Photo of Michael Jackson in Exhibition in London
Chiswick-based artist Robert Ellis has spent his life photographing pop legends and rock stars for prestigious publications such as the New Musical Express and Melody Maker.
And now an exhibition of his work is display at local vinyl cafe Rhythm & Brews, which will run for 3 months. The walls are now adorned with a fascinating selection of images, ranging from Mick Jagger strutting his stuff on stage, to David Bowie, Genesis, Blondie, Elton John, Stevie Wonder and Prince.
There is also a striking image of a ten-year old Michael Jackson looking pensively into the camera.
“Every picture tells a story and when I look at them, each and every one tells me something, the good, the bad and the ugly.”
“I remember when Michael Jackson came to London and the Churchill Hotel was besieged by fans outside. He desperately wanted to go to Hamley’s toy store but there was no way he could move. He even asked me if I could take him, it was quite sad.”
Robert said he built up a good relationship with the bands. “They were all special to me, they lived in a bubble and they allowed me into that bubble. I felt very privileged to be allowed in. The Who were the first band that picked me, they’d heard about my work and though I was at that time an unknown, they asked me to take pictures and then that introduced my work to other bands such as Genesis and ACDC. I worked with Paul Mc Cartney for ten years when he was with Wings.”
Robert, who was born in Devon, has lived in Chiswick with his wife Stella, since 1981.
He began working as a photographer for NME in 1971 when it was changing from a pop to a rock newspaper in the midst of the rock revolution. In 1975, he moved to its rival, Melody Maker, in the same role. He specialised in tour, not studio photography, though he did have his own studio for many years close by St Paul’s Cathedral. All the way until the early nineties, though based in London, Robert was mostly on the road with bands, hopping from tour to tour.
In 1976 he met his wife-to-be Stella, a German sociology student and they toured together with the bands. They have now celebrated forty years together and nowadays Stella looks after the business side of things. When she started travelling with Robert on tour with the bands she found it a very difficult life, but soon got used to the ‘jargon’ and the personalities involved as well as the constant travel. In 1981 Robert began working with the then new magazine ‘Kerrang’ and founded his own photo agency REPFOTO, to manage the licensing of images in the media. This was more successful than he had imagined. Robert finally retired from active photography in 1993 due to the impossible work load. In 2000 he registered the repfoto website and began the gargantuan task of digitising his archive of tens of thousands of images.
In 2014 he launched The Rock Library to publish books of his work. He is currently working on book number eight on the band Status Quo. The bands so far covered include Genesis, AC/DC, Iron Maiden, Scorpions, and The Who.
The cafe on Arlington Corner is the brainchild of Ann Khoshaba (pictured above with Robert) who ran the Cinnamon Cafe in Pitshanger Lane, Ealing for six years.The music is all from old vinyl records played on an old fashioned record player and you can take your own in if you want. They also serve snacks, cakes and drinks.
Ann was inspired to host the exhibition when Stella told her about Robert’s work. Stella is a keen crafter and when Badger & Earl closed, she used to visit Rhythm & Brews with her friend Susan, to continue their hobby and chat.
Things have changed so much in the music industry, as Robert notes, many of those he photographed are now dead. They were, he says ‘ special people’.
“It’s all different now, with these big arenas and the internet. I don’t think the fans have the same relationship. In the old days the bands slogged it out for years in clubs before they made it big and the fans followed them. The relationship with the fans is very sanitized now.”