SCV embraces the photographic genius of Jill Furmanovsky
Jill Furmanovsky might be one of the luckiest photographers in this day and age. How she connected herself into the resident staff at one of London’s top venues of the 70′s is a story you have to read. London’s modern music scene of the 70′s was exploding with new frontiers of sound and the historic Rainbow Theater was a melting pot for the worlds top acts to bring their live presentation to the fans in the UK. Jill Furmanovsky was at the center of all of this excitement, taking pictures of the best in the creative world of the arts.
We contacted Jill in the hopes to interview her about her rich legacy and more importantly the contributions she made to the recent Pink Floyd Immersion box sets. We could not have been happier that she agreed. Enjoy this interview with Jill Furmanovsky, we feel her works are a very important time capsule for future generations of influence and can be used as vital tools for personal research to any photographers or historians of music. We can only be so lucky to have talent like hers in this world.
Jill Furmanovsky exclusive interview with Sound Colour Vibration
Conducted by Erik Otis
*All Photos ©JillFurmanovsky/ not for reproduction without permission
Before we dive into the rich contents of this new Pink Floyd Immersion set for Dark Side of the Moon, I wanted to talk a little bit about your start at London’s historical Rainbow Theater in the 70′s. You had the opportunity of studying at the Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design and soon there after got a gig as a resident photographer with the Rainbow Theatre. How did you get linked in so quickly with just arriving at this college?
In those days, early 70’s, photography was not considered an art, it was a service department within the art school. All degree students (I was studying Textile design) were put on a two week course so that they could photograph their work or use photography as part of their design work. However, despite its lowly status, it was a terrific department staffed by professionals. There was a huge darkroom with helpful technicians and a studio. During my 2-week course I went to the Rainbow one night to see the band ‘Yes’. I took the college camera and a roll of b&w film. Somehow I managed to join a bunch of professional photographers who were shooting in the pit area. At the end of the show two of them asked me if I was professional. I lied and said yes so they offered to let me take over from them as official Rainbow photographer – they were off to make a film somewhere. I remember going back to college the next day and saying to the tutors ‘teach me everything quickly – I’ve got a job! Well it was an unpaid job but it was my passport to the rock world and professional photography.
Were you nervous for your first shoot at the Rainbow Theater and what was the first concert there that really blew you away and made you love the process you were involved in?
I was hooked on photography from day one, roll one. I knew in my soul that me and the camera were going to be an item – it seemed destiny. So it didn’t seem at all strange to get a job and to be shooting for real after a two-week course, even at the Rainbow. However, my first lot of pictures were not great! Pink Floyd were my favorite band at the time, and being at one of their rehearsals as well as their shows in the night blew me away.
What was the most bizarre or memorable experience you had during your photography residency at the Rainbow Theater?
Some good moments, some bad, some damn strange and some funny. Van Morrison and the Caladonian Soul Orchestra over several nights – superb. Lisa Manelli’s breast falling out of her costume during a dance move – with Peter Sellars giggling in the wings, Chuck Berry walking through the packed auditorium to collect his money in cash from the box office, having the film ripped out of my camera at a David Bowie concert by one of his manager’s henchmen, Bill Withers alone onstage with an acoustic guitar, the balcony bouncing with Slade fans going wild, James Brown lit by red light singing It’s a Man’s World, the first performance of Tommy by The Who with Sandy Denny and Merry Clayton Bell and Rod Stewart etc. Eric Clapton playing Layla for the first time, seeing Robert Plant and Roy Harper hanging out backstage, The Clash fans trashing the first two rows of seats….
What types of cameras and lenses were you using in this period and do you miss the analog era of photography?
Pentax Spotmatics at first and then Nikon FE’s. I don’t miss them as such, but I am amazed at how sharp a lot of the pictures are considering the lighting conditions, slow-ish films and hand focusing of a moving object. Don’t think I could do that now…
Who were some of your favorite photographers to work with during that period and what was the funniest shoot you did during the 70′s?
I loved Barrie Wentzell because he made me laugh – he used to stay in the bar for the show but turn up for the encores. Invariably he got the best shots. Mike Putland told me how to process up-rated film during a long drum solo – “Microphen, nine and a half minutes, 70 degrees” he shouted. And of course Pennie Smith was there, my only female colleague, with her little suitcase, which I think she still uses. We both had a laugh when Todd Rundgren came on stage with a bulge in his glitter suit described by ‘Sounds’ as ‘a sack of potatoes.’
On April 11, 1973, Pink Floyd played two concerts at the Rainbow Theatre to promote Dark Side of the Moon. Can you describe in as much detail as possible, the atmosphere that was present during this period of Pink Floyd and particularly these shows. We are very fascinated into the window that you had being around this scene and being able to judge it from the vast experiences you hold to the region while completing your studies.
