Adam Ritchie photographed the Velvet Underground, Pink Floyd and many other luminaries in the 1960s. Here he is interviewed by musician and writer Adam Blake about the photographer and editor of International Times, John ‘Hoppy’ Hopkins, conducted on June 2nd 2015.
A.B: So, when did you first meet Hoppy?
A.R: I’m not quite sure, but my memory thinks it was through Nicole Letski. I went to school with her at the French Lycee in 56-58, and then I went to University in the states in 1958-60, and when I came back from the States, I believe Nicole was going out with Hoppy and she said: “we’re going to a party in Oxford at Mike Horovitz’s”. I went along and there was Hoppy. Mike Horovitz and I seemed to get on with both of them and loads of other people. Horovitz’s place was quite famous I think, it was a sort of cottage place.
A. B: Was Hoppy a student at the time?
A.R: No idea. But I got on with Hoppy and a bit later I got a room in his flat in Westbourne Terrace, next to Paddington Station. I moved into Hoppy’s front room. There was John Howe and James Brow and Alan Beckett. Hoppy was in the middle room with Gala. Alan Beckett lived behind a double door, glass doors, french window type doors, in the other front room. He worked for Ernest Dichter, who was a motivational research guru who told companies how they should project and things like that. Alan was one of the people who did interviews for him to find out things. He was a basically really evil man, Dichter, and Alan Beckett was quite a lovely man and he would come home, wiped out and exhausted from working for Dichter. He would come in, open the doors, and throw himself on his mattress that was right in front of the doors inside. The room was indescribably messy and, one day, the other people in the flat thought – God, we need to help him out a little bit, and bring back some of the coffee cups and tea cups. So they moved his bed to the side and they moved this, that and the other and they tidied the room just a little bit, not much, you know, just a little bit, and Alan came in and threw himself where his bed had been and landed on the floor with this explosion of noise, practically knocked himself unconscious. It was so funny!
A.B; Was Hoppy taking pictures by this point?
A.R: Yes, he was a photographer. He was already beginning to be too involved with other things, so he didn’t have enough time, but he was taking pictures for money, that’s how he earned his living. The rent was quite low. We shared stuff. It was quite a generous place. It was low gain and none of us had much money. There was a bedstead. There was a stair going up half a level and a stair going down half a level in the flat to the kitchen/bathroom and to a bedroom at the back. John Howe lived there. There was a mattress frame just hanging in the alcove and beyond it there was a piano and a piece of boarding that was left resting on a trestle bed and then there some sofas round this thing and then the two lots of doors to the two front rooms and light coming through because the doors were glass. We used to sit there from probably 8 till 2 every night. We were smoking a bit of dope quite frequently and laughing and listening to jazz. Alan had a friend who was a pilot who was a modern jazz fanatic and also had friends in the record business in America and he used to bring these new releases of Davis and Coltrane and Sonny Rollins and Monk and Mingus and we used to get them before anybody else in the whole country, before release, and it was just fabulous. We used to play them so there was fabulous music going on all the time.
A.B: You were all jazz buffs?
A.B: Was that the common bond, do you think?
A.R: I think it probably was. We all liked it very much. I don’t know how Hoppy found the other people. I wasn’t the first one there, I came in my time. I think probably Miles moved in after me. I was working at Better Books and cycling to work in Charing Cross Road.
A.B: Was that before Miles was working at Better Books?
Yeah. Better Books was existing from probably ’61, ’60. When I came back from college in America in 1960, I worked first in bookshops. I worked at Bumpus Bookshop and Tony Godwin was the manager, became the manager, and he asked would I like a job at his own bookshop which was Better Books, and so I went there and there was a very nice man there whose name I can’t remember who went later to Dillon’s, took over managing Dillon’s. Tons of interesting people came in all the time to Better Books, it was a wonderful place to work.
A.B: Did you also sell jazz records?
A.R: No. It was just avant-garde books basically. I worked in the basement, so they might have had some other stuff upstairs.
A.B: Getting back to Hoppy. At the flat, it was HIS flat, his domain?
A.R: Oh yes, seriously. He’d got the flat. We used to sometimes sit and read. Beckett read ‘Murphy’ out loud, read Flann O’Brian out loud, to howls of laughter, because we all thought they were very funny. ‘Watt’ was… Actually I read it again just a little while ago and it wasn’t so funny as I remembered, but anyway, maybe it’s because I’m old and jaded!
