Project Description

Photographing Kate Bush

Gered Mankowitz recalls: “The final few weeks of 1977 were very busy for me, with album covers for Bing Crosby, Cliff Richard, Shakin’ Stevens and the Rubettes amongst others. So when EMI asked me over to their Manchester Square offices in central London to discuss a new artist, I was actually a bit pushed to find the time. How glad I am that I did manage to free up my schedule, because at that meeting, they played me ‘Wuthering Heights’ and showed me the video they had produced of a then unknown singer called Kate Bush performing the song. Kate was not at this initial meeting, but from listening to the playback of the song and watching the video, I realised that she was an extraordinary artist and potentially a wonderful subject.”

January 1978 – The first session

Wuthering Heights – Colour
Buy this

“In those days I was working out of a studio in Great Windmill Street in the heart of London’s Soho.  For this first session with Kate I had decided to use a wonderful piece of distressed canvas as a background; it had once been used as the floor of a boxing ring in the gym below us, and its coarse texture seemed a perfect contrast to Kate’s youthful beauty.

I purchased some leotards, tights, leg-warmers and scarves, and placed them in our rather inadequate dressing room, which was actually a curtained-off corner in the studio. When Kate arrived, she disappeared behind the curtain with the make-up artists and stylist.

Wuthering Heights – Alternate
Buy this
Wuthering Heights
Buy this

Kate emerged in the pink leotard.

She looked beautiful, and I knew that we were going to have a fantastic session. She settled in front of my Hasselblad camera without a care in the world. Kate did not have much experience of working with a professional photographer, and I felt that it was important to try and guide her through the process. She had a natural instinct and seemed to understand immediately how much the camera loved her.

After shooting several test Polaroids, I was happy with the lighting, and Kate was delighted with the look. We shot throughout the afternoon, with Kate in both the pink outfit and a green version. After about twenty rolls of film, the first shoot was over and I felt certain that we had achieved the objective and produced the portrait that would launch her.”

Cathy Come Home
Buy this

March 1978 – The second session

The Kick Inside
Buy this
Buy this

My second session with Kate was on 21 March 1978. By this time, both the ‘Wuthering Heights’ single and The Kick Inside album had been established as huge hits. Some countries did not want to use the original Kick Inside cover image, and one of my jobs for this second session was to come up with some alternative options for use on covers outside the UK. One of these turned out to be the classic ‘wooden box’ image which became the American cover for the album, and there were at least four different cover images in total. I always loved the ‘wooden box’ series because it was such a complete contrast to the original pink leotard shoot and showed a more playful side of Kate’s character. We had the box made by my set-builder so that it was completely square and would fill the shape of the album sleeve perfectly.

Cathy Contact Sheet
Buy this

The other reason for the second session was to create a stock of several different portraits that showed different aspects of Kate’s theatrical persona. I remember this as a long and pretty tiring session, and we shot more than six different set-ups and over forty rolls of film. When I look back at this shoot, and see again the variations that we covered in one day – including the entire ‘Wuthering Heights’ video sequence in the Cathy dress, minus the smoke (which EMI had asked for because they could not take stills from the video itself) I am not surprised that it was such a shattering experience.

Lady Macbeth
Buy this
Hammer Horror
Buy this

August 1978 – the third session

Lionheart – Colour
Buy this

The next session in August 1978 was specifically for the Lionheart album cover.

We constructed the attic room in my Great Windmill Street studio. I found the Lion headpiece in a fancy dress shop near Olympia, but the costume was made to measure, and fitted Kate perfectly. I did not want the attic to be filled with the usual sort of junk you find in old attics, because I felt that it needed to be quite sparse in order to keep as much focus on Kate as possible. The same box from the earlier Kick Inside session came into play again, as well as a couple of little props and a great deal of spray-on theatrical cobweb. I had designed the set so as to have a large window through which to light the shot, and apart from a few reflectors, that was it.

I had agreed with EMI that the sleeve would be presented as a gatefold with both sides designed, as much as possible, as “front” covers. The inside spread would carry the lyrics and would include the title track hand-written by Kate. For the reverse “front” cover, I shot a series of very dynamic portraits with a dark background and a powerful orangey red back-light which I have always referred to as the ‘redhead’ series.

Buy this
Lionheart B/W
Buy this

February 1979 – The fourth session

Buy this

My fourth and final session with Kate was in February 1979. By this time, she was clearly established as one of Britain’s brightest stars. The outfit that Kate wore was made specifically for the shoot in a wonderful vivid red jersey material.  It was designed to be blown against her body by a powerful wind machine as she made a range of shapes to the camera. Kate responded to the concept with her usual zeal and enthusiasm and we shot a series of exciting and fabulous photographs, several of which remain some of my most favourite from this important period in my career.

The remainder of this final session was spent shooting an extensive range of full length animated, action dance portraits including a surreal series with Kate climbing out of a chrome drum, which was used on several EP sleeves including a rare Brazilian release. In fact this chrome drum was an old Kodak dryer drum which we had been using as the base for the studio coffee table.

The Final Dance
Buy this
Buy this
Buy this

Want More ? Take a look at an incredible signed limited edition book

WOW! Kate Bush by Gered Mankowitz, the limited edition book from Ormond Yard Press. 

WOW! Kate Bush by Gered Mankowitz features the very best work from Gered Mankowitz’s incredible 1978 / 1979 archive of Kate Bush photographs, with the majority of photographs previously unpublished. Each copy is personally signed by Gered Mankowitz.

As with all previous Ormond Yard Press volumes, it is a book on a spectacular scale: a hardcover volume housed in its own printed slipcase and measuring 24 inches high x 18 inches wide (60x45cm) when closed, 24 x 36 inches (60 x 90cm) when open, with 96 pages of photographs. The physical scale may be large, but the edition size for WOW! is reassuringly small – just 750 individually signed and numbered copies are available to collectors worldwide.

Ormond Yard Press: Bringing You The Bigger Picture.

Read all about WOW! and order a copy