Lost and Found Session

“They knew exactly where they were all the time, and were simply waiting to be found!”

Peter Webb, on his lost Sticky Fingers session negatives.

 
 

The big yawn (above), shown alongside a contact strip of three negatives, showing its place in the sequence. Note Peter Webb’s excited handwritten confirmation that the original negative of his classic album sleeve image has been found again.

 
 

It’s a story that would give any photographer sleepless nights. A classic photo-session for one of the biggest bands on the planet, The Rolling Stones, for the cover of one of their most critically acclaimed albums. Anyone who owns the Sticky Fingers LP ( the one with the Andy Warhol zipper sleeve) will recognise Peter Webb’s black and white image, which Peter calls The Big Yawn, from the inner sleeve. What people don’t realise is that this photograph is one from a complete lost session that came to light after a gap of almost 40 years (negatives went missing soon after the shoot, on may 1971).

Peter made a name for himself in the seventies as a multi-award winning advertising photographer, and was then head-hunted as a director for Ridley Scott’s commercials company. He later established his own company Park Village Productions, based in the magnificent Victorian Riding School and Stables in Regents Park, lovingly restored and converted by Webb himself. Park Village remains a leading production company, with Webb and his colleagues having set the bar by winning all the premier awards in the business over the years, including the Palme D’Or at Cannes as the top Commercials company worldwide twice. His 1971 session to photograph the Stones for their Sticky Fingers album took place at his Park Village Studios.

After graduating from university in the mid sixties, Peter took an extended trip to New York. During his stay, Webb’s brother-in-law, Bill Pierce, (himself a NYC based photographer) taught him enough of the rudiments of photography for Webb to blag his way into a job assisting the legendary photographer and director Howard Zieff. It was while he assisted Zieff, that he was entrusted with the construction of an extraordinary 20 foot “walk-in” strobe lighting bank, the concept of which Zieff had conveniently borrowed from his good friend Irving Penn. It was this enormous lighting bank that Peter would later employ himself in the intricate construction of his 1971 session with the Stones.

Webb returned from the USA, and subsequently was introduced to the Rolling Stones by David Puttnam, in his previous incarnation as a photographers’ agent in the early 1970’s. Puttnam had seen Peter’s plate camera portraits and had mistakenly thought they must be the work of Penn or Zieff, little realizing they were produced by a then unknown UK photographer who had assisted Zieff in New York some years before. Puttnam said the band were “looking to do some shots for a forthcoming album”, and that Webb should set up a meeting at their office in town. He duly appeared at the Stones office and was ushered in to meet Jagger, a daunting milestone in itself.

Peter explains: “I presented my concept for the session, based around the ‘surrealist’ type of advertising work I was in to at the time, heavily influenced by Magritte. I envisaged the band dressed in Victorian boating attire, posed with oars primed in a beautiful wooden rowing boat. However the boat would not be on any river, it would be in a Victorian Photography Studio, with an elegantly painted backdrop of a period Henley, their oars resting on a wooden studio floor. Alarmingly however, during the course of my presentation, Jagger produced a series of wide-mouthed yawns and seemingly by way of dismissal suggested I pitch my ideas to Charlie Watts in the next door office, and who was “into Art”. I was duly ushered in to meet Watts, whose monosyllabic responses made Jagger’s seem wholly enthusiastic in comparison.”

Webb duly retired to lick his creative wounds, and to consider another option ASAP. He had been hugely impressed by Irving Penn’s classic B/W studio portraits of Haight-Ashbury hippy families and Hell’s Angels for Life Magazine some years earlier, and decided he would photograph the band “as they were” on a suitably neutral studio constructed backdrop.

Webb continues: “I had also been advised by a photographer friend that the band “were trouble” to photograph and could end up throwing “V” signs etc. to the camera – an attitude I thought I would encourage with a moody distressed grey-toned backdrop, to capture the brooding streetwise image I presumed the band would like to project.”

Webb spent many days extensively testing both lighting and background tones. He adapted an extended ‘walk in’ lighting bank similar to the one that he had constructed for Zieff, and constructed of a large hand-painted backdrop. With the preparation all in place, the Stones showed up on the appointed day at Webb’s studios, the converted Victorian Riding School and Stables next to Regent’s Park in central London.

“They immediately registered disappointment that they were going to be photographed in their own clothes, and that there was no “idea” anywhere in sight. And far from being “trouble”, the band stood like lost schoolboys on the over-scaled backdrop, and were not only compliant to my instructions in arranging them, but even seemed somewhat camera shy – which was totally unexpected.”

