The Photography of Andrew Kent
Access, Aperture & Reverb
Photography Andrew Kent & Chatham Baker
David Bowie on tour, 1976.
1968—The Summer of Love was quickly becoming a distant memory. The utopian dreams of free love and non-violence were falling to the realities of the Vietnam War. Rock ‘n’ roll emerged from the ashes of a generation’s ideals as a monstrous beast slashing towards the future, struggling to find new heroes and its own way as an art form. There on the shoulders of the snarling beast was 18-year-old Andrew Kent with his Nikon in hand, capturing the intimate, reverb-filled world of rock ‘n’ roll.
By 1978 Andrew Kent had the one thing any music photographer desperately wants and needs: access.
“Access is everything,” he tells me as we sit over coffee in his home studio north of Ketchum. From his very first gigs as a staff photographer for the Los Angeles Free Press, he became a regular on the L.A. music scene. He used his trusty press pass to work his way up the short list of photographers who were allowed backstage at any given show. His access to musicians soon spread from L.A. to the rest of the world.
Simply put, Andy is one of the most acclaimed rock photographers of the 1970s, if not of all-time. While first impressions of Andy don’t scream rock ’n’ roll—he’s polite, soft-spoken, conservatively dressed, with a trimmed beard—just a quick glance around his studio reveals hints and glimmers of a past deeply steeped in music. A large, iconic, black and white photograph of Jim Morrison leans against a bookshelf. Morrison is heavily bearded and squinting through one eye. It is one of the last portraits of the cultural legend. Andy’s photographs of musicians, including Cat Stevens, Keith Richards, Freddy Mercury, Rod Stewart, KISS, Elton John, and even Frank Zappa, have graced the covers of every rock magazine, billboards in Hollywood, and album covers. His portrait of Iggy Pop during an unplanned moment at the BBC Studios is the iconic cover of the rocker’s 1977 album, Lust For Life. He was the staff photographer for Cream, Atlantic Records, A&E, and Capitol Records.
Top Row: Cat Stevens, early-70s; Ringo Starr in concert, early-70s; Iggy Pop on tour, 1978; Frank Zappa at the A&M Records Studio, mid-70s;
Bottom Row: David Bowie, L’Hotel, Paris, last day of the tour, 1976; Keith Richards, backstage at the Palladium in Los Angeles,
Andy is perhaps best known for his photos of David Bowie. His candid portraits offer remarkable glimpses into the musician’s life and personality. “You can’t get these photos from the side of the stage,” he smiles as he holds up a print from the stack on his desk. The image is of Bowie, tangibly comfortable in front of Andy’s camera, on a train reading what appears to be a Russian newspaper.
The photo is from the 1976 Station to Station tour. Andy remembers how, instead of flying from Zurich to Warsaw with the rest of the band and tour, Bowie decided to take the train into the Soviet Union. It was just Bowie, Andy, Iggy Pop, and two members of Bowie’s staff, on a train bound for unknown adventures behind the Iron Curtain. “We just went over there because we could, and we knew it’d be a lot of fun,” Andy explains.
The small group went unnoticed into the U.S.S.R. and Andy snapped photos the whole time. On their way out through customs, Bowie and Iggy were accused of stealing relics and were strip-searched. Andy laughs as he recalls the incident, “…and there I was holding the stolen goods.” At this point in the interview he gets up from his chair and disappears into his house. He comes back holding a small Russian sign, and I can just make out that it says something about toilet paper. “I unscrewed this from the bathroom on the train,” he chuckles.
Andy’s house is a collection of wonderful objects: a credenza full of cameras, albums of all his backstage passes from 1968 to 1978, scrapbooks of his photos cut from magazines and framed art on every wall.
Andy’s Idaho home is a collection of extraordinary objects: a credenza full of cameras, albums of all his backstage passes from 1968 to 1978, scrapbooks of his photos cut from magazines, and framed art on every wall. He is an organized collector. Andy shows me a framed subway map of Paris. He points to where he lived and where his frequent stops were, saying, “It took me weeks to steal this from the subway car.” Above the stack of cameras there is a framed and faded picture of Andy’s great-grandfather. “He was a Jewish cowboy. That wasn’t too common,” he says and smiles. Andy has surrounded himself with an informal museum of personal oddities since moving to the Valley in 1978.
So here’s the real question: How did Andy end up living here in Ketchum, so far from the world of rock ’n’ roll?
In the fall of 1978 Kent came to Sun Valley to visit his sister, who was getting married. He was at the height of his career, yet it wasn’t enough for him. “I remember the moment like a photograph,” he states slowly, recounting the vivid memory. “I was standing in her living room. It was late fall and it started to snow, the first snow of the year, and I knew this is where I wanted to live.” And that was it. Andy called his business partner, Neal Preston, from the kitchen of his sister’s house to split up the business. He was ready to escape to the mountains of Idaho.
He did one last tour, as a favor to a long-time friend: the 1978 Black Sabbath tour with opening band Van Halen. Andy traveled with Ozzy Osborn and the heavy metal pioneers down the Eastern seaboard, sharing space in their GMC Eleganza motorhome. “That was fun,” he casually understates. I can only imagine the antics that took place.
Top Row: Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young at Winterland in San Francisco, David Bowie, at Vladimir Lenin’s tomb in Moscow 1976;
Bottom Row: Jim Morrison at Garden District restaurant in Los Angeles (this is one of the last photos taken of Morrison in America), 1970; Ozzy Osbourne, Black Sabbath Tour in Chicago, 1978.
Then, just like that, Andy disappeared from backstage for good. In late 1978, Andy Kent became a permanent resident of the Wood River Valley, shooting only one show over the next 30 years.
Since moving here, Andy has lived comfortably off of royalties and from photographing art, including the extensive collection of Bill and Glenn Janss. He lives a simple life gardening, riding his motorcycle, and fishing—keeping mostly to himself . . . until recently, that is. Andy has lately become involved in an online gallery specializing in historical rock photos, RockPaperPhoto.com. The website is releasing limited edition prints of Andy’s that were previously unavailable. “Opening nights at galleries were never my thing,” he says. Andy is one of the website’s featured photographers; it is an outlet for him to share his work.
While researching for this interview, I came across Andy’s name in an online forum about Jim Morrison’s controversial death. Andy was the last photographer to shoot Morrison alive. It was for a 1971 interview for the LA Free Press by Bob Chorush, only several months before the death of The Doors’ lead singer. In a tape recording of the session, which has only recently been made available, Andy is introduced to Morrison. The online group of amateur rock historians discusses Andy’s role in the interview, and the biggest question is, “Is Andrew Kent still alive?” Nobody in the discussion knows for sure. Andy has read the same forum. He laughs, “I had my finger in history.” But the question about his whereabouts doesn’t bother him. He’s content to be alive, well, and somewhat anonymous in Sun Valley.
To view more photos of Andrew Kent's work go to www.rockpaperphoto.com