HOT SHOT

oneil

 

How did you start out in photography?

I wanted to be a jazz drummer actually! I was playing in London clubs when I was 14 then I went into the army and by the time I came out jazz wasn’t doing so well. I saw an advertisement for jobs at British Airways. Their planes flew from London to New York, and you’d get three days in the States every time. I thought it could be the ideal existence for an international jazz drummer. As it turned out there were no vacancies for air stewardships so I took a job in the photographic unit with them instead.

What would you say was your big break?

I took a shot of a man asleep at the airport who turned out to be the home secretary and I got offered a job on Fleet Street as a result. I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was the youngest photographer there by miles; they just wanted somebody who could mingle with the pop stars. The very first job I did there was photographing a group down on Abbey Road recording something called Please Please Me and it happened to be The Beatles. I started at the top and never looked back.

 

The Beatles

 

Is it true that you spent two years training for the priesthood?

Yes! I was picked out at school to study it because I was always top at religious instruction. My mother was very chuffed about it so I just went along with it, but I had no ambition to be a priest really. I had too many questions. No matter what you think, there’s no proof. Nothing proves there is a God.

Who is the most memorable person you’ve photographed?

Frank Sinatra. He was a great man to work with. I worked with him for more than 30 years of my life. We became friends to an extent but I backed off because I didn’t want to be sitting there having a drink with him, I wanted to be taking his picture. It’s more important to be there but not be noticed. That’s how I work.

 

Frank Sinatra

 

And the most difficult?

I loved everyone I worked with – the only person I ever had trouble with was Steve McQueen. I was doing something for a magazine called West – a supplement for the LA Times. The moment we walked in, Steve said he didn’t want to do it. I started snapping pictures anyway for two minutes while he was berating the PR!

Do you ever get star-struck?

No, never. The only person I ever felt nervous about was the Queen. You can’t help but think of everything that could go wrong. She put me at ease straight away though and I thought ‘What was I worried about?’ You realise she spends her whole life posing for photos or paintings. She was charming.

 

oneil4

 

What do you think is the secret to a good portrait?

I don’t know! It’s just the way you see someone. I like a picture to tell a story. People think cameras take pictures; they don’t – you just use them to communicate your interpretation of somebody. Believe it or not, I’ve never been into cameras. I don’t like them. I don’t see the point of digital either, everyone is just watching the computer. You lose moments and you lose ownership. With digital, you throw so many away. I think that’s a big mistake. Photography has changed for the worse if you ask me.

 

The Early Stones

 

Is there anybody you’d still like to shoot?

Nobody excites me anymore. There are people like Tom Jones, or Eric Clapton, but I’ve done them all before in their heyday. I certainly don’t want to photograph people from reality TV.

What’s the best shot you’ve ever taken?

The one of Brigitte Bardot. It was the last shot on a roll of film. I was on frame 35 and she was just about to go and start a scene. The wind blew and I thought ‘Have I got that?’ I waited three weeks because I was on location and then I got it back and just knew it was the money shot.

 

Brigitte Bardot

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16/F Chao's Building  |  143-145 Bonham Strand  |  Sheung Wan  |  Hong Kong
T: +852 33620 3157  |  F: +852 3753 1811  |  thereserve@infonation-asia.com  |  Data Policy  

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