Andy Warhol and his Factory designer Craig Braun came up with the Sticky Fingers “Zipper” concept, which relegated Webb’s intended album cover image to a grainy dupe on an inside sleeve. Despite the shoddy reproduction on the sleeve, it is instantly recognisable as a classic Stones group portrait, showing Jagger standing to the left of the frame, yawning, while the other four Stones gather on the right, Bill Wyman scratching his nose. Webb christened the image “ The Big Yawn”.

 
 

 
 

Falling Stones, a colour portrait shot by Peter on Kodak Ektachrome 120 transparency film, is one of the most famous photographs from the Sticky Fingers session – and this image, kept separately from the black and whites, has its own unique survival story. At some point in the shoot, Webb asked the Stones to act a little more threateningly, and Mick, Keith and the band duly obliged. Finally things loosened up to a degree, and as a one-off idea he lined up the band shoulder-to-shoulder, like a younger Dad’s Army, and encouraged them to lean sideways. Thankfully the 1,000th second exposure time-captured this one-off event, and the resulting image was “Falling Stones”.

Falling Stones survival is thanks to a completely random two frame laboratory exposure ‘clip test’. Peter explains: “I forwarded the bulk of my (relatively few) colour shots from the shoot to the Stones office, and onwards to my good friend Braun at Andy Warhol’ s Factory. I never saw them again, and as far as I was concerned, these colour images were truly lost and gone forever. However the procedure of taking a random two frame “clip test” from an unprocessed roll (to adjust the processing of the remainder), meant some unnamed and forever heroic lab technician had sliced the obligatory two plus inches from the tail of the exposed roll, a mere half an inch clear of this shot. And so it was saved – but only just!”

 
 

 
 

After the group session was completed, Webb invited the band individually to an upstairs studio set up with a 5×4 Sinar plate camera, whose depth of field was so slight that a wooden rod had to be placed at the back of each band member’s head, so there would not be the slightest movement backwards.

After more searching enquiries from the various band members as to the purpose of the portraits – “Passports, is it now mate?” – Webb photographed Jagger in a number of extreme close ups, with and without a stylish Irish cap and a long-collared paisley shirt, fashionable at the time. In between another serial attack of yawns, Mick enquired politely, “So… what happened to that great idea about the boat?”

 
 

 
 

In early 1972 Peter entrusted his photographer brother-in-law with the safe keeping of an unmarked folder of negatives, which was, as Peter recalls now, “…an essential detail which I had conveniently forgotten, in the excitement of being hired by Ridley Scott to direct commercials, and the dark room became a cutting room overnight.”

Webb continues “Bill stored them in the attic along with his own negatives, and only revisited them recently while hunting for negatives of a portrait of Joan Didion he had shot in the early ‘50’s. He called me to say he had found an unmarked bag of negatives amongst his own which “…could be the Rolling Stones” …

“I made him lock the doors and not let anyone in the house, and then I asked him to look for someone who could be shouting or yawning, standing aside from a group of four, one of whom was scratching his nose. After an anxious half hour, an email popped up, I opened the attachment, and as if in slow motion the group of four were revealed, with Bill Wyman adjusting his nasal passages, and Jagger standing apart from the group with a wide mouthed yawn. Eureka!! The Prodigal Stones had returned to the fold after an absence of almost forty years”

Contained in their pristine negative sleeves, were the strip containing the actual album sleeve image, all the best group shots from the session, and also an unexpected further delight: some individual plate camera portraits of Jagger and Richards which had never been seen before.

Now almost 40 years on, and with the Stones still touring, Webb has been persuaded by a younger generation of photographers, musicians and Stones fans alike, that photographing the Stones “as they were” at that exact moment of time, free from any overriding “concept”, was the best idea he never had.

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The Most Amusing Package

Sticky Fingers cover. Front and back cover

 
 

When The Rolling Stones were recording material for their ninth studio album in the early days of the 1970s, the anticipation and expectations must have been daunting. The 60s had come to a definitive close for the band at the December 1969 Altamont Free Concert, where a member of the Hell’s Angels (hired by the Stones as security) knifed a fan to death as the band played on. Five months prior, guitarist Brian Jones had overdosed and was found dead in his swimming pool at the age of 27.

Sticky Fingers was to be their first record of the new decade, their first without Jones, and the first for their newly formed label, Rolling Stones Records. The Beatles had just disbanded, leaving the group no serious rival. The band was presumably eager to maintain their bad-boy status, but at the same time distance themselves from the darker side of their image and move towards a more commercially viable controversy: sex.

