LONDON - Ethan Russell is the only rock photographer to have shot album covers for The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Who.

But of all the pictures of rock icons he has taken over the years, just one adorns his house in California. It is of John Lennon, crouching deep in concentration listening to a recording of the Beatles' White Album.

"If there is one you had to single out, it would be Lennon," Russell told Reuters before the Friday opening at London's Blink Gallery of his first European exhibition.
"He is beloved for his integrity as an artist. I think that matters," said Russell.

He also recalled capturing the animosity between band members shortly before the group broke up.

"I did the last photo session with the Beatles. They looked really pissed off with each other, Paul in particular. I wouldn't tell them what to do. As a result, what you see is what is going on.

"And what you see is that this was not a happy group and they did break up not long afterwards."

The 59-year-old photographer said that, unlike the manufactured music that dominates today's charts, the stars of the Sixties made music to last.

The Rolling Stones twice took Russell on tour with them, and in one photo he has perfectly captured Mick Jagger who pouts before he puts on his makeup before a show. Another shows the swaggering frontman chatting with Chuck Berry.

"Their idols were not pop stars but blues singers," Russell said. "Those idols were old already. So why would they not be old and perform?"

He added that The Who, photographed leaping exuberantly across the stage in rehearsal, were unnerved at his refusal to put them in posed shots.

But guitarist Pete Townshend said of the final results: "They look ready to put up in the National Gallery. Ethan is the civilised eye of an uncivilised art-form: rock 'n' roll."

Russell, born in New York and brought up in San Francisco, came to England in the Sixties. His timing was perfect; photo sessions with Jagger and Lennon set him up for life.

The photographer, who in the pre-MTV era went on to be a pioneer in producing music videos, never lost touch.

"I went to see John Lennon right before he was assassinated. I was directing a video. When he showed up, he was just low-key and direct. I was a lot more uptight than he was -- I can guarantee that," he said.

And among the photos he is most proud of are the shots he took of Lennon and Yoko Ono.

"I have the greatest pictures of them falling in love. But there was a lot of racism and sexism against her.

"I showed up for one session. She opened a box. There was a Smurf doll that was made to look like her with needles sticking out of it. That was sent to her -- there was a great deal of hostility."

The exhibition runs until November 26.

- REUTERS