A.B: Possibly not quite as stoned as you were when you were younger.
A.R: I think this could well be the case. After I left, I wrote to Hoppy at the flat and he said that they’d had a letter from the landlord complaining of the noise of laughter late at night, which was absolutely the truth of it but it’s a wonderful sort of complaint to get from a landlord. I think they were kicked out for putting a ‘Vote Labour’ placard on the balcony. We had a first floor balcony overlooking the entrance.
A.B: What was Bayswater like in those days?
A.R: Fabulous. It was a wonderful place to live. You were right in the middle. Easy access to anything. It was a nice big flat. With two balconies. Really nice Edwardian building. And we lived on carrots and potatoes and stew.
A.B: So you all contributed to the housekeeping?
A.B: Did you take turns to cook?
A.R: I think so.
A.B: Somebody told me that Hoppy was one of the first British people to cook curries and that he served them with yoghurt in the Indian style which was unheard of at that time.
A.R: Very possible, yes. I don’t remember food very much except that it was a bit samey. None of the people knew how to cook properly or, in those days, cared all that much.
A.B: Had Hoppy had his adventures in Moscow at this point?
A.R: Yes. He became a photographer after he left Harwell so that must have happened a few months before I moved in.
A.B: Was there a political atmosphere?
A.R: Yes, we were plotting how we were going to take over the world. All the time. ALL the time!
A.B: With some degree of seriousness?
A.R: Oh yeah, yeah, no question at all, that’s what we wanted to do. We found the world really intolerable, apart from all the things we were enjoying (laughs), and thinking that we’d change it. Psychologically, and politically and everything. It was quite political, though not completely stated. I don’t know, I was really pleased to read Hoppy’s quotes in the IT archive website. They talked to him and he did an interview and they recorded it. The IT website must have these things.
A.B: All the issues of IT are up online. Which I believe was Mike Lesser’s doing.
But I think I knew that Hoppy was as political as: “People often say to me ‘oh, it was great in the 60s, wasn’t it? Where’s the Underground now?’ My answer to that is: We are the Underground. We may not call it the Underground anymore but there’s an awful lot of us now and we’re joined together because we’re all people who want to be free of corrupt government and a society run by greedy hooligans.” Fantastic! There are lots of quotes on the website. Just wonderful.
A.B: My question to you is could you imagine Hoppy saying something like that in those days? Along similar lines? Had he been politicised in that way?
A.R: I don’t think he said things in a way that was trying to convince you of something, because we were all convinced. We didn’t need any convincing of anything. And it was: how do we do this? What’s their soft area?
A.B: Were his political attitudes very obvious in those days, or was it something that was just understood, that didn’t need to be stated?
A.R: (pause) I think he was just an independent free person, and the rest of us were just not quite so free and independent. He always knew that liberty was very, very important and he understood that more politically than the rest of us, I think. Because a lot of the energy came from him.
You asked me about that story I told you. There was a fabulous poster, produced by the Poster Workshop, I think. It was a giant sized A0 poster on very thin paper that I used to have until a few years ago. It depicted a scarecrow figure on the left saying: “I feel like a nobody and I want to be somebody”, and then it showed Carnaby Street, and then the next image was a thing with frills and things of Carnaby Street type clothing and it said: “NOW who are you?” (laughs) And it was just a scarecrow dressed in fancy clothes. So we went to Carnaby Street in Hoppy’s car – mini, that he had with a license plate GLX – with a crate of paper cups and Ribena poured into wine bottles, looking like wine, the same colour as wine. We went to the street just round the corner and parked somewhere and then we put up these posters. The street was completely crowded, you could scarcely walk along it. We would sidle along and paste these huge posters on the front of shop windows. The people inside wouldn’t know whether we were real or not real, whether we had been hired by the owner to do it or not, and we did it to about five or six of the shops going along on both sides of the road. Then we went to Lord John’s, the one with the painted front and back, and we said we had a poster. It was just a handmade thing and it said: “FREE FOOD, DRINK AND CLOTHES. COME INSIDE.” And they didn’t know either, whether or not we were just a publicity stunt, and so they did nothing, and we shouted at everyone: “Come In! Come In!”, and they all rushed in and we handed them glasses of pretend wine and they started taking the clothes off the rails and trying them on because they didn’t know it was not real and (laughs)… And then the police noise came at the far end of the street and so we packed everything up quickly and hid it somewhere and went downstairs into the basement of a pub, if that’s possible. We walked up towards Marlborough Street, the more busy end of Carnaby Street. The police had been to Lord John, where we had just been, so we just nipped down the pub and left the bottles of Ribena there in the basement of the pub and we didn’t have anything incriminating of any sort on us and we left the bottles of paste and a few brushes and then back to his car and off.
