Source : Crosstowntorrent
Interview avec Karl Ferris Photographe/Designer sur la pochette de "Are You Experienced"
In the words of the photographer, Karl Ferris
The first time saw I Jimi Hendrix was at his début showcase of “The Experience” at the “The Bag O’Nails” club in London in January 1967. This was where I saw members of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Animals, Graham Nash, Eric Clapton and many other in the ‘rock elite’ watching awestruck as Jimi unleashed his powerful music on them. They were thunderstruck and completely blown away as evidenced by the awesome silence after he finished, followed by a thunderous applause, with all those jaded ‘rock stars’ going crazy over his performance. Pete Townsend turned to Clapton and said "We might as well go and work for the Post Office now". Jimi was the talk of the London after that…
Later, in May 1967, apparently Jimi saw my Hollies Evolution cover which had recently been released and said to his manager Chas Chandler that he wanted something similar - “something psychedelic” - on his Are You Experienced? album when it was to be released in the USA. He was not happy with its UK cover which, he said, ‘made him look like a fairy’, so he sent Chas off to contact me. We set up an appointment to meet at Jimi’s flat in London, and I took my portfolio along.
He loved my work - especially the psychedelic shots - and asked me if I would create a newalbum cover design for the Reprise Records release in the U.S. I said ‘yes’ and that I would have to absorb his music for inspiration. He said that I should accompany him to Olympic studios, were he was recording his next LP, titled Axis Bold As Love. I was totally mind-blown by what I heard there. The shear power of his psychedelic experimentation was awe inspiring, but when taking a break from playing he was a very nice, unaffected and a shy kind of a guy. He asked me where I was from and I mentioned that I had lived in Vancouver for 4 years. He was surprised and said that he also had lived in Vancouver with his grandmother for a while. We then started smoking joints and swapping Vancouver stories, and we got on famously.
At 4am the next morning, I went home with some tapes of the session and the music from the UK Are You Experienced record to use for inspiration for the US album design. I played the music all day and raved about the music to my girlfriend Anke, saying that it sounded so “far out” that it seemed to come from outer space. This gave me the idea of the group traveling through space in a Biosphere on their way to bring their unworldly space music to earth, and so I then set about sketching some designs of this.
For the cover, I decided to use my new “infrared” technique which I had invented, which combines the photographic color reversal image with the heat signature (and, seemingly, the ability to see the Life Force of plant and human life - it even appears to capture auras !).
To create the spherical photo I decided to use a giant ‘fisheye’ lens invented by Nikon (which was much bigger than my Nikon F camera). I would shoot in Kew Botanical Gardens in London, where they had the kind of foliage that would react well to my “Infrared” technique.
Jimi loved this idea when I explained to him how this technique worked, and as I leave nothing to chance and design all the elements of my album cover shots (I had fashion and styling experience from my work in fashion photography), I wanted to pick out the clothes that the group members were going to wear in the shot. I first went to Jimi’s flat to see what he had, and when I looked in his cupboard I saw a painted jacket that an artist had given to him, saying “I painted this for you”. It had large double-pupil eyes painted on the chest, smaller eyes circling the back and psychedelic swirls everywhere else. I said, “This is it! The eyes represent the ‘mirror to the soul’ and the psychedelic vision”. Jimi agreed and said he felt is was part of him and called it the "Gypsy Eyes" jacket.
Later that evening. when Jimi was coming out of the shower before the gig later that night, I was amazed to see his hair all knapped out, as he would normally wear it like the English guys, straightened out and lacquered down into a long ‘Beatle cut’. I said to him, ‘Why don’t you wear it like that, it looks far out’, but he said ‘it looks like shit!’ I countered ‘No man, it looks unique and spacey – it’s just what we need for the cover’. His hair just needed to be evened up and so, at my suggestion, his girlfriend trimmed it into a ball and we had what was later called an “Afro”, after the Sudanese Africans who had always worn their hair like that. The next day, when Jimi’s bandmates Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell saw his hair, they really liked it, so I suggested that they have it, too. My hair stylist Johanna permed their hair into "Afros" so they would have a uniform look and we then went shopping in Kings Road boutiques for outfits for the guys.
