Donald Silverstein’s sole session with Jimi Hendrix produced one of the most important and well known photographs of the incendiary guitarist.
New York born Donald Silverstein (1934-75) started photographing early in life. Given a Rolleiflex camera by his mother at the age of 12, by 19 has was photographing for Glamour Magazine in the US and at 20 has was sent to London on a one year contract for English Vogue by renowned Art Director Alexander Lieberman.
He loved Europe and ended up staying for four years: two in England, and then two years working for French Vogue in Paris. During that period he developed a close friendship with French fashion photographer Guy Bourdin. Donald returned to the US and worked in New York for three years. He was a big music fan, with a strong sense of style, and that comes across strongly in the record sleeve portraits he took during this period for Riverside records, and which won him many awards.
He missed Europe, however, and decided to return, with his family, with London acting as a central base. He shot for fashion publications, newspapers, major advertising agencies. He kept esteemed company. A 1964 Daily Mirror article on Britain’s top photographers shows him alongside Bailey, Donovan and Duffy.
Donald opened a London studio on Riding House Street, just around the corner from Carnaby Street. He photographed the first Biba mail order catalogue, featuring model Madeleine Smith. He shot royalty – almost. The Silverstein family archive contains a beautiful portrait by Donald of Wallis Simpson, gloves off.
He was an award winning photographer, collecting over 50 professional awards in the course of his career. A medal in the 1968 Design and Art Directors awards for his photograph of a little boy with a bandaged eye (used in adverts for preventing accidents from fireworks), was followed by four medals in 1969 including an award (with Alan Aldridge) for the iconic 1968 poster image used for the London screening of Andy Warhol’s Chelsea Girls movie, which featured his photograph of a provocatively posed young model, now artist, Clare Shenstone.
He loved music and was thrilled to receive the Jimi Hendrix commission in 1967, creating what has become his most well known image, and one of the most important images of Jimi Hendrix. Donald led a vibrant life, then he died too young, in 1975.
The 1967 Session with Jimi Hendrix
Donald Silverstein’s sole session with Jimi Hendrix produced one of the most important and well known photographs of the incendiary guitarist. Jimi stands, looking into camera, his jacket off, his shirt open, revealing a fine set of abs. This powerful image originally appeared on a poster issued by Track Records, and has been heavily bootlegged subsequently. Hendrix fans who have seen that original poster will know that the contrast was notched up to 11 by the designer, and as a result it was very difficult to pick out detail. Seeing the photograph as Donald Silverstein took it, and as presented in the exhibition, is a complete revelation. It is as if years of caked-on mud have been removed to reveal an finely detailed original. The individual strands of his hair are like wire wool, just one of many intricate details picked up by the fine grain on the Kodak Verichrome Pan film that Donald had loaded into his Hasselblad for the shoot.
Earlier in the session Donald had photographed Jimi Hendrix flanked by Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell, for a series of group portraits, one of which would be chosen for the inner gatefold sleeve of the 1 December 1967 UK release of The Experience’s second LP, Axis Bold as Love, but for the most part, the session was about Jimi. A series of previously unpublished photographs from the shoot reveal Jimi Hendrix perfecting his hair in a mirror held by Donald’s assistant. He then photographed Hendrix wearing his elaborately patterned shirt and jacket, then with jacket removed and shirt open, and finally, bare-chested.
The other complete revelation is that with the exception of the group portrait used on Axis and the solo shot on the poster for Ladyland, only one or two of the portraits of Jimi Hendrix taken by Donald Silverstein have ever seen the light of day. For almost 50 years, outside of the Silverstein family, everything else from this incredible shoot has been kept under lock and key. Until now.