A.B: That’s what you might call a prank, I suppose.
A.R:Yeah, but it was a political prank.
A.B: Can you recall any others like that? Of a similar nature?
A.R: I can only recall pranks that I did. Absolutely inspired by Hoppy.
A.B: You kept in touch through the years, didn’t you?
A.R: Oh yes. Hoppy was a very good friend.
A.B: But I mean he always was, there was never a period you weren’t in touch.
A.R: No. I think we drifted a bit apart when he started doing video because it didn’t interest me very much. I couldn’t quite see where it was going. Anyway, this thing was absolutely inspired by Hoppy. There was a building in Ledbury Road, just round the corner from where I lived, that had scaffolding up to stop it falling down into the street. It had an empty antique shop on the ground floor or something like that. Upstairs might have been empty, I don’t know. Anyway, the council put this scaffolding up to stop it falling into the street because it was in a dangerous condition. So friends of mine and I were talking about it and saying: “it’s a really substantial artwork, that.” So we got a big plywood board about eight foot long and I painted it with eight coats of white gloss, and I had a friend who’d got a letter from the Arts Council, so I photographed it and then we projected the slide of the Arts Council letterheading on this board and traced out all the letters. It was just beautifully done, we got signwriting brushes and did it really properly, and this was a poster, a wooden poster thing that we put on the front of the scaffolding so it looked like the title of the piece and we called it: “Dead Shore – A Cityscape Sculpture by Art Stiles (laughs), Arthur Stiles RA”. It was a pun on art styles and Dead Sure safety scaffolding. And we put it up there and people went past it, because it was a really proper, professional standard poster board and I wrote a one page press release with the basic information about who this person was and what he’d done and I said that this was a commission and that he was a member of the RA, that his previous work, the thing for which he’s most known, is his work in the Maibashio district of Tokyo where he… (laughs) it went on and on. I just made up the name Maibashio and it’s quite Japanese. Turns out to be real, but not in Tokyo. And I sent it off to the local newspaper with a photograph of the whole thing and they published the picture and discussed it, you know, really? And then someone wrote to the local newspaper and said he wasn’t a member of the RA and so I wrote back as Art Stiles saying: “Everybody knows that RA means Rotten Artist.” (laughs) And I also said that we would be very interested in letters of support, whether you really think this is a positive addition to the neighbourhood, or not. And so we wrote lots of letters from, apparently, passers-by and stuck them to the thing, or sent them to the newspaper as well. It went on for months.
A.B: What did the council do?
A.R:They tried to come and take it down but some kids screamed at them so loudly. I don’t know why, but some people in a council van came and looked at it and these two kids had really given them a hard time and they left. I don’t know whether they were under orders to take it down. That seems unlikely. Maybe they just came to look at it. And they went away, and it stayed up for quite a long time. I took it down in the end. In the end I used it as a garden table. I saw a tiny piece once a lot later in The Guardian which said it was thought to be a prank by Heathcote Williams. We never corrected them. And another time, also in Ledbury Road, there was a telephone box that was always broken, always, always broken, and every couple of months the Post Office would send someone to repair it and the next day it would be broken again. So they finally repaired it a little bit more properly, and we went and we washed the whole thing, made it all clean and tidy and put a little carpet inside and a little stool and put postcards in the windows all the way round. Postcards of other places, you know, “Having a lovely time. Wish you were here.” And stuff like that. Anyway, I put this all down to Hoppy.
A.B: Yes, he inspired acts of civil disobedience. I remember where he lived in Holborn, next to the library – it was just a small thing but it made me laugh so much – there was this kind of metal frame which didn’t seem to serve any purpose at all that had been plonked there by the council. And then one day I walked past it and there was “WHAT’S THIS?” painted over it in Hoppy’s handwriting. And it was just such a genuine question, and I saw Hoppy and I said: “you did that, didn’t you?” and he just chuckled but it was so obviously him. It was just so perfect, I wish I’d taken a photograph of it.
