27 May 1947 – 18 November 2019
“It has been a fantastic ride through an incredible period of music history, which combined my two great loves … music and photography. Little did I appreciate, when my Uncle Alan encouraged my photography back in the 1950s, that this would lead me to photographing nearly all of my heroes …”
Michael always said how lucky he felt to have been born after the second World War, not only into a time of peace but also to bear witness to and experience the explosion of cultural creativity and freedoms in the arts, music and all forms of human expression. Michael’s innate love of music from his teenage years visiting clubs to hear skiffle, blues, jazz and rock ‘n roll and his fascination with photography meant he was perfectly placed to record 50 years of music history, in an era like no other.
It has been said that Michael photographed everyone from Abba to Zappa … when looking at his archive this is actually true.
Born in 1947, Michael grew up in Harrow where he took his first pictures at the age of nine before leaving school at sixteen to work as an assistant to various photographers including Time-Life photographer, Walter Curtin and the legendary motor racing photographer, Louis Klemantaski. In 1969, he set up his own studio and by 1971, he was the official photographer for the British music magazine Disc & Music Echo. His first assignment for them that year was to photograph Mick Jagger in London.
From the editorial work for Disc and Music Echo, Sounds and later Smash Hits & Q magazine amongst others, to the 1973 tour with The Rolling Stones that led to a long-standing working relationship with the band, Michael shot prodigiously including for major record labels: CBS, Warner, Elektra, Polydor, Columbia Records and EMI. Relocating to New York in 1977, it was here Michael founded the photo agency Retna which, along with the dynamic drive of his long term business partner and great friend Julie Grahame, went on to become one of the most comprehensive and respected music and celebrity image libraries in the world with offices in New York and London.
Music photography took Michael around the globe touring with acts as diverse as George Michael in Australia & Japan, The Cure in Brazil, Eric Clapton in the U.S., The Stones in the U.S. & Europe as well as intimate shoots with artists at home: David Bowie painting his ceiling at Haddon Hall, John Lennon and Yoko Ono in the White Room at Tittenhurst Park, Roger Daltry in his Sussex Kitchen, Jeff Beck with his beloved hot rod cars, Billy Joel by the fire in Michael’s own apartment in NYC, Keith Richards at his Upstate New York farmhouse, Robert Plant at home in Wales … and being a music lover, Michael always enjoyed the privilege of sharing a recording studio with some of the great artists of the last 50 years from Paul McCartney, Stephen Stills, Rolling Stones, Marc Bolan, Yes and David Gilmour to Stephen Sondheim recording Elizabeth Taylor in ‘A Little Night Music’ and Stomu Yamashta with his percussive World Music.
After several years living in Provence, France, Michael returned to the UK to share his life with his best friend of 40 years, Sophie and her daughter Tallulah. The last 10 years of Michael’s life were busier than perhaps he anticipated with a series of exhibitions including Getty Gallery’s 50 year retrospective in 2014; Ono Arte in Bologna, Italy hosted “Bowie before Ziggy” in 2016 and ‘Glad to be Glam’ in 2018. Elliott Halls in Amsterdam curated a career show in 2018 “It’s been a fantastic ride” and closer to home The Lucy Bell Gallery in Hastings showed exhibitions “Off The Record” in 2017 and “The Music I Saw” in 2019.
Michael continued to shoot the artists he admired and the music he loved, more laterly jazz, classical and world musicians, who always provided an alternative narrative to his rock music portfolio. Whilst 2017 saw Michael shoot the largest gig of his life, including from the helicopter circling the crowd of 225,000 fans with the Italian rock giant, Vasco Rossi at Modena Park in Italy, a world record for a ticketed concert!
2019 was a year which saw the UK and USA launch of his wonderful 350 page career book ‘The Music I Saw’ with exhibitions and signings at ‘Paul Smith’ shops in London and New York. Whilst in June of that year Michael was still doing what he loved, working with a team he respected, shooting the vast San Siro stadium in Milan.
Michael died, surrounded by love, at home after a short illness in November 2019