As I said, I was a massive Pink Floyd fan, so being at the rehearsals and shows at the Rainbow was extraordinary. I remember being swamped by dry ice and poking my head over it to take shots, I remember Gilmour playing those divine solos and focusing on his arms, which are really beautiful and thinking as I studied his face with a telephoto lens, this is the best job in the world. I remember buying a raffle ticket from Nick Mason at one of the rehearsals. It was for a street party in Camden Town where he lived and I won one of the prizes – a crate of booze. I don’t really drink but being rung up and collecting the prize from him was a thrill. A year later I went on the road with the band and took a lot of the pictures that appear in these Immersion sets.
Now we would love to dive into the new Immersion Pink Floyd box sets you are involved with. Dark Side of the Moon has been released and is a marvelous collection. I love hearing the Alan Parsons mixes that were done in 1972 and all the video along with the beautiful linear notes and photos presented in those. You had a heavy hand with the photography present. How did they select you for this task and what exactly did they ask of you?
I was chosen by Hipgnosis to go on the road with the band in 1974 on their UK tour. I was 21 and had just finished college so it was a gift of a job. I had been to see Storm and Po in the early 70’s while a student hoping for some work. I thought they were brilliant. They didn’t need me to shoot their covers, and anyway I wasn’t technically proficient in that area, but when it came to documentary work it wasn’t their bag so they offered the tour to me. The images were for a possible book project they were working on with a writer called Nick Sedgewick, a friend of Roger Waters. I had to shoot the sound-checks, the roadies, the band playing all their various sports, the travel on trains, backstage stuff, hotel scenes, and of course live pictures. It was an exhausting but exhilarating experience. Sadly the book never materialized as it probably gave too much away or upset people, I don’t know exactly what happened to the text, but the pix remain.
How long did the process take for all the steps involved with the box and what was the most rewarding parts of your time working on this Immersion release?
It has taken the best part of a year to do the picture research for DSOTM, Wish You Were Here and possibly The Wall too. Scanning images that have not been seen before has been fascinating. I was picture editing Hipgnosis images as well as mine, and as a fan I was intrigued to find unseen images. I love that the band gave such little attention to their clothes or stage appearance – it was always more about the music, the lights and the effects. So refreshing after all the posturing of other bands of that period.
What was the most stressful part?
Being a nubile young girl on the road with a load of blokes, not being particularly experienced or well-trained as a photographer, working for Storm is not easy (!) and on top of it all I was anxious to prove I was worthy of the job – taken as a whole it was stress personified but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
When you look at this new box set and you realize what it means in the context of modern culture, where do you place it in your collection of works you have been involved with?
I am very proud to have been involved with the whole project. DSOTM is a classic plain and simple but seeing the band revealed while they work is interesting now. It was Paul Loasby & Andy Murray from David Gilmour’s management who suggested including books of photos in these Immersion sets. I think fans will appreciate the intimate portrait of probably the most private band (of that stature) to emerge in the 70’s. Also Storm has surpassed himself on the packaging of these Immersion sets. Those painterly versions of the famous prism/rainbow cover are true works of art.
How many photos of Pink Floyd do you have in your archives that are unreleased?
Quite a few. Hard to say in numbers but I could probably do a book on the band and still find some unseen gems now.
They also included the quadrophonic mix Alan Parsons prepared for Dark Side on the dvd audio only disc, did you ever partake in the quadraphonic listening experience for this record?
I did love their quad sound when it was live, but haven’t heard the recorded quad version yet.
What can long time fans of Pink Floyd expect on the Wish You Were Here Immersion set?
Another book of photos and more amazing Storm graphics. There is probably more but I haven’t seen it yet.
Was the process easier or harder for the Wish You Were Here Immersion set in the work you contributed towards it?
There is only one set of photos from the recording of Wish You Were Here. We have included quite a few in the package. I wish I had taken more!
Have you heard anything new on what EMI plans to release in the next round of major releases after the Immersion box sets are out?
Sorry, don’t know.
Having seen extensive amounts of box sets released over the years for scores of artists, what do you feel separates the Immersion set for Dark Side of the Moon from any other box set ever released?
Can’t really answer that either.
What is your favorite audio or visual moment out of all the discs present from the Dark Side of the Moon Immersion set?
Storm’s artwork with the paint colours running into each other is superb. Haven’t got around to listening to all the CD or DVD’s yet.
How about the Wish You Were Here Immersion box, what is your favorite moment on that set?
Wish You Were Here is my favourite Pink Floyd album – every moment is great.
How receptive was the Pink Floyd towards you when you were shooting inside of the studio for Wish You Were Here?
The band accepted me being there and, for the most part, forgot about it, which is what you want when you are working as a photo-journalist. The recording process can be boring so there were moments when I spoke a little, mainly to Nick Mason as he wasn’t recording that day. The rest of the time it was observation and a discreet presence on my part.
One little aside for you: I was so thrilled to be in Abbey Road studios, having been a massive Beatles fan who dreamt of going inside when I was a teenager, that I don’t know which was more thrilling being inside this sacred building or shooting Pink Floyd recording!
Thanks for your time, we really appreciate it.