A.R: When I was at the flat, Hoppy took photographs of graffiti all over London. They were fabulous.
A.B: I wonder what happened to those. They weren’t in the archives. Not that I saw. There’s a lot of stuff that didn’t end up in the archives, that’s just been lost. Somebody told me that when Hoppy went to jail a lot of his negatives got lost. And all those jazz records you mentioned, they disappeared.
A.R: Another story Hoppy told me was that he said that they’d done the I-Ching, I don’t know who or where, THEY had done the I-Ching, and they had asked the I-Ching: What shall we do when the fuzz come? And they said the answer was: The Emperor shall welcome the guest. Something like that, and the police came, did a raid, and it was pouring with rain, absolutely drenching rain and the flatmates quickly took a large bag of dope from under a floorboard – I don’t know how quickly you can do these things – and threw it out of the kitchen window where it went down two or three floors and landed in a puddle in the small area that was at the back of the building; and as it landed a boot came through, a policeman came right through the area door and trod on the bag and didn’t see it. And they welcomed the police into the flat. The flat was clean (laughs) and they welcomed them and were very polite and friendly to them and not paranoid and they were welcomed as guests – would you like a cup of tea, Sgt? And it all went off OK. But not the other time…
He told me that, slightly later… I had these photographs that I had taken of The Pink Floyd and The Velvet Underground – well first The Velvet Underground in New York, at one of their, well, several of their first performances, and certainly the first performances with Andy Warhol’s involvement. Then I came back to London and immediately went to see Hoppy and see what he was doing and it was UFO. So I went down and photographed Pink Floyd at UFO and I never thought the pictures had a commercial value, never was interested in pushing them. They were in a carrier bag, and all the rest of my pictures were at a lab which went bankrupt when I was away. I went to see them just before they closed down and they said: “We haven’t got your pictures”, and I shrugged and said: “Well, that proves I’m not a photographer anymore”, instead of doing my nut in and forcing them to look on their shelves. So I don’t know whether they had them or they didn’t have them, but I’d been using the lab for ten years.
A.B: Were there many photographs?
A.R:Yeah, ten or twelve years of my work. I’d been building houses for a couple of years, I went to Wales to build houses to start with and they had moved their premises. They were called Sky Processing. They’d moved three times since I’d known them, I think. Anyway this was the last time, to where the Photographer’s Gallery is now. This sort of 18 year old boy said: “Oh, we don’t have anything by you”. So I don’t know what had happened and I just turned round and walked out. I didn’t ask any questions. I just walked out. The only pictures I had were Pink Floyd and Velvet Underground. I’ve made quite a lot of money out of it ever since. So there these pictures were, in an envelope, or a paper carrier bag. Upstairs somewhere. And Hoppy was asked by somebody if he had any pictures of UFO and he sent her to me. And I said: “Well I’ve got these pictures”. She was called Stephanie Roberts and she was working for Nick Mason who was writing this book and she said: “They’re just what we want”. I hadn’t realised until then that they were wanted by anybody at all, and she said: “Let me catalogue them”. And she catalogued 200 pictures in slides and put them in folders and gave them back to me a week later and I think, in his book, “Inside Out”, Nick Mason published, I dunno, ten or twelve of the pictures and paid me for them and I told Hoppy about this and he said: “This is what Adam Blake did for me”.
A.B: Oh, that’s nice! I never knew that.
A.R: He said that you’d seen his photographs and were very interested and said: “Do something with them!”
A.B: It took me years. Hoppy asked me to catalogue his negatives for him in 1988 as an act of kindness because I needed a job, I was very broke at the time and he gave me a job. He used to do this from time to time. He gave me this job cataloguing his negatives as best I could because they were in, pretty much, complete disarray. He hadn’t really looked at them since the 60s. So it was more than twenty years later and I went through them. He showed me how to hold them up to the light so that I could get a positive view of the neg and he said: “Anybody that you can identify, just make a note”. And I started to do this and I realised that I was looking at unpublished photographs of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Dusty Springfield, Marianne Faithfull – what Hoppy used to describe as: “People dressed up as the 60s”.
