PARIS — In the pantheon of rock photography, Henry Diltz is legendary.
With a manually operated Nikon FM, he’s shot such iconic album covers as The Doors’ “Morrison Hotel,” the Eagles’ “Desperado” and the so-called “porch” picture for Crosby, Stills & Nash’s debut effort.
Sitting down for a chat at Colette here, where a selection of his work — from snaps of Jimi Hendrix and Keith Richards to David Cassidy and Mama Cass — is on view through Aug. 27, Diltz straightens his ponytail and refers to himself as the “Jane Goodall of rock photography.”
Indeed, Diltz, 66, had a wonderful platform for observing the legends: chilling in Jimi Hendrix’s dressing room, even making him love beads; sucking down beers with The Doors, and eating peyote with the Eagles. “I’ve always worked organically,” he says. “I’ve never had a studio. The picture-taking process usually starts by going over to someone’s house. Most of my pictures are hangout shots.”
Consider “Morrison Hotel.” “The guys didn’t have the slightest idea what they wanted for a cover shot,” recounts Diltz. “I asked if they had a title. They said no. Ray Manzarek then suggested a place he’d seen in downtown Los Angeles called the Morrison Hotel. When we got there I thought we would just take a few pictures inside. But the guy at the desk wouldn’t let us shoot. We went outside, and when I saw him disappear upstairs, I told the guys to hurry inside and stand in the window.” So was born one of rock’s most memorable covers.
“Jim then wanted to get a beer,” says Diltz. “So we went down to Skid Row and we saw this bar called the Hard Rock. We just had to go in.” Diltz immortalized that drinking session, which eventually helped inspire a couple of London entrepreneurs to open the Hard Rock chain.
Equally memorable was the photo session for the Eagles’ self-titled debut in 1972. Diltz and the band repaired to the desert where they ate “a few peyote buttons,” sprawled out in the sand and “laughed our heads off” as Diltz started shooting.
This story first appeared in the July 11, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Diltz believes his photography profited from his having been a musician, playing the five-string banjo with a band known as the Modern Folk Quartet. He discovered his love of the camera after he started clicking pictures “for the heck of it” and showing slides to his acquaintances. “I tried to take these wild pictures that I hoped would blow my friends’ minds,” says Diltz.
As the word spread of Diltz’s penchant for photography, his many musician friends began to solicit him for publicity pictures and eventually he teamed up with the art director Gary Burden to start making cover art.
“I was in the right place at the right time,” he says. “Southern California in the Sixties and Seventies was the place to be. It was like this explosion of singers and songwriters.” He laughs, “You can’t tell me a lot of what was going on wasn’t related to smoking pot and psychedelics. I had a big color revelation myself.”
Today, Diltz, who runs galleries in New York and La Jolla, Calif., continues to shoot the rock world, having recently finished a session with Stevie Wonder. “I’m very lucky,” he says. “Musicians are my heroes. The people I’ve photographed have created the soundtrack for a lot of people’s lives.”