“I think of Art Kane as being strong, like a pumpkin sun in a blue sky. Like the sun, Art beams his eye straight at his subject, and what he sees, he pictures – and it’s usually a dramatic interpretation of personality.” Andy Warhol
Every schoolboy knows that back in April 1968, New York photographer Art Kane made one of the most important and best-known photographs of The Who, at the base of the Carl Schurz Monument in Morningside Park, just northwest of New York’s Central Park. The photograph – originally shot for a 1968 Life magazine essay titled ‘The New Rock’ – was later used on the cover of the 1979 LP The Kids Are Alright.
Soon it will appear etched into the dashboard of a unique, and very expensive, Rolls Royce Wraith designed by Roger Daltrey.
Kane’s concept of wrapping the band in the Union Jack has become part of not only the visual history of The Who, but of the cultural landscape of rock and roll. Pete Townshend always remembered the shoot – in the eighties he admonished another photographer who didn’t give them enough instruction: “When Art Kane took our picture, he told us, go there, do this, do that, be asleep, put your head on his shoulder…we like that kind of direction.”
Art Kane knew that John Entwistle and Pete Townshend wore jackets made from flags, and he wanted to reference this in the portrait, while also paying homage to a Cartier-Bresson photograph of a vagrant asleep in Trafalgar Square. He recalled “The Who were great, I loved these guys. For me they were like cute little ruffians. They made me think of Dickens, of Oliver Twist, Fagin’s gang.”
The 1968 session began at Art Kane’s Carnegie Hall studio, where he shot the band against a seamless white background, with the four band members wrapped in two Union Jacks, sewn together for the session. One of those studio session portraits was used on the cover the The Who’s BBC Sessions album in 2000. We included both these photographs, along with some glorious solo portraits of Roger and Pete from the same session, in exhibitions we have hosted at the gallery over the years.
Recently, Art Kane’s son, Jonathan, uncovered a previously unseen photograph of the band, taken in Art’s Carnegie Hall studio. You can see it at the top of this news item. This photograph is important for a good reason: Art Kane didn’t much care for out-takes. He filled trash bins with transparencies from his historic shoots because he was about THE image, not the process. But he did save some if he liked the subject – and he liked The Who. A lot.
This very rare out-take is an important step in the development of the April 1968 photo shoot. The Who seem to be awakening from a collective dream. You can almost hear Art Kane directing the band: “Guys – you are the most outrageous rock and roll band on the planet. You’ve been up most of the night, snatched a few minutes sleep, and have just woken up – now give me that look”.
The detail is pin-sharp, and the saturated colours of the flag really ‘pop’. This would look staggering blown-up large if you have room in your home or office.
This important unseen photograph is now being offered for the very first time on the collectors market, in limited editions in a range of sizes.