With a father who was an avid self-taught musician and a mother who is a gifted painter and sculptor, Eddie Kramer was genetically destined to end up in either the musical or visual arts. Well, it's no secret that Kramer picked music, and that his involvement in the medium yielded some of the most enduring recordings of all time — works by Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Kiss, the Rolling Stones, Traffic, The Beatles, Santana, Peter Frampton and other legends.
However, Kramer's mother's talents also rubbed off on him, judging by the quality of the photographs he captured in the studio and onstage from 1967 through 1972: “That glorious period when rock was supreme,” as Kramer says.
Those images form the basis of a collection titled From the Other Side of the Glass, which will be exhibited in New York at VH-1 headquarters for three months starting September 15, and at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, beginning October 4. Furthermore, the photos will be on sale through the Kramer Archives Website, www.kramerarchives.com. Kramer Archives is the company formed by the producer to catalog, exhibit and sell the images.
Shot mostly in black-and-white, Kramer's images offer a stunning visual companion to his recordings. There are shots of Hendrix in mid-take, relaxing between sessions, and smoking a joint and a cigarette at the same time; photos of Led Zeppelin recording Houses of the Holy in the yard at Mick Jagger's country estate; stills of the Stones and Hendrix hanging out backstage at Madison Square Garden; frames of Johnny Winter leaning on a studio gobo discussing a song with his bandmates; and dynamic live shots of Frank Zappa, Crosby Stills & Nash and Joe Cocker taken from a VIP balcony at the Fillmore East.
Every picture depicts an artist so deep into his craft that he seems unaware of the presence of the lens. Asked what was going through his mind as he was taking these historic photographs, Kramer says, matter-of-factly, “I was just trying to stay the hell out of the artists' way and be as innocent as possible. I just snapped away when the situation was cool. Nobody gave a damn in those days. You had a camera, no big deal. There was an element of trust. Actually, the artists kind of ignored me.”
This probably explains why the pictures are so candid and so revealing. After spending countless hours together making records with them, Kramer developed a peer-level association with his clients that permitted him to go where no “professional” photographer had ever gone — into the inner sanctum of the recording studio.
Not that Kramer was the first person to photograph recording sessions. However, because he was part of the process, he approached it as an insider, as opposed to a visiting journalist or artist trying to capture a story. Kramer was — and remains — an integral part of that story.
Having had a few years to reflect on the quality and magnitude of his work, Kramer has decided to exhibit approximately 250 of the images he captured during the period in question (which number 1,070, for anyone keeping score). Some of the shots are arranged in panels of several images, while others are presented as stand-alone portraits. Prices range from $400 to $740 for 9×14-inch portraits (matted, in a 16×20 frame) to $850 and $1,500 for the panels, which come in a wide variety of sizes and shapes.
Interestingly, there are no photos of Kiss in Kramer's exhibit. Is that because the infamous masked band refused to be photographed out of costume? Not at all. The reasons for the absence of Kiss material are much more mundane. “I stopped shooting pictures in the studio around 1972,” says Kramer, “and I didn't start working with Kiss until the mid-'70s. By then, I had gotten married and had kids, so I preferred to take pictures of my kids than of hairy rock 'n' roll guys.”
Also notable for their absence in Kramer's exhibit are The Beatles, for whom Kramer engineered the timeless tracks “All You Need is Love” and “Baby You're a Rich Man.” Kramer recalls, “Working with the Stones, Hendrix, Traffic and all those guys was great. They were my buddies. But The Beatles…now you're talking some serious stuff. They were like royalty. They came into Olympic Studios [where Kramer worked at the time] because they couldn't get into EMI, and I didn't want to yank out my camera, because I thought I might blow the whole session. So that's the only time during that period that I didn't take any pictures.”
If he had, Kramer might have captured John Lennon discovering a clavioline that was sitting around Olympic Studios and using it on “Baby You're a Rich Man.” Or, he might have caught George Martin playing a harpsichord that also happened to be lying around. But it wasn't to be. Those famous Beatles sessions live on in Kramer's mind — and in the grooves of the records — but not on film.
No one, least of all Kramer himself, seems to mind that The Beatles aren't represented in the archive. After all, the collection is so rich and so steeped in rock 'n' roll history that one becomes awestruck imagining that a single person was present at all those sessions.
The images were catalogued, digitized and restored by New York digital imaging specialist (and audiophile) Peter Kavanaugh, Kramer's partner in the photo archiving project. Kavanaugh says, “My prime objective when working with these images is to respect the physics of what analog light and film can do, how they interact with each other, not to put the pictures through a lot of digital filters and special effects. We went for the most photo-realistic enhancement techniques so as not to undermine the original photos.”
Although Kramer admits that the photography project has consumed much more of his (and Kavanaugh's) time than either one of them anticipated, it hasn't stopped Kramer from keeping a feverish pace in the studio. In the last few months, he has restored and remixed two Hendrix live performances in surround for film/DVD release: the “Isle of Wight” concert and Jimi Plays Berkeley. He has also been co-producing solo sessions and a soundtrack recording by Matchbox 20 guitarist Kyle Cook. Meanwhile, Kramer has been flying back and forth between his New York City-area home and Salinas, Kan., to record a blues album by Jimmy D. Lane, son of the late Chicago bluesman Jimmy Rogers.
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