BILL BERNSTEIN
an exclusive interview by Jorie B. Gracen

"Each One Believing"
A photographic journey behind-the-scenes of a
Paul McCartney World Tour


All Photos by Bill Bernstein
© Copyright Bill Bernstein/MPL Communications Ltd.
© Copyright 2004 Jorie B. Gracen - All rights reserved
The article and photos cannot be reprinted or duplicated without written permission.


BILL BERNSTEIN'S TOUR PHOTOGRAPHY GEAR BOX
Cameras: Nikon D100/D1X digital cameras and digital cards
Lenses: 80-200mm f2.8, 17- 35mm f2.8, 35-70 mm f2.8
Nikon Speedlights (2)
Quantum turbo battery pack
Dyna-lite power pack/two studio flash heads/two umbrellas and stands.
Tripod and monopod
Computers: Macintosh Powerbook and iBook laptops for the road.

Part One

Jorie Gracen: How did you get interested in photography?

Bill Bernstein: I got interested in photography at a pretty young age. My father was a really good amateur photographer and when I was a little kid I remember being in the darkroom with him. He used to put me in charge of agitating chemicals. I'd sit down and rock the film-developing tank with all the chemicals in it. I remember doing that. I was just fascinated with the whole process. You expose the paper and watch it come up in the developer. And to me it was really magic.

I started basically just shooting around. I used to have a 8mm film camera that I made little movies with. When I went to college, I studied graphic arts, so I did graphic design and photography as well. That's how I got interested in it.

Jorie: What type of photography were you doing when you became a professional?

Bill: I quit my graphic design job that I had for about a year. I just didn't like it. I had been living in New York for most of my life and took some images to the art director of the Village Voice. He sent me out on an assignment that night to photograph Carlos Santana and after that, I started shooting a lot of musicians for the Voice. I shot for about five years for the Voice. During that time I did another book in the '80s called "Night Dancin' "(by Vita Miezitis), a documentation of the disco era. I went into several clubs back then. Shot at Studio 54, Xenon and all those places. I was doing a lot reportage documentary photography.

Jorie: Avant-garde photography of the pop culture?

Bill: Exactly!

A lot of it was in black-and-white. It wasn't news photography. But it was documentary, you know and I love documentary films. I'm a big fan of documentary films. I love shooting and telling stories with the camera and looking for interesting odd images and that kind of thing.

Later, I started to move more away from that into the portrait realm and got a studio in Soho, which I shared with a couple of photographers. I started shooting a lot of things for Elle Magazine like the portraits at the beginning of the magazine and writers, actors and all that kind of stuff. I worked a little bit for HBO and did some movie set work and a few magazine covers. Very much like portraiture lighting, lots of heavy light. I was shooting with a Hasselblad 2 1/4 camera and other equipment.

Jorie: Were you doing any professional rock concert photography before you started working for Paul?

Bill: I did a couple of small record covers for independent labels and the Voice stuff. I remember shooting the Talking Heads when they were at CBGBs (a New York night club) and stuff like that. But I had never done tour photography when I met Paul. I was hired originally in 1989 to photograph him at the Lyceum Theatre in New York.

I worked that show, the rehearsals at the Lyceum Theatre and I did some set-ups backstage with Paul and Linda. The next day I showed them the pictures. I remember they said they wanted to see them. So I came back the next day with my little bag of slides... Paul and Linda looked at the shots and were very impressed. They liked them.

I was then called up about a week later and asked if I would be interested in being a tour photographer for them for a little while. I flew to Los Angeles and started with them there and then toured around with them. I think I remember meeting you then in Chicago. I do remember you.

Jorie: Yes I did meet you at the press conference at the Rosemont Horizon and I remember Paul had a bad cold. He sounded very nasal. A few of the band members had colds and Chris Whitten, Paul's drummer, had bruises all over his face. What happened?

Bill: I can't remember if it was in Chicago or not. It might have been. Wix (Paul Wickens, keyboard player) came down with a massive cold like the flu. I think he was actually in the hospital overnight. Chris Whitten had a bike accident in LA. He was going down the hill and I guess wasn't familiar with the speed bumps they have there. He wasn't paying attention and all of a sudden his bike flipped over and the whole side of his face was completely scraped up. It was bandaged and swollen. I mean he really looked like Frankenstein. It might have been the Chicago show.

Jorie: It was. That was the first night (December 3, 1989) when the preshow film didn't run because of a technical problem. Paul walked out on stage totally unexpected. When Chris got on the drums everyone thought someone had beat him up.

Bill: Right. Yeah that was the show. Yeah that's funny. It was one of those shows, like the show must go on. I mean, everybody was sick, beaten up and tired, but you know they pulled it off.

You know Paul, to my knowledge, only had to cancelled one show due to illness and that's actually documented in the book.

The show was in Sheffield, England (April 6, 2003) on the last leg of the Back in the World tour. He was really sick the night before 'cause after the shows they always have an after the show party and he could barely talk. I mean he sounded like Don Corleone you know. He showed up the next day to do the sound check, and to try and see if he could sing. When he opened his mouth, nothing came out. I mean nothing. He could not sing.

So they had this doctor flown in from London I think, to look at his throat. He examined Paul and definitely said, "Here's some prescriptions. Go home and don't talk for three days. You cannot go on tonight."

I have this great picture. I think it's a great picture anyway, which was shot through the curtains of the dressing room when Paul was being told that he could not go on that night. It was the first time in his entire career that he couldn't perform because he was sick and on the way out of the venue he made a little drawing that said, "Sorry." As he was leaving on the bus he held it up and I snapped a picture of that too. (Note: The concert was rescheduled for May 29, 2003)

That was well documented at that particular time. That's the only time in his entire career that I know of when he cancelled.

