Keith Richards Polaroid by Brad Balfour
Photographer: Brad Balfour
"I was booked for late afternoon in the Rolling Stones management company’s offices on the upper east near Park Avenue. Luckily, I had already met Jane Rose, Keith’s manager, so I wasn’t an unknown figure to the band’s infrastructure.
I was to get half an hour with Mick and 45 minutes with Ron and Keith who'd be together. I’m glad Mick came first because he was a little drunk and spaced (maybe high) so he gave perfunctory answers, enough to serve the interview but nothing earth shattering. Pleasant enough but it was clear that I would be another face that would quickly fade away in his memory.
So as we closed the talk I had to get something out of it for me. I said something like, “I have this cool Polaroid camera, could I just get one quick shot with it. You can even take a look at it.”
I figured all he could say is no and that would be that. But lo and behold, he said okay, where do you want me to stand?”
I don’t remember what options there were but I got him against the wall and quickly set the focus plugged in the strobe and shot. I had to go totally on instinct on what effect the wall and environment would be. The camera reacts to light, backgrounds, shadows and bounce back like no machine does, and the film is even more particular.
Quick: focus, click and out came the shot. I seem to recall Mick didn’t even stay around to see it as it became exposed. Off he raced to something else he had scheduled.
Slowly, the image appeared. Carefully I held it as it took form; the upper left hand corner showed a slight glitch in the emulsion but not enough to be really noticeable.
Surprisingly, the picture worked, it was clear, Mick had this odd expression that reflected his fecklessness, and I got him centered in such a way that showed there was some kind of photographic vision at work in making the image.
But for me he was only the opening act. Getting good shots of Keith and Ron seemed even more challenging. They were far more animated and forthcoming. They were a bit of piss-takers joking around and playing off each other. Nonetheless, they gave good answers and the afternoon’s interview sessions were really worthwhile.
But then came the moment to ask for the time to do the picture-making. I wasn’t sure they would have the patience and that no one else like Paul or Jane would interfere. I got them to stop by the same spot where I took the shot of Mick.
I can’t remember who I got to stand still against the wall first. I had to position each with just the right distance from the wall. the back shadows had to hit right there had to be enough light but not too much; I didn't want them to look like an animal caught in the spotlight. But somehow I got it right. The light hit their faces enough to be lit but to have shadows that give the image depth and some insightfulness.
Out came the film; after about a minute the emulsion settled in. I can’t remember whether I showed it to them — I may not have because people often want me to give them the picture so usually I make more than one if I can. But I knew, in all three cases, I was only going to be given enough time to pull out one shot each. If I didn’t get something useful that was going to it. But somehow, the shots work — as you can see today."