Giugno 13, 2024

“THE MOST ASKED QUESTION IS: HOW MANY BEDS WERE THERE?” – EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH ROBERT DOWLING

Photographer Robert Dowling, author of the shots for the albums Meddle and A Momentary Lapse Of Reason, gave us an interview. Cover which in 1987 was awarded by the Association of British Professional Photographers.

FC: In the book Mind Over Matter, Storm in the chapter dedicated to Meddle says that they chose you for the “ear” photo because in addition to being an extremely reliable true professional, you were willing to take on all responsibility especially if a disaster happened. When did you meet Storm?

RD: I met Storm when my graphic designer brother-in-law introduced us just before shooting ‘Meddle’. I’d shot a number of album covers and was just beginning to get a reputation as an advertising photographer.

FC: Storm was never happy with the outcome of the Meddle cover, calling it “a mediocre job” and stating that it wasn’t your fault, but the fact that you worked remotely. Were they complicated sessions?

RD: It wasn’t complicated. Storm attended and art directed so I don’t know what he means by ‘remotely’. I haven’t read his book. These days a far better result would be easy to create the ‘sound waves’ emitting from an ear.  Back then it was either a double exposure or ‘sandwiching’ two transparencies together. I agree it was a mediocre result of a concept lacking Storm’s usual creativity and imagination. Aubrey Powell, Storm’s Hipgnosis partner didn’t think it good enough to begin with and is his least favourite Floyd cover.

FC: You returned to work for Pink Floyd in 1987, for the cover of A Momentary Lapse Of Reason. It was a particular period for the band after the departure of Roger Waters. Storm was also recalled after a few years. Was there tension during those sessions?

RD: I wasn’t aware of any tension when shooting ‘A Momentary Lapse of Reason’. You probably know that the first attempt was was cancelled due to bad weather. We left a couple of beds on the beach overnight to see what would happen if we miscalculated the height of the tide. They completely disappeared. The second attempt two weeks later went well. We started at 05.30 but Storm didn’t show until late in the day by which time most of the beds were in position. He was a little bit annoyed at my presumption just getting on with it. We finished at 21.30 that night

FC: Do you have any anecdotes to tell me about those sessions?

RD: Nothing much comes to mind. It was just another job. Storm’s mantra when too much time was spent attending to details was “this is art, man, not fucking advertising’. He was saying it was all about the concept, not so much about the execution of perfection. Or to put it bluntly it’s all about his concept not an advertising photographer’s interpretation.

FC: It was a complex idea to realize, but to this day it remains one of the most iconic covers in the history of rock, not just that of Pink Floyd. How do you feel about having contributed to this work of art?

RD: I set-up a range of different format cameras with various film types and filters to cover what I guessed Storm had in mind and what I thought would add atmosphere or give a ‘look’. I wasn’t too surprised when Storm ignored my choice and made his selection of fairly safe 4”x5” transparencies and gave the rest of the film back. After Storm died, about twenty five years or so later, I was contacted by Floyd’s manager claiming copyright for everything shot for A Momentary Lapse of Reason. He didn’t realise I had a lot of film in my possession and I had never signed a copyright waiver. Even so he thought they should be getting a percentage of any prints sold. Interestingly I’ve never been offered any usage fees for subsequent reissues or consulted on exhibitions Their Mortal Remains where I could have supplied additional material of interest. To be honest I’ve found the ongoing interest surprising. I’m regularly contacted by people from all over the world. The most asked question is ‘how many beds were there’.We had aimed at sourcing 1000 and had this number on site but it wasn’t necessary to use more than about 700, and we were racing the tide! ‘The Division Bell’ came along shortly after but unfortunately I was in New Zealand on a five weeks shoot so Tony May, my assistant I’d left behind in London, got the opportunity and started his very successful career as a photographer and DoP.

FC: In your career you have dealt with a bit of everything between cinema, music and art. Are you working on any projects right now?

RD: At present I’ve just begun initial preparation with my partners for a feature film slated for shooting in North East Brazil during 2025. I can’t say much more at the moment because we’ve not officially announced who we have cast or attached as director. There are a number of other projects on our slate one or two of which may get going beforehand, with any luck. Never give up!

Interview by Francesco Madonia. Translation edited by Matteo Gherardi.

LA DOMANDA PIU’ FREQUENTE CHE MI FANNO E’: QUANTI LETTI C’ERANO? by Francesco Madonia is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0