How many performances? Like 3,000 performances? You know when you think about the Beatles, they performed almost every night for a year, so that's pretty amazing.

Paul hated the whole concept of not being able to perform. You can see it in that picture too. The look on his face was like, "Oh my God! I actually can't perform tonight." I mean there's a little bit of shock in his expression.

It basically comes down to the fact that he's human you know. And people get sick. And the amazing thing is that it's the only time he's ever had to cancel. He's as susceptible to the flu and colds as anybody else is, you know.

Paul really, really is a person who loves to perform, as you know. You've probably been to sound checks. I mean he's performing as hard at the sound checks as he is during the show. He's waving to the audience and singing as hard as he can.

He loves to perform and really loves the fans and understands the concept of being a fan. He knows you're paying a lot of money to see a performance of somebody of who you really like and he can't just sort of cancel and say, "Tough luck, I couldn't make it tonight." He really understands that. People paid their hard earned money to see him and they're expecting a great show. He hasn't forgotten that part of himself that was once a fan. He's not full of himself in that way like some performers are.

Jorie: Which photo in the book is your favorite?

Bill: I think my favorite photo is the last one in the book. It's one of my favorite photos. The concert shot from behind with the two spotlights. I love that shot for a lot of reasons. It's really up close. You can just about touch him in that picture. It's just a great moment.

I think it was just after "Let It Be." He's still kind of looking down at the piano, but has his arm stretched out acknowledging the audience. The thing about it, all you see is him. You don't see the audience. And it's like, "THERE HE IS ON STAGE!" and he's really comfortable there. The man has been performing since the age of 14 or 15? Thousands of performances and he's really at home on stage.

There he is with the piano acknowledging this audience, which you can't see, but they're out there. There are thousands of people out there screaming their heads off. It's just a sea of blackness, so there is a sort of mystery in that picture. You know, you don't see the fans, but you know they're there. It's one of my favorite pictures.

Also, I like the detail in it. It's great. The edge lighting is great and I like the edge lighting on his eyelash. You know I love that. He's got long eyelashes. That's unmistakably Paul McCartney there you know. I just like that shot a lot.

Jorie: Paul once invited me to a private party in London. Everyone there was either family or employees. To my surprise, most people ignored him unless he was talking to them. Fans can't image Paul McCartney walking around socializing and nobody is fainting dead away or paying attention to him. When Paul McCartney is your boss, how do you get used to that?

Bill: [Laughing] That's funny! Yeah, you kind of get used to him being around. For a while there, you're overwhelmed by the fact that you're with him. At least I was. I think most people are. For a certain period of time you can't ignore the fact that he is who he is. As you talk to him you can't help but think to yourself, "I can't believe that I'm actually talking to PAUL McCARTNEY!"

It takes a while to get over that. But you do. You get over it because you have a job to do and because you kind of get used to it. But even now sometimes I still have that feeling like, "How cool is this? HE'S MY BOSS!" But I consider him a guy I really know and he knows me and I think, "WOW! That's so cool!" That is just so cool because he is genuinely a great guy. And I learned a lot from him too about things, about business, about life, about how to deal with people. He's a good role model in a lot ways, you know. But you do get over it to some extent.

There's also another aspect to what you're talking about, like at a big party where people really weren't paying attention to him. That's because there's a part of you that wants to just leave him alone. Not that you're not aware that he's there, but you just don't want to be in his face. You want to just let the man enjoy his party and let him have a good time I think most people are totally aware of his presence when he's around.

Jorie: He has an aura around him.

Bill: He has a huge aura. It's so funny, because I usually get to the venue a couple of hours before he does and I can always tell when he's arrived. Even if I'm at the other end of the arena, there's a vibe in the place.

Jorie: It's like electricity!

Bill: Exactly. It's like. "Uh, oh! He's HERE!" He's got a great energy and a great aura.

Jorie: And he's very animated too.

Bill: He's very animated. When I'm shooting him with my lighting setup, I always prepare for the fact that I can start him in one place and after five frames he's going to move somewhere else. Who knows where he will be. I got to set my lights in a way so he can move around a lot. He's not one for standing still.

Jorie: One of my favorite photos in the book is Paul goofing around with the contortionist backstage. How did that come about?

Bill: Oh, yeah. Isn't that funny?

Jorie: He's trying to mimic what she is doing.

 

Bill: He's trying to put his leg behind his head. It was also one of those shots. We were standing there and I had my camera around my neck. We were all watching the contortionist and all of a sudden he picked up his foot for like a split second and it was all I could do to get my camera in my hand, focus it and push the shutter. It happened in a split second. So it's one of those lucky shots you know. You got to be ready.

Jorie: He's unpredictable.

Bill: He's totally unpredictable.

Jorie: Paul calls you the "bull on the wall" rather than the "fly on the wall." How come about?

Bill: Yes, yes. [Laughs] There was a time when I was photographing him in his dressing room and I was sneaking around very quietly. There were poles holding draped curtains to cover the walls. As I was sneaking around the room taking pictures, being really quiet and trying to be the 'fly on the wall,' I got my foot caught on one of the curtains. Like a chain reaction it started pulling one curtain down and then another and another. Pretty soon all the curtains were just tenuously hanging, and there I was. I was caught you know. There was no doubt that Bill had done this. Everyone stopped whatever they were doing and cracked up. I was busted! I was caught. Somebody said, "Bill is the fly on the wall." Paul remarked, "More like the BULL on the wall." So that kind of stuck. I got labeled. [Laughs]

Part Two click here

© Copyright 2004 Jorie B. Gracen - All rights reserved
This article cannot be reprinted or duplicated without written permission.





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