Dennis Morris is the first man of British music photography – bar none. His iconic pictures of Bob Marley and Johnny Rotten have graced the walls of many a first-year uni student’s walls. This time, he’s back with a photo book of the Stone Roses, This Is The One. Wonderland talks to the maestro himself.
How did you first get into photography?
I was a choirboy in a church in the East End and they had a photographic club, and that’s how I first got into it – basically from the age of 9. That’s the first time I saw a photograph, you know, being developed.
What was growing up in Hackney like?
In those days it was kind of rough, but it was a real community spirit around there. It was a predominantly black neighbourhood at the time, where I lived, and it was cool. There were lots of sound systems and all kinds of things going on. There was always something for me to photograph.
How did you go from reportage photos to music photography?
I basically took reportage into music. I never changed my style, therefore I made my style in music sort of unique. It was at my first meeting with Bob Marley when I took some early pictures of him. It was never my plan to be a rock photographer. I really wanted to be more like a war photographer.
And how exactly did you end up photographing Bob Marley?
I’d heard he was coming over to do his first tour, and so I went down to the Speakeasy Club and just hung out. I asked him if I could take his photograph, and he said yeah. He was telling me about the tour they had to do, and asked me if I’d like to come along. So, next day I met him at the hotel, got in a van and the adventure began. So it started from there, really. It’s been a great adventure ever since.
You went from photographing Marley to the Sex Pistols. How did that happen?
Johnny Rotten was a huge reggae fan, and we more or less grew up in the same area, so when they had their deal together with Virgin I more or less worked for them. It was always apparent that they would be very important like Bob Marley. They had a certain magic about them all.
With your book out on the Stone Roses, how do you think they compare as a band to other punk or rock bands you’ve photographed?
After Sex Pistols, the only other really important movement that came along, culturally and musically, was The Stone Roses. The images I took of them when I first met them, as well – I always said that there was something special about them.
What do you think of digital photography today?
It’s not really about the camera, it’s about the photographer and the third eye. No matter how expensive your camera may be or whatever, it’s never going to make you take a better photograph.
Was it difficult to be black in the music industry when you started out?
If it was, it didn’t really bother me. I just got on with it. The idea for me as a young black kid working for a punk band was – I think Malcom saw it as something perfect that was against the grain, and it just worked for me.
Would you ever move back to Hackney?
Sometimes when you grow up in a place, you know, from my memories of it, from when I grew up there, the whole idea is to get out. That’s how it is, you know?
This Is The One by Dennis Morris is available from Who Said It (limited edition of 1000 books), accompanied by an individually signed print.
Words: Zing Tsjeng