 
 

Inside cover (LP format)

 
 

Knowing that the design of the album had to reflect this, and finally in control of their own marketing after leaving Decca records, Mick Jagger visited the Royal College of Art in London to find a design student to hire. He attended the degree show of John Pasche, and hired him to create a new logo for the group. The resulting lips and tongue logo, based on Jagger’s large pout, was intended as “a protest symbol and [to] have an anti-authority feel to it really, so that it would work well with them being the bad boys of rock and roll,” Pasche recently told MTV. This being the early days of rock band branding, the iconic logo never appeared on the cover of an album. It did, however, appear on t-shirts, mugs, key chains, buttons, belts and countless other promotional items, including recent urinals at the Rolling Stones Fan Museum in Germany.

The title “Sticky Fingers” was originally a working title for the second Mott the Hoople record. When the band decided on Mad Shadows instead, the Stones took the title, with the blessing of record producer Guy Stephens.

The cover graphic went through a number of possibilities, including having the band dressed in Victorian boating attire. Designer Craig Braun suggested releasing the album in a clear plastic jacket with heat-sensitive liquid crystals inside — “so you could make your own little Joshua Light Show”. Another rejected idea was a mammoth foldout cover of Jagger’s castle in the south of France (where the band had relocated to avoid paying taxes).

 
 

Theatrical poster

 
 

Then Jagger recalled that Andy Warhol had remarked to him at a party in 1969 that he thought it would be amusing to have an album cover feature a real zipper. There are differing accounts regarding the initial idea. Some credit songwriter Bob Goldstein, claiming that he proposed the idea for the cover of the soundtrack to Warhol’s 1968 film Lonesome Cowboys. Goldstein wrote the title track, which is sometimes credited as being the very first ‘disco’ arrangement, and an entire LP was conceived, but never completed. Singer and Factory Superstar Ultra Violet has suggested that the idea was Warhol’s and was intended for the film’s promotional poster.

 
 

The Velvet Underground and Nico. Front cover

 
 

The Stones agreed that the image of a pair of jeans and zipper would allow the band to retain their ‘outrageous’ aura, but shift things away from the violent and “satanic” imagery, or what Braun called “the evil thing”.

Warhol is credited with cover concept and photography, though some suggest Billy Name might’ve been behind the camera. Many assumed the cover model was Jagger, which he later denied:

Rolling Stone Magazine: There’s underwear on the back. Is that you?
Mick Jagger: No. It’s one of Andy’s… protégés is the polite word we used to use, I think.

 
 

Andy Warhol, Man’s Lower Torso, Clothed, 1971

 
 

Among the possible candidates, Jed Johnson, Warhol’s lover at the time, denied it was his likeness, although his twin brother Jay was considered a possibility. But according to Warholstars site user, Stylissmo:

“Jay Johnson famously has only one testicle, Jed wasn’t built like that… Corey Tippin was well known for his endowment… and was also known – along with his friend, the illustrator Antonio Lopez, for ‘showing basket’ – a real 70’s kind of gay display that involved bulging crotches in tight jeans. Attendees at the Sticky Fingers release party mention that of the aforementioned possible models for the cover – only Corey Tippin was at the party. At any rate all this has been told to me in various pieces by Jay Johnson, Corey Tippin, Jane Forth, Paul Caranicas (director of Antonio’s estate) and other characters who are still friends and living in and around New York.” Also known as Corey Grant, Tippin was the make-up artist for Andy Warhol’s L’Amour (1973) and Jay Johnson’s best friend.

 
 

Warhol with Jay and Jed Johnson

 
 

Warhol and Corey Tippin

 
 

Factory Superstar Ultra Violet believes that dancer Eric Emerson “who used to walk around the Factory half-naked” is the cover model.

 
 

Andy Warhol and members of The Factory, Richard Avedon, New York, October 30, 1969. From left to right: Eric Emerson, actor; Jay Johnson, actor; Tom Hempertz, actor; Gerard Malanga, poet

 
 

Art writer and early editor of Warhol’s Interview magazine, Glenn O’Brien’s has also been named as possible model. He recalls:

“I remember Andy shooting me in my underwear at the Interview office for the Sticky Fingers cover. He paid me a hundred bucks. Fred Hughes kept saying, “Can’t you make it any bigger.”” In an introduction to an interview O’Brien conducted with Joe Dallesandro for the magazine a few years ago he wrote:

 
 

“I always felt a connection to Joe. We were two Warhol scenesters who liked girls. Also, he filled the jeans on the outside of The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers album, while I filled the briefs inside—our secret connection.”

