GREAT ROCK'N'ROLL PHOTOGRAPHY - like great rock'n'roll - is largely a matter of timing. Pennie Smith's famous blurred shot of The Clash's Paul Simenon trashing his bass, regarded as one of the great iconic rock images, could have painted a different picture if Smith hadn't been tripping over herself at the time in order to capture the moment.
Similarly, Ross Halfin's image of The Who's Keith Moon, taken on a Shepperton Studios soundstage on a hot day in May 1978, could have been just another portrait of everyone's favourite mercurial drummer if it hadn't marked the occasion of Moon's last ever gig with the band before his alcohol-assisted death a few months later.
In addition to recording the end of an era, Halfin has documented the dawning of careers, taking the first image-defining studio photographs of badass LA crew Guns'n'Roses and spotting the rock-star potential of Jon Bon Jovi after meeting him in the mid-1980s at a Mtley Cre gig.
A new exhibition, Made of Metal, at Proud Galleries in London, displays more than 50 of Halfin's images taken over the last 30 years. This parade of leather, sweat and long hair includes AC/DC live shots from the days when Bon Scott was still the band's frontman; images from Halfin's long associations with both Metallica and Led Zeppelin maestros Robert Plant and Jimmy Page; and - probably his toughest challenge - photographs of Motrhead which won't have you running in terror to mummy.
"I became Mr Rock by accident," he says. In the mid-1970s, Halfin was an art college student who used to take his camera along to whatever gig he was attending.
He started his freelance career covering the punk scene for Sounds, but when Sounds scribe Geoff Barton mooted the idea for a magazine dedicated to heavy rock, with the onomatopoeic title Kerrang!, Halfin was happy to supply the first of many cover images. He freelanced for the rockers' bible for the next 20 years.
Inevitably, in that time, Halfin has sampled more than his fair share of rock'n'roll misbehaviour, and it soon transpires that he is not a man who minces words nor suffers rock-star egos gladly. When asked what he looks for in a subject, he is characteristically candid. "Cooperation," the snapper declares without hesitation.
"When you photograph a band member or celebrity, 10 per cent is taking the picture, 90 per cent is getting them to take the picture," he elaborates. "You've got to make it look like you've been there for ten hours instead of ten minutes - and never let them take over. I did the Edge last week for Mojo and he walked in with four people fussing and fawning around him. I said, 'Dave, you're a grown man, I think you can stand there for ten frames, don't you?'"
Does he reckon that good bands always take good pictures? "Yeah, they do - bands with some edge who look dangerous. Guns'n'Roses looked good in the day. Now Axl looks like a silly old man." Warming to his subject (rock stars: discuss - preferably disparagingly), Halfin confirms the general conception that Guns'n'Roses/Velvet Revolver guitarist Slash is one of the good guys. Halfin also still rates Ozzy Osbourne and Mtley Cre for their adherence to the old school rock show and Aerosmith's Steven Tyler, Audioslave's Chris Cornell and Velvet Revolver's Scott Weiland as great rock frontmen. "I mean, he [Weiland] is completely selfish and self-centred, but that's part of the job isn't it really?"
And that's about it for the positives.
"All bands care about two things - money and themselves," he states. "Band members are not your best friends, that's a fact. I worked with Metallica for ten years and now I don't talk to them. I fell out with the drummer. Lars [Ulrich] used to sleep on my floor. Now he's one of those people who would shake my hand but he'd be looking over my shoulder for the next person in the room. He really let me down as a friend but that's the nature of this business."
Halfin also has a longstanding working relationship with Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. The former he does count as a rock star buddy, but the latter has said of Halfin, "how can such a nasty piece of work take such beautiful pictures?" Unsurprisingly, the feeling is mutual. "He's one of life's great disappointments as a human being," says Halfin. "Let's put it this way: he's a ten as a rock star but he's a zero as a human being."
Halfin himself is quite the notorious figure on the rock scene and, if the number of "tributes" coerced out of associates and posted on his website are any benchmark, he is more than happy to cultivate his reputation as "an asinine, self-centred, pain in the ass, I'd rather be somewhere else, uptight, egotistical, oompa-loompa coloured, chronically late, shit-bag, trash talking, Goddamn bitter, what band do you play for again?, spawn of Satan, I wish I were in a band, f***head, son of a bitch". A member of Slayer said that, by the way.
While fresh generations of rock fans fall for the rebel template all over again, Halfin is rarely excited by the current rock'n'roll crop. When pushed to name a musician he would have liked to photograph, he concedes, "I really regret not shooting Jeff Buckley," Halfin says. "I went to his last show in Melbourne and he was amazing."
By his own admission, Halfin is "a bit jaded by it all" but has acquired a substitute passion - travel photography - which he can happily indulge while on touring assignments with those pesky rock star types.
As well as providing a tranquil diversion, landscapes don't argue back or demand more hairspray on the rider. In fact, Halfin claims that, of all the images in Made of Metal, the only one he is truly proud of is a shot of a rain cloud formation which he spotted while visiting the Angkor Wat temples in Cambodia with Jimmy Page. So, not the Nikki Sixx "knob shot", then.
Made of Metal, sponsored by Sony Ericsson, is at Proud Central, London, until 2 September.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east