A.B: As well as all the other stuff, the politics, the jazz and blues, the social history etc. And I said: “My God, Hoppy, you realise what you’ve got here?” And he was just twinkling at me and he said: “No, you tell me”. I said: “Well, you’ve got all these unpublished photographs of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones in their heyday. These are worth LOTS OF MONEY!” And he was very dismissive. And I said: “No. They are. Really they are”. And this went on for years, when I used to go and visit him and he’d be talking about how hard things were with Fantasy Factory, how they were doing this and how they needed that and I would say: “Hoppy, do something with the photographs, man”. And he wouldn’t. And in the end I said to him – maybe this is what he was talking about – it must have been four or five years later, I said to him: “Let me take a couple of contact sheets round to some galleries on your behalf”.
A.R: That’s exactly what he said, yeah.
A.B: And that’s what happened. It was one of those delicious moments in life when you go somewhere and you know you’ve got something they want but they don’t know it yet. I’d made an appointment at a very posh photographer’s gallery in Notting Hill Gate and they kept me waiting, they weren’t rude, but they kept me waiting. And the guy finally has a look and he gets his magnifying glass, and he did the classic kind of, I could see him trying to be cool (laughs), and I was just chuckling and he said: “You say these photographs have never been published?” I say: “Nope”. “When can we meet this Mr Hopkins?” (laughs) And that was lovely, and we phoned Hoppy up there and then. It was a lovely moment. And then he came and met them and they were suitably deferential, and that was how he got his first show. And then he went on from there to do, as you know, lots and lots of shows. But he always said that it was a very thin thing because it looked very good at the front but there was nothing behind, basically because so many of his photographs had been lost and I think he felt, maybe slightly, he regretted that he hadn’t taken more. Because he had made that decision to stop doing it.
A.R: Didn’t have time.
A.B: He didn’t have time. I said to him, not long before he died: “If you’d known how much interest there was going to be in your photographs, would you have had a different attitude towards them at the time?” He said: “Yeah!” (laughs) He told me how he was invited to photograph a Bob Dylan press conference and he had had something else to do so he depped it out.
A.R: Same thing happened to me lots of times. The 24 Hour Technicolour Dream thing. I couldn’t be arsed. (laughs)
Denise O’Reilly (A.R’s wife): On his 50th birthday, Adam had a big party, when we lived in Portobello Road, inviting all the people he’d ever known. And Patrick (her son) was mid-teens and he was there with a couple of friends and they got fed up, they were serving at the bar and a couple of their teachers came in and said: “Hello boys!” and they quickly left the bar and vanished into Patrick’s bedroom. They sat there and waited for this entire house full of people to go away. They sat there quite contentedly and then Patrick got up to go to the loo and as he went out he said: “Don’t let any old hippies into my bedroom”, to his friends. And when he came back there was the king of the hippies sitting on his bed smoking a joint! That was Hoppy. (laughs) They loved him. He sat up there. He was at home with these teenage kids and they liked him.
A.B: Well I was only 17 when I met Hoppy. And he took me under his wing. He let me befriend him. Because I fell in love. There’s no other way of describing it. It was love at first sight. I just wanted him to be my cosmic dad. No disrespect to my real dad but I just thought, you know… (laughs) And he let me befriend him and take me under his wing and he was very, very helpful to me in many ways, like just giving me jobs when I was broke, giving me advice on women. He was very helpful to me. Always respectful. Never patronising. Never ever patronising. Sometimes he’d get cross with me but he would never patronise me.
A.R: That’s pretty unusual not to be patronising.
A.B: To young people. Not a hint of it.
A.R: I’m not sure that he ever put his foot wrong. I don’t ever remember him doing anything that wasn’t the right thing to do.
A.B: That’s possibly because you’re male, Adam. (laughs)
A.R: Was he horrible to women?
A.B: No he wasn’t but he certainly got around. The thing is, I think, as a lady friend of mine who met Hoppy and is of the same age said: “He is the kind of guy that women love. He loves women and women love him”. He was one of those guys and there aren’t that many of them.
A.R: I asked Nikki, who I went to school with, who went out with Hoppy in, I guess 1960. I said, what was it like? In the sense of, did it end horribly? Or what happened? She said: “No, it was always really, really fine but I think I was more interested in him than he was in me”. She said it very calmly. So she had no bad feeling about him at all.
A.B: Well, I mean it’s like Kate (Archard) said: a lady who got involved with Hoppy understood that he liked ladies and that ladies liked him and that if you got involved with him you had to accept that. And that that was fair enough.
