Robert Knight and Slash
photo by Maryanne Bilham
Robert Knight is without a doubt one of the best known photographers in rock. His career began in 1968. He captured the last performances of Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn. He was also the first photographer to shoot Led Zeppelin in America. He has captured everyone from Elton John, Eric Clapton to John Mayer and Maroon 5. “Rock Prophecies” a documentary following Knight by John Chester, produced by Tim Kaiser (Multiple Emmy Award winner for his work on show like Will & Grace and Seinfeld) is set it air on PBS this September and will be available across the country. It features interviews with Slash, Steve Vai, and Carlos Santana as well as a rare private performance by Jeff Beck.
Maximum Ink: What led you to take up the role as a rock photographer?
Robert Knight: I couldn’t play the guitar and was hanging with a bunch of really creative musicians when I was 15. I needed to have a good reason to be around them. Their hero was Jeff Beck so my goal was to somehow photograph him and impress my peer group.
MI: Who was the first rock star you captured? And what was that like?
RK: Jeff Beck, in the summer of 1968. It gave me a real sense of self-worth as I proved that I could track down and photograph all my heroes, even though I was just some kid from an island in the middle of the Pacific.
MI: What did it feel like when you realized you could make a living doing what you love?
RK: People always say to me, I want your job. I always tell them that I never had a job! A job is something you hate. I get paid to do the thing I love the most, take pictures.
MI: What was it like to shoot Aerosmith before anyone knew who they where?
RK: Aerosmith, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin… I was there right from the beginning. These were the bands I loved and I knew from the beginning that they would really be special compared to other bands I had seen and photographed.
MI: Of all the artists you have worked with which photographs are the most memorable and why?
RK: Memorable in a very sad way. I got to spend two days with Stevie Ray Vaughan in Alpine Valley, Wisconsin in August of 1990. Stevie let me shoot everything he did that day, and I was so happy. The next morning I found out he had died and suddenly these photos were framed in such sorrow.
MI: What was the best advice anyone has ever given you? And who was it from?
RK: Salvador Dali. His advise was to write your autobiography first, then live it. I set out with my game plan early and achieved my goals. If you do not ask, the answer is already no.
MI: What advice would you offer aspiring photographers that would like to work in the same field?
RK: Find a really young hot band with no money who needs photography. Help them and ride the rocket ship up with them!
MI: What do you attribute the success and longevity of your career to?
RK: It’s always about the artist and not the photographer. It’s just as easy to be nice as it is to be mean. So many photographers have such a weird sense of self-importance. I think the artists I work with know I feel blessed to have access to them and will always try to make them look the best I can.
MI: How would you say the industry and the artists you work with have changed the most over the years?
RK: Digital has killed the art of photography. Now everyone is a photographer! Your client has a 15 meg camera and is shooting the jobs we used to get paid for because we understood the art of photography, not putting the camera on “A mode” and getting instant feedback from the play back button. Also the desire for constant pop culture content has turned a lot of photographers into money-hungry paparazzi chasing the flavor of the month artist the labels and media send us. It’s so corporate and the access is so limited for young photographers now. 99% of new music I hear sounds like something I heard before. When I first saw Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix, Santana and many others it was so new and took us into a brave new world.
MI: I read somewhere that you are currently caring for your mother who has Alzheimer’s. Do you have any words of wisdom for others that might be doing the same?
RK: Always remember who took care of you when you were young. It is such a challenge day to day trying to stay on top of Alzheimer’s as it slowly takes away all the memories of our loved ones. I had huge support from my mother’s church, and there are programs from the state and federal government that can help. It seems so hard to connect to these, but somehow I did it.
MI: What is like to see your work featured at Guitar Center’s across the US?
RK: I really feel connected to the family at Guitar Center. All of the people I have worked with at GC are really proud that we have these artists wanting to be photographed for this exhibit. I know whenever I see a Guitar Center, inside I have friends..
MI: What future projects are you working on? Where can fans of your work go for the latest information on your career?
RK: I just directed and shot a film on the great artist and psychic Ingo Swann, who invented “Remote Viewing.” There is talk of several TV series in the works. I have also found and am working with 5 new artists who will be the next major wave in rock guitar. I also just opened a gallery with my wife in Las Vegas that we are very proud of.
• Website • Wiki
DVD: Rock Prophecies Record Label: PBS
• Purchase Rock Prophecies on Amazon