say that my first portrait of Suzi Quatro is my favourite photograph from my work spanning the Glam period. The classic one, with the leather, zip partly undone. It’s a really powerful image of her that young women – and men – of the time were really impressed by. I think it’s a ground-breaking portrait; it’s very glamorous, yet very hard and very rock and roll.”
Gered Mankowitz, one of England’s finest pop photographers – responsible for much of the famous photography of Hendrix, The Rolling Stones and Kate Bush – is talking about his favourite image from the Glam era of the early 70s. The portrait of Quatro he thinks of so fondly features in the new Tate Liverpool exhibition, Glam! The Performance of Style. The exhibition brings together in a curatorial fashion many of the elements associated with Glam – pop, fashion, make-up, photography, video and cultural ephemera.
The exhibition also asserts – with the definite assistance of academic and cultural hindsight – that Glam was subversive, socio-culturally radical and significantly influential on the decades that followed the 70s, and on the art movements that followed Glam. It also attempts to draw together less considered artefacts of the time – paintings by David Hockney, experimental film by Warhol and Jarman – and consider their underlying similarities with the value-questioning, image-making glorious excess and vulgarity of Glam.
Whilst from behind the lens Mankowitz saw not so much a Glam riot but a more calculated image manipulation, he agrees that some of the marketing of pop in the 70s involved a daring, a radical visual redefinition. He considers the Quatro image as one of those moments – one where gender definitions are forever rent asunder, drowned in a sea of leather, assertiveness and the first small spark of riot grrrl culture.
“Suzi was an innovator and a ground breaker. As a woman in rock and roll she played a very important role. There weren’t a lot of women in Glam rock – she was really important.”
Mankowitz photographed a number of Glam’s trademark names – including Slade, The Sweet and Gary Glitter, but – to his regret – he never photographed Bowie or Bolan.
“I knew Bowie, a bit, personally, but I never photographed him. I do regret that a little. I was supposed to photograph Marc Bolan but he was so mad, so completely bonkers, we could never get it to happen.”
Interestingly, whilst the cracked actors we see in Ziggy Stardust and Bolan, the mad genius of Eno, the now almost ubiquitous influence of Warhol, give the early 70s a gloss of danger, debauchery, day-glo and derangement, Mankowitz’s Glam rockers were a very different bunch: savvy, professional and hard-working. Pub rockers with a glitter tube and a knack for writing catchy, stompy pop.
“By the early 1970s there was a real professionalism in music; nearly all of the bands I worked with were incredibly professional and very good at what they did. Slade were a very good band: great live and a fantastic bunch of guys. I loved working with Slade; I think I photographed every album cover they ever had as well as going on the road with them. Gary Glitter was also very good at what he did – he was a fantastic showman and made what I consider to be really important pop records. Compared to Bowie and Bolan? Well they had a far, far more complex appeal.”
At the eye of the Glam storm, friends with some of the biggest, most influential names in modern pop history, capturing the movement as it unfurled, shone, and then burned in the thrown Molotov of punk rock’s rise, Mankowitz explains that it is only now that we can dissect Glam and curate its paraphernalia. Back then, it was just life.
“It’s very different when you look back at something,” he asserts. “Curators and academics start analysing it and putting that time in some context, relating something Bowie does in 1970 to something that happened to him in ‘64. When you look in that way, you get a completely different view of what it was like. When you were there, it was just your life. We were influenced by the fashion, the social environment – including all of the turbulent politics of the early 70s: the three-day week, the strikes… all of that is just a part of your daily life. You’re not inspired by a movement or an art form; you’re inspired by what you see around you every day, what other people are doing – it’s like you’re on a roller coaster and you don’t think about it.”
Perhaps it is only coincidental, then, that all of the trademarks of Glam rock dress-ups – the make-up, the space-pomp, the platform shoes – stimulate mixed feelings in Mankowitz: on the one hand, providing excellent opportunities for artists like himself to experiment with style and technique, at least a little; on the other, full of silly, grotesque costumes:
“There was definitely a staged look bands were looking for: often they would emerge from the dressing room in ridiculous outfits and don ridiculous wedged shoes. It was funny, grotesque, theatrical and good fun all at the same time, for me. I did some of what I thought was my really good work in the 70s.”
However, Mankowitz has not maintained any misty-eyed attachment to the 70s to cause him to shoot in a certain way, or otherwise inject a nostalgic overtone to his work. In fact, whilst some artists may be subconsciously choosing him as some kind of totem to Glam success, his methods and approaches change with every subject. For instance, if Patrick Wolf’s LP cover shoot for The Magic Position with Mankowitz can be accused of a certain over-the-topness, the slight air of a Glam invasion 30 years too late, it’s at the behest of Wolf himself, not through Mankowitz’s own desires or yearning for the past.
“With Patrick, what really struck me was that he was an extraordinarily talented singer-songwriter. I already knew from the first time we met that if we could find a comfortable place to work together we would get a great session. He was visually a treat; he’s very interested in clothing so I let him take care of the wardrobe altogether. What I didn’t do is think overly much about whether Wolf reminded me of the past or anyone in my past. I saw him as being a unique and extraordinarily creative person. Because of that, I shot him in really quite a fashion-y way.”
Understanding what the artist is trying to project has always been Mankowitz’s sweet key to longevity and success. “I think what I’m interested in as a photographer – what I always was interested in – was less about who the artists were and more about what they wanted to be. I try to capture and project the image that they want or have adopted” – as a long line of artists from Slade and Quatro to Suede and Wolf will attest.