A.R: I don’t know whatever happened to Gala Mitchell?
A.B: Nobody does. Nobody knows what happened to her. Not as far as I know anyway. Someone else was mentioning her and saying: where did she go? Was she Spanish?
A.R: I thought she was from the Caribbean. White Caribbean.
A.B: Maybe she went back there.
A.R: I think he said that. But I don’t know. One time I was photographing Derek Boshier, pop artist, very good pop artist. He phoned me about where it should be photographed and he’d borrowed somebody’s house in West London somewhere, big house, big garden, and on the way I met Gala, who I knew, with a couple of Afghan hounds, and it turned out we were going to the same place. He’d asked her to bring two Afghan hounds to be photographed with. The whole thing was a set-up from beginning to the end (laughs) but what was really lovely was that it was Gala, who was taking the borrowed Afghan hounds and it was so nice. It was a complete set-up from beginning to the end. We all had a very lovely time. That was one thing about Gala, they seemed to be very involved with each other, that was all the time I was living at Westbourne Terrace, I didn’t know about afterwards because I went to America again.
A.B: Is that why you left? Because you went off to New York?
A.R: Yes. I sold everything like my bicycle and all the books I had and got enough money to go to America with a Green Card and got a job there as an economist, as one does.
A.B: How did you get a Green Card?
A.R: The rule then was that you had to have £400 and I had £200 in the bank so I took every penny out of the bank, I got a letter from the bank saying I had £200 and then I took it all out so I had one penny in the bank or some silly amount and £200, and I changed the £200 into dollars and went to the Embassy and said: “Can I have a Green Card?” and they said: “Well you have to have £400″. So I said: ‘Well, here’s a bank statement and here’s £200 in dollars”, and they said: “OK, you’ve got a Green Card”. I’d sold everything. So I went to America, to New York and after awhile Hoppy said he was coming to visit New York and he arrived in the late evening, I think he slept on the sofa or something. He said he was interested in the Newport Jazz Festival. So that evening I picked up the phone and I called the Newport Jazz Festival press office and I said: “I’m Adam Ritchie and this is John Hopkins and we need two press passes please”, and they said: “Fine, your names will be on the door. Just come”. And I phoned up the train company and got train tickets that night – this is at 9pm – and Hoppy was just open-mouthed that you could do anything, quick communication like that. It was American style and he was knocked out by that.
A.B: Had he ever been to America before?
A.R:No. Don’t think so. We both went up to Newport, and some of his pictures are from Newport, in fact Flip showed me a picture of me that Hoppy took, I scarcely recognise the person! Anyway, I think that made a big impression on Hoppy, just that bang bang, you can just decide you want to do something and do it and the infrastructure was possible.
A.B: Very different from here.
A.R: Completely different, yes. I found it hateful coming back to England in ’66, to all these magazines that would only deal with people who were trendy friends of friends. It was just sickening.There was nothing about looking at your pictures, making any decision based on what your pictures were, but then the whole thing about that perception is so weird. I used to dress in black and white clothes going to art directors in America, and they’d say: “Hey! Harry, hey Pete, hey Joe have a look at this guy’s black and white photos, they’re fantastic!” And I’d go in the brightest clothes I could possibly find, another time, and they’d say” “Hey! Hey Harry, hey Joe! Look at this guy’s colour slides! It’s fantastic!” And you just wonder what, if they’re like wine tasters, if they see whatever they want to see.
A.B: So when you went to New York that time, was it just because you fancied it?
A.R:No. I’d lived there when I was a kid, for three years after the war my father worked in New York and we lived there, so it was a place of some interest because it was quite extraordinary when I was a kid. And then I went to university there because I couldn’t get in to English universities quickly in ’58. I had a pretty miserable time during that university couple of years and came back to England and I thought I hadn’t had any sort of positive experience at college, I’d had a lot of experiences but they didn’t seem very,… they didn’t leave me feeling better, anyway, so I was in London for two years and then decided that I needed to experience America in a more positive way. I didn’t want to work in bookshops the rest of my life so I just thought I’d give it a go. So I just went there and got a job doing international economic research!
A.B: And taking photographs in the evening?
