“Sid Vicious Wink” Dennis Morris (1977)
Dennis Morris has captured icons. His lens has seen and documented the moments and artists that remain in music history forever. In this interview, the British photographer explains his intuitive process, what is behind those moments, and his legacy as an artist. See his work up close and personal at the Pop Art Photo Show September 27th through the 30th at the Barker Hangar in Santa Monica. You’ll get your own opportunity to relive intimate moments with artists such as Bob Marley and the Sex Pistols.
What is it about the medium of photography that seems to capture our attention sometimes more than paintings or other visual art?
With digital you’re obviously taking it to even more instant…before digital, as an art form, you could literally, you take photograph and, back in the day when I used to process my own material, then rush back into the lab and develop the film, and then… print the actual photographs. It’s a more instant form of art.
Have you ever taken a photograph and known instantly that it would be an iconic moment?
In photography it’s what they call the third eye. What it means is…it’s not what you see through your two eyes…it’s in the brain. Once you do possess that third eye you do know straight away when you’ve got something. Something remarkable. So, it could be…of the images I’ve taken, you know, from Bob Marley, Sex Pistols…whatever. I’ve always known when I’ve caught something.
What can you tell me about the intimacy of taking someone’s photograph that people outside your line of work might not know?
The key to photography is…it’s about capturing a moment…that freeze frame in that moment. The art of it is to make your subject not be aware of the fact that you are taking pictures…It’s hard to explain really. You either have it or you don’t have it. It’s simply that. People have told me, I think I do have it, because when people look at my images of the artists I’ve worked with, they feel at home or, they feel an affinity to the subject. They feel like they were actually there at that moment when I was taking the images. And, that’s the key to it.
How do you feel about the current state of photography as it has become more accessible and a part of everyday life?
Well photography, funny enough, was always a part of everyday life. But, the thing about photography before the digital format was, basically, you had to be a technician to a degree. Obviously if you couldn’t develop your films…then you just gave it to the chemist or the lab to develop and they provided you the images. Now with the digital format everybody feels they are a photographer. The reality of it is, it doesn’t really work that way. Because, photography is not really about how expensive your camera is. Really. Some of the greatest photographs ever taken were taken on (what) today would be pretty cheap equipment. It’s capturing that moment. If you capture that moment…it’s relevant. So, I think photography is an art form. I see myself as an artist, but my preferred tool is a camera.
Can you describe your legacy as an artist, or what you hope your legacy will be, in a few words?
I think my legacy will be, in terms of the images I’ve taken, I think people more or less recognize the beauty. What I think I’ve been able to do is capture the iconic images of the moment of people…for it to become a historical document. I see myself as a recorder, someone that’s recorded history, in every shape and form.
*Answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.