When everything was ready, we hired a Rolls Royce limo and drove down to Kew Gardens, where I found the perfect tree which had foliage that reached the ground. I had the guys stand back inside the leaves and shot them through the fisheye lens from a low angle, to emphasize Jimi’s hands. We didn’t shoot long as we had arrived late and we ran out of light, but we returned the following day and shot some more. After the session, to celebrate we walked across the road to an ancient Elizabethan Pub and downed many ales and smoked joints in the garden (it was a good thing that we had a chauffer to drive us back to London!).
When I got the shots back from Kodak, I was amazed and pleased with spherical fisheye picture and the colors that had been created in it. As it turned out, the shot used on the Are You Experienced? U.S. cover was the first frame on the first roll - it was just meant to be – and another fisheye image from that session would later become the international Smash Hits photo cover.
The Kodak lab manager had great praise for the pictures when I picked them up, so when I next took them over to Jimi’s house, he was very pleased and excited and said that the shot was really psychedelic and truly represented his music. ‘You are the only photographer that is doing with photography what I am doing with music - knocking down the barriers and going far out beyond the limits’. He said that he wanted this image for the covers of his U.S. and international releases of his debut album and that I should design the whole album cover for submission to Warner/ Reprise Records. I said that I would be delighted. He then called up Mitch, Noel and Chas to come over and see the new album cover shots. Everyone was very pleased, as they were seen as the perfect images to represent “The Experience” worldwide. We planned a big celebration party that night. We took some LSD and went to the Bag O’Nails club (where Jimi jammed with Jeff Beck) and then took some groupies back to Jimi’s flat and partied all night.
The next day, I began work on designing the album cover. I started with the ‘spheres flying through space’ concept, but as this would be a very wide format, this would only work on a double gatefold cover. I found out from Chas Chandler that Reprise was being cheap and would only produce a single cover, so I had to rethink the design. I began with the approved fisheye shot, over which I placed a gold leaf matte with a hole cut to fit the circular photograph, and added purple filigree psychedelic lettering printed on the gold metallic matte, which would make the lettering also seem metallic. I had an artist friend of mine do the lettering, for which I paid 20 UK pounds to own.
I then organized a photo session in my studio for the back cover shot. I wanted to make a group portrait - emphasizing the group’s Afro hair styles – and so I shot it in black and white with their hair backlit to make ‘halos’ around their heads. The guys loved that shot also.
I then made a printer-ready ‘slick’ of the finished design and sent it to Reprise Records for printing the final cover. Unfortunately, they decided to pursue a cheaper route and not use the gold matte design layer, but to print it all together - photo, lettering and border all in one layer - using gold ink instead for the gold matte surround.
Disappointingly, by choosing this cheaper arrangement, the label’s Art Director was given the AD credit, although it was still my same design and art direction. When Jimi saw the release, he was very upset, as it lost a lot of its visual impact he wanted by using the gold ink border instead of the metallic gold matte surround layer, and also because they had claimed the Art Direction credit. He was very apologetic to me and disappointed, but as it was already out, there was nothing he could do about it, but he said that he wanted to use one of the studio portrait shots for the Axis Bold As Love album that he was currently working on. He said that although the design for that record was by someone else (featuring a Hindu poster design from India), they wanted to use my head shot of the group as an illustration to replace the Hindu god heads that were featured in the center. And so, as it turned out, with the photos I supplied to Reprise for the cover of 1968’s Electric Ladyland album - the final 'Experience' album that was released - my images were on all three of the U.S. 'Experience' albums issued in Jimi's lifetime.
I was fortunate and am very proud of my association and friendship with Jimi. He was a prince of a man and we spent many creative hours together discussing philosophy, art, and music. I was also fortunate to have been able to watch many of his mesmerizing performances in the studio and on stage.
He was the ultimate performer - you just couldn’t take your eyes off him. He once told me that “the music played him”, but he played the guitar with total mastery, with every inspiration that came into his mind instantly transmitted through his fingers to caress, slide, strum, beat and squeeze the music out of his guitar. Like a wizard, he would move around his instrument concocting musical magic that would entrance everyone who heard it. He had perfect pitch and timing. He would first play the melody and then go further out in his improvisation than anyone else could, and all the while you could still hear the melody, he could immerse himself deeply in a psychedelic, electronic improvisation and then suddenly, on the beat, he’d bring it back to the melody of the tune. He was the perfect combination of soul and technique - a total genius, an Amadeus Mozart for the Twentieth Century.