A.R: No, I got married to an Englishwoman and I got a couple of hundred pounds or whatever it is from various people – when you get married, people give you gifts – and so I had this money when I got back. I’d been spending a lot of time just looking at what was there in New York and it was fabulous, so many things to look at. A friend of mine was a professional photographer called Larry Fink and he lived round the corner. I asked him about photography and he said he would come with me on a Friday night and that I could buy a camera with him, he would sort out a decent camera for me. And we went to some cheap, discount store, rock bottom prices, and I got a really nice camera for the money. Then took pictures on a Saturday morning. On Saturday afternoon I developed them in Larry’s darkroom round the corner, next to a tyre/ car repair workshop. There was a Sicilian bloke round a BBQ outside, drinking beer. Very New York. On East 11th St. I lived on East 10th Street. Went back to the darkroom and printed them on Sunday and on Monday morning, from being not a photographer, without a camera on Friday afternoon, to Monday morning I had twenty really quite nice prints on the office wall, in my office. The whole place went, Wow! It was a wonderful sort of Boom! And the boss said: “You really ought to be a photographer”. And I said: “No no no! It’s just a passing pleasure”. I took some pictures for him – the company – of one of the big meetings they had organised in Washington, with the presidents of 100 companies and they got more orders for my pictures than they had ever had before by far! And he said: “I’m going to fire you, you’ve got three months on full salary, provided you don’t come into the office except to show us pictures”.
A.B: What a lovely boss!
A.R: Unbelievable. Really. So I went out and we’d already booked a holiday in London, come back to London, and I thought well, what can I photograph in London? and we worked out a few things, we knew ten people who were 23 and fashion editor of the Observer and things like that. They were all over 70 in New York, I don’t know why but it was the case. There was a whole thing about seniority and going up the ranks and stuff like this. And I felt stultified in New York in an odd way. Socially? Or Hierarchically. All the fashion editors of magazines in their late 60s /70s, just astounding, giving opinions about what 20 year olds should be wearing. Just weird. And the opposite was the case in London. So I photographed all these young people doing extraordinary different jobs: graphic designers, The Who, journalists, all sorts of different people. Possibly Derek Boshier as well, I can’t remember. There was a Conde Naste magazine called Mademoiselle, and they said: “We can’t commission a person to take pictures in London, when they’ve only been taking photographs for a month or two months” – or something like that, “but we’ll look at them when you come back”. So I took them with me when I went back and they published six pages of them. It was a knockout start. That was my first paid work as a photographer.
A.B: How did you get involved with the Velvet Underground crowd?
A.R:I was sitting at home in 277 East 10th St, and the phone rang and it was a friend of mine called Barbara Rubin, who was an underground film maker who I’d met around the place. And she said: “I’m in a film, making a film right now with Piero Heliczer, his film, and there’s some music here that is fantastic”. And I said I’d be there in about six minutes. And I was there in seven minutes. It wasn’t very far from where it was. And going up the stairs of the tenement block I could hear this music and they were playing “Heroin” and it was just… It went right through me. I thought it was fabulous music. And I went up into this small apartment, very ordinary apartment, rather like mine, and there were these musicians with painted bodies and stuff and Barbara was playing a nun, fully dressed as a nun, and there was a bloke who looked like a gangster and the Velvets were there with body painting and there was a CBS news photographer and a sidekick photographing it with a movie camera.
A.B: Did you have your camera with you?
A.R: Definitely. She said: “You’ve got to photograph them”, so, yes I was there. And I took loads of pictures.
A.B: Was this long after you’d had your six page spread?
A.R: I think it was about two months afterwards. Maybe two or three.
A.B: So you must have been still buzzing off that?
A.R: I don’t know, it was just one of those wonderful things that were happening (laughs). I mean, when I got to New York I got a loft by a complete chance. I slept on somebody’s sofa for a night and the next day the landlord came to visit. He was called Seymour Finkelstein, a wonderful little fat man who wore the clothes of the artists – he had several loft buildings and he rented them all to artists and if they threw away clothes he would wear them, so they were covered in paint.
A.B: Whether they fit or not?
A.R: They were usually getting droopy by that time. He was quite large. He wore old… so nobody could tell he wasn’t a Bowery bum and he wouldn’t pay bribes to the fire department so… he was a generous man, it was quite strange, he lent me lots of equipment. The 2nd floor loft became empty that day and I said: “Can I have it?” And he said: “Yes” – and he lent me loads of equipment to take plaster off walls to make it brick, and stuff like this, and paint and timber to make a huge bed frame with a walk-in closet underneath and a small staircase. Fantastic. It had double glazing, rubbish double glazing but double glazing, and it had a pot belly stove in the middle with about 40 or 50 feet of stove pipe going out and it went out into the chimney wall just above where I built the bed.
