Meet Red Saunders
Photographer Red Saunders talks about his experience interviewing and photographing the icon Andy Warhol for the first time. A reproduction of the original photograph was exclusively launched at Hang-Up Gallery, London, with Artist Nina Saunders in February. With special thanks and credit to Asya Gefter and Peter Young for the video.
HU: What was your first camera?
RS: A Brownie 127 box camera from my Mum and Dad. I still have it. I won the BOAC Junior Jet Club competition with my pic of Mt Blanc out of the window of the old Constellation plane that I used to fly to Nigeria to see my Mum and Dad.
HU: You are the other half of our brilliant artist Nina Saunders. Have you two ever collaborated?
RS: Yes, we have always collaborated work-wise informally. But lately, we have started some more formal project collaborations.
Above: Red Saunders (Left) and wife Nina Saunders (Right) at the launch of Nina's 'Tea With Andy' exhibition in February 2019.
HU: Over your career, you’ve photographed many famous faces. Other than Andy, who has left a lasting impression on you?
RS: Jane Fonda. In the 70’s she was receiving endless death threats and hate mail (due to her opposition to the Vietnam war) but still gave me time while she was filming a Western in Colorado.
John McEnroe. At the time his most raging fame being both moody and in the end a pussycat.
Now infamous Gary Glitter.
Then this one with Andy - one of the best sitters I ever photographed, and on plate camera.
Grandmaster Flash in the Bronx, and Yellowman in Kingston, Jamaica. The list could go on forever.
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August 1983 Yellowman and Admiral Boy, downtown Kingston Jamaica, joined by a group of school kids who were ultra keen to get in the photo. @king.yellowman was a hugely controversial dancehall star around that time. Umbrella up, storm was brewing. After I did an interview with yellowman on my mini cassette recorder which was later aired on David Rodigans reggae show on capital radio. • • Shot on Fuji transparency film, Hasselblad 500EL-M - 50mm lens on tripod, fill in Norman flash hand held, by my assistant from NYC on that trip Philip-Lorca diCorcia now a bit of a name in the photo world. • Sunday Times magazine commission. • #jamaica #yellowman #sundaytimesmagazine #hassleblad #hassleblad500elm #hassleblad500 #reggae reggaemusic #yellowmanreggae #50mm #fujifilm #normanflash #culturephoto #jamaicanculture #sundaytimes #1980s #PhilipLorcadiCorcia #redsaunders
HU: You are the founder of 'Rock Against Racism'. Can you tell us how you started this and what your feelings are on it 40 years on?
RS: This is too big a question … it started with a letter I wrote to the music press in the summer of 1976 … and its impact still continues. Today there are so many books, doco's and websites to find more info …
HU: If you only had one album to listen to what would it be?
RS: Another impossible question. Probably Bob Dylan, Bob Marley and The Wailers, The Specials...? OK, I have failed to answer this one.
HU: What is the highlight of your career so far?
RS: It took years, but to finally conquer the relationship between aperture control, camera speed, filmstock speed, lighting, and lenses. Then it all went digital!
Above: Red Saunders on set
HU: Who or what inspires you?
HU: Is there anyone you’ve always wanted to work with or photograph?
RS: When we were running Rock Against Racism it would have been wonderful to put John Lennon and Bob Marley on stage together. I tried and talked several times to organise a session with the great cultural commentator John Berger but sadly he died before we could. His book ‘Ways of Seeing’ is a must for anyone interested in photography.
Detail of Red Saunders' 'Andy at The Ritz'
HU: Most memorable moment on set?
RS: Again too many funny ones, embarrassing ones, and disastrous ones. So here is one:
In the late 60’s I worked for a few publishers. We did a lot of book jackets which were a great learning curve. We were shooting a cover of a book about wine, so we set up this still life of glass table tops, glass shelves filled with wine bottles, wine glasses all different shapes and sizes filled with white, red and rose. We had cheese, bread, and bunches of grapes placed in a classic still life style. My assistant at the time was quite short. He had large feet, so you can guess what’s coming... He leant into the set to take a light reading with the meter, and as he leant across, the lead knocked some grapes out of place. He then leant in a bit further to replace the grapes and as he did so, his large foot very slightly caught one of the flag stands that then bumped into a bigger flag stand, that tipped over onto the set up with the perfect display of filled wine glasses that proceeded, in slow motion, to cascade into the main set as the entire edifice collapsed, smashing glasses, bottles, and shelves - throwing cheeses, bread, and grapes all over the place. As wine flowed over the studio floor there was awful silence. Trying to make light of it, I then said: "Well that’s a wrap then". The client's face was ashen. As he left the studio he said, "I’ll call you later"...but he never did.
HU: Do you have any advice for any budding photographers?
RS: When you’ve lived a life in photography you realise so much has changed. I do get a bit annoyed the way digital cameras are pointed and shot like some kind of automatic weapon making dozens of captures in seconds. I’m all for the right tools for the job and not against digital, but when I talk to students who are a bit more open, I encourage them to check out the old film based systems; 35 mm, 120mm, and especially Plate cameras which I cut my teeth on. You need time to compose your image and at a top whack, you may shoot 4 sheets - so it makes you really think, focus and look long before you press the shutter.
Finally, shoot, make mistakes and keep shooting over and over. That’s the way you’ll get there... Good luck.
Andy At The Ritz by Red Saunders
Red Saunders' photograph of 'Andy At The Ritz' is now available to purchase exclusively from Hang-Up Gallery. You can purchase it online, or simply visit us at the gallery to view the work and take it home with you.
‘Andy At The Ritz’ portrays a rare photograph of Andy Warhol taken at the infamous Ritz Hotel, London, in the mid-1970s. Initially commissioned by the Sunday Times, this enticing image of the artist has never before been publicly displayed. Hang-Up is delighted to be the only gallery to exclusively showcase this unique image that captures a moment in history.
If you have any questions regarding the work do get in touch with us on email@example.com, or call us on 0203 667 4550.
Over and out...
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