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Robert Davidson2018-09-10T11:10:45+00:00

Project Description

Robert Davidson

In the summer of 1967, nineteen year old Robert Davidson was commissioned to shoot Frank Zappa in his London hotel room to promote an upcoming concert at the Royal Albert Hall.

Robert later designed a poster using the image. The poster of Frank Zappa on the toilet went on to become one of the biggest selling posters in rock and roll history. The proliferation of this unconventional image, with poster reproductions reaching into the millions, has propelled this intimate portrait of Zappa into the fabric of pop culture and the set of images, commonly known as the ‘Phi Zappa Krappa’ pictures almost immediately gained cult status. Recently the image appeared in the V & A’s definitive exhibition on the 1960’s ‘You Say You Want a Revolution.’

Zappa Krappa – Royal Garden Hotel, London 1967
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“In 1967, I was working as the official photographer for Tony Secunda, rock group manager. We had come to the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington, attending a press call for Frank’s upcoming show at the Royal Albert Hall. As we entered the room, Frank went to use the bathroom. He was talking to his wife on a corded phone. I had been scanning the room for a location when I heard Frank’s voice coming through the slightly open door. I asked permission to take his picture. There was a pause. I heard him say ‘Some limey wants to take my picture on the john’. Another pause, and ‘Sure. Whatever turns him on.'”

– Robert Davidson

Zappa on the phone – Royal Garden Hotel, London 1967
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Three months after the shoot, Zappa’s management, incorrectly thinking Robert to be benefiting exclusively from the increasingly popular images, sent representatives to his studio where he was forced to part with his original negatives. However, these measures proved futile due to the vast amount of pirate reproductions that had already taken place, and ultimately neither Robert nor Zappa received any royalties from the image.

In 2010 Robert learnt that his negatives were about to be sold online by a Los Angeles memorabilia company, Rockaway Records, who had purchased them from the estate of Herb Cohen, Zappa’s manager. Robert contacted Rockaway Records to relate his story, and in turn they kindly agreed to repatriate the 10 surviving negatives for a token sum. Rockaway’s Mark Steckler stated, “We are just glad that Robert Davidson could get them back.”

Zappa up close – Royal Garden Hotel, London 1967
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Zappa seated – Royal Garden Hotel, London 1967
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“I’m probably more famous for sitting on the toilet than for anything else.”

– Frank Zappa, 1983

“Zappa Krappa” contact sheet – Royal Garden Hotel, London 1967
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Biography

Robert Davidson is a British photographer, best known for the iconic image of Frank Zappa sitting on a toilet in a London hotel room in 1967.

Born in Dundee, he left school at seventeen years old to live in Paris, where he met the Time Life photographer Emil Cadoo. Davidson returned to London two years later and began to work in fashion photography, taking the first test shots of Twiggy.

In 1965, Davidson became friends with Tony Secunda, manager of The Moody Blues, Procol Harum and The Move. Appointed Secunda’s official photographer, Robert photographed The Rolling Stones, David Bowie and Arthur Brown.

During the 1970s he became a follower of the Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, later known as Osho. He is the father of Holly Davidson, a British actress, and stepfather to the actress Sadie Frost. He has exhibited his work in the UK and in Europe.