 
 

Without a definitive account of who the front cover model was, Joe Dallesandro seems the most likely. Dallesandro met Andy Warhol and director Paul Morrissey in 1967 while they were shooting Four Stars, and they cast him in the film on the spot. Dallesandro also appeared in Flesh (1968), Lonesome Cowboys (1968), Trash (1970), Heat (1972), Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein and Andy Warhol’s Dracula (both 1974) also directed by Morrissey. Flesh achieved some mainstream crossover success and Dallesandro became one of the most popular of the Warhol stars.

He explained to biographer Michael Ferguson, “It was just out of a collection of junk photos that Andy pulled from. He didn’t pull t out for the design or anything, it was just the first one he got that he felt was the right shape to fit what he wanted to use for the fly.”

 
 

Joe Dallesandro photographed by Warhol

 
 

The inner underwear photograph was a matter of necessity; designer Craig Braun realized there had to be an extra layer of cardboard to protect the record from the scratching of the zipper. Regardless of this, during shipment the zipper ended up pressing into the album stacked on top of it, invariably damaging the song Sister Morphine. Atlantic Records, whose subsidiary Atco Records were distributing the disk in the US, threatened to sue Braun for all the damage. After getting “very depressed and very high,” he came up with the solution to pull the zipper down before the record was shipped. This way it would only damage the inner label, and not cause any song to skip.

 
 

Inside cover

 
 

The solution saved Sister Morphine, but not in Spain, where Francisco Franco’s government deemed the song offensive and insisted it be removed from the disk. A Chuck Berry song Let it Rock, originally a b-side from the Brown Sugar single, replaced it. The drug references in the song were not the only concern for the Spanish censors, they also found the cover “too sexually explicit” so it was replaced with the “can of fingers” graphic, severed body parts being more socially acceptable than a man in pants. Many American department stores also found the cover inappropriate and initially refused to stock the disk.

 
 

Alternate cover (Spanish version)

 
 

For others, the problem with the packaging was not enough package: Wolfgang Fritz Haug, a now-retired professor of philosophy, took issue with the lack of payoff. In his book 1986 book Commodity Aesthetics (Chapter 3: “THE PENIS ENTERS THE COMMODITY ARENA”) he writes:

 
 

“whoever buys the record, purchases with it a copy of a young man’s fly, the package identified by the graphic trick which stresses the penis and stylizes the promised content. It is a reversal of the tale of the Emperor’s new clothes: the tale of the buyer’s new bodies. They buy only packages which seem more than they are…..the buyer acquires the possibility of opening the package, and the zip and finds… nothing.”

 
 

 
 

These criticisms notwithstanding, the graphic is now considered one of the best album covers of all time. A Rolling Stone Magazine readers poll in 2011 voted it the 6th best album cover of all time. Warhol appeared twice in the top ten, the other being the tenth pic for his Velvet Underground and Nico cover. The recording itself made the #63 slot of another Rolling Stones Greatest Albums of All Time list and in 2003 the design was named by VH-1 as the best album cover of all time.

Jagger called the cover “the most original, sexy and amusing package that I have ever been involved with”

Andy Warhol was paid 15 000 pounds remuneration, which (using a crude conversion of currency and inflation) would amount to approximately $126,000 CDN today. The figure seems on the high side for album cover design, but he was apparently dissatisfied. Warhol biographer David Bourdon writes “In April the album sold a half-million copies, and Warhol liked to think that his cover contributed greatly to the success. ‘You know’, he later complained, ‘that became a number one album and I only got a little money for that’.” With the Stones being one of the biggest bands in the world at the time, and the record including the hit songs Wild Horses and Brown Sugar, it is doubtful that Warhol’s cover disproportionately contributed to the financial success of the record. His equally acclaimed peelable banana cover for The Velvet Underground and Nico did not propel that record to any financial success – it spent only a few weeks on the Billboard charts, peaking at #171. It’s influence would not be felt for years to come, leading Brian Eno to quip “The Velvet Underground‘s first album only sold a few thousand copies, but everyone who bought one formed a band.” Warhol also complained about not receiving compensation for his production and cover graphic for that disk (“I never got a penny for that first Velvet’s album”).

The promotional photograph may have inadvertently invented what would later become the Sleeveface internet meme, with fans posing with album covers obscuring parts of their body.