Born in ‘39, Guy Webster grew up in Beverly Hills during the 1950’s and early ‘60’s as the son of Oscar-winning lyricist Paul Francis Webster. This afforded Webster an inside view and easy access to the evolving entertainment world at a level that very few of his peers enjoyed. Webster was in L.A. to see it go through much change and expansion during the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, and was of the same generation of myriad talented and charismatic people beginning their careers at about the same time that Webster was his.
“Big Shots - Rock Legends and Hollywood Icons” is a first rate book of Webster’s photographs, released by Insight Editions of San Rafael, California. Large sized at 12.5’’ X 9.5’’ and with 270 pages richly chronicling the musicians, singers, actors and writers either in their prime, or shortly before becoming well known, Webster captured them all in his native Los Angeles. The thoughtful text was written by L.A. natives and brothers Harvey and Kenneth Kubernik. The forward was penned by Brian Wilson, an early subject and friend of Webster’s from his time photographing Wilson and The Beach Boys.
The text that Webster himself provides is a compelling story, and provides key context. He explains that photography evolved quite incidentally. The turning point was when he was called into the militarily in ‘61, stationed for basic training in Fort Ord, in Monterey, California. Having declared himself a conscientious objector and asking for an office job, the army wound up assigning him to decorate hundreds of Christmas trees, given that Webster was a decorator, artist, painter and sculptor. They then asked Webster if he knew anything about photography. Webster knew nothing, but lied and said he did. The army in turn asked him to teach photography to recruits, as well as how to develop film in a darkroom. Webster took out three photography books from the library, and learned what he needed to know.
When Webster was out of the army three months later, he wanted to continue pursuing photography. Initially aspiring to be a fine-art photographer in the mode of Irving Penn, whom he had just seen an exhibit of, he obtained some Pentax cameras from the “connected” father of a girlfriend, and was on his way. (The father was a mobster.) However, a call from friend and record producer Terry Melcher (son of Dorris Day) changed that course. Needing an album cover for his act the Rip Chords, Melcher asked Webster to take the photos for it. Webster loved music, and the combination of that and his new love of photography delighted him. From there, a flurry of musicians, actors and writers followed, including the Rolling Stones, Mamas and the Papas, The Beach Boys, The Byrds, The Doors, Simon & Garfunkel, Chicago, Charlton Heston, Rita Hayworth, Dean Martin, Natalie Wood, Igor Stravinski, Truman Capote, Zubin Mehta, Barbara Streisand, Jack Nicholson, Candice Bergen, Michelle Pfeiffer and Ted Danson, most of which are included in this book.
It’s a fine collection and excellent retrospective. With both color and black and white images taken at a wide range of sites and in Webster’s studio, this book captures the vibe and ethos of its time, yet doesn’t seem at all dated. Webster has his own voice and was able to photograph his subjects with an ease and naturalness that any photographer should strive for. See it for yourself.
Guy Webster Online