A.B: So is this where Hoppy turned up?
A.R: No, no it was just after that. We got evicted because Seymour wouldn’t pay bribes to the fire dept to allow him to have tenants. I got another apartment on E 10th St. The first one was at No.2 Bond Street, which is the same as 2nd St.
A.B: But getting back to Barbara Rubin filming the Velvets. You turned up and they were playing “Heroin”…
A.R: I loved the music. Loved it. I just thought it was such a good band and I said: “Well, where are you playing next?” And they said the Cafe Bizarre, so I went to the Cafe Bizarre and said: “Where are you playing next?” And the third gig was the New York Society for Clinical Psychiatry at Del Monico’s.
A.B: Oh, that was supposed to be their 1st gig so you must have seen them before they actually played in public.
A.R: No, the Cafe Bizarre was earlier. The Psychiatrists convention was February the 12th or 13th ’66.
A.B: And then they got involved with Andy Warhol?
A.R: No, they were involved slightly before. Andy Warhol was invited as the clinical psychiatrists guest… he took the Velvet Underground.
A.B: I see, so it was through him that they got that, because it’s an odd job for a rock’n’roll band.
A.R: Very odd. Very odd. But it was all the psychiatrists needing to know about the culture of the children of the rich people that they were dealing with.
A.B: I just love to imagine them doing “European Son” and “Heroin” to this crowd of psychiatrists.
A.R: The whole thing was very weird
A.B: Do you remember when Nico got involved?
A.R: Yes, she was at the psychiatrists. That was the first time that they played with her. I don’t know who was playing with her, if it was Lou or if they both played with her, so to speak. I think Lou and Cale both had scenes with her. I don’t know. Anyway, at the clinical psychiatrists do at Delmonico’s there was Cale with Edie Sedgwick and they were very, very involved, so I don’t know which one Nico was with at the time. I sort of didn’t follow them so closely after that. I think it was because I didn’t like Nico. At all. Because the music had been so… It was quite interesting they felt very different from Pink Floyd. Pink Floyd felt like middle class people playing at it, I mean, you know, quite good and everything but they had worked out how they should be as musicians, how to pose as a musician, I mean they were musicians as well but they were also doing it… The Velvets were like a working band, like craftsman, doing a job, seriously doing a job and working out how to do it and taking it seriously and I think that’s what they were doing.
A.B: Some of their music is so joyful.
A.R: I love it! When Hoppy was in New York…
A.B: Did he get to see them?
A.R: No I think it was before they arrived. I had a feeling, I know this is a completely improper thing to say but I had a feeling that Hoppy saw what I was doing with my photographs and was quite impressed with them. And I think that he moved away from photography after that. I’ve got no… I just have a vague feeling that there was something about how he was looking at them and thinking: I can’t do this or… I think he was taking photographs of… Oh God, it’s so difficult to say these things… I think he thought he was taking photographs of interesting things but that he didn’t know that his photographs were actually pretty good as well. And I think he looked at my pictures and thought: they’re really good pictures and they’re of all sorts of different things and not just because of the subject, they’re good pictures.
A.B: That was always his criteria. I mean that was part of the frustrating thing.
A.R: That he didn’t think his pictures were any good.
A.B: Trying to get him to do something with his photographs. Because he didn’t give a damn about whether they were intrinsically interesting because of what they were of, all he cared about was whether they were good photographs. And he grudgingly came to accept that – and I watched it happen, it happened over a period of time – actually some of these photographs were worthwhile because of what they were of rather than the quality of the photograph.
A.R: I was actually amazed to see the exhibition at the Ideas Gallery because the pictures were so bloody good.
A.B: I always thought they were. As soon as I started looking at them I was… I mean, I don’t know much about photography but I thought these are good pictures!
A.R: And I hadn’t seen them. I hadn’t seen almost any of them before that exhibition, so…
A.B: The selections in the book (“From The Hip”) are what Hoppy liked, those are the ones that he thought were good.
A.R: And they’re not the best! (laughs) But I think that one of Burroughs is…