- The Fortunate Beginnings of Henry Diltz’s Photography Career
- The Magical Moment That Ignited Diltz’s Passion for Photography
- Capturing Iconic Moments with Legendary Musicians
He has photographed over 250 album covers, served as the official photographer at Woodstock, and has had his work published in Life magazine. However, Henry Diltz views his career as a fortunate happenstance.
“I never attended photography school, I’ve never had a job, and I’ve never even considered it,” he says.
“I just took photos while hanging out with all my musician pals. It has been an exciting and adventurous way of life.”
Despite this (or perhaps due to it), he is responsible for some of the most recognizable images of the 1960s and 1970s: David Crosby holding a gun made from the American flag to his head; Joni Mitchell playing lap steel guitar amid a field; The Eagles posing in Joshua Tree National Park while high on peyote.
As a musician, Diltz had unparalleled access to some of rock’s greatest names; when he wasn’t behind the camera, he frequently contributed backing vocals and banjo parts to their albums.
His ease around people like Neil Young, Debbie Harry, and Jimi Hendrix meant he often captured them in private moments, lost in thought, or playing with their pets – and there’s an organic, unposed aesthetic to his work that’s impossible to recreate.
The 84-year-old will receive the Icon Award at the Abbey Road Music Photography Awards on Wednesday. Diltz spoke to us via Zoom from his Los Angeles residence about some of his favorite photographs.
Buffalo Springfield, 1966, the one that began it all
“In 1969, I was performing with the Modern Folk Quartet at the University of Michigan when someone remarked, ‘Oh, look, a thrift store!’ from the tour bus window.
“We pulled over, entered, and saw a table with miniature Japanese 35mm cameras next to the entrance. I figured, “What the heck,” and for the next two weeks, as we drove back to Los Angeles, we took photographs of the many small adventures that occurred.
“When we arrived home, we said, ‘Well, let’s put together a slideshow. We gathered all of our friends, and when I saw the first 8-foot-wide slide glowing in the dark, it was magical. It was then that I truly became a photographer.
It became a phenomenon. Once a month, we would gather twenty to thirty hippie acquaintances for a slideshow. I would always attempt to prepare engaging images, such as an old vehicle, a flower, or an animal. I cherished scars.
Then, one day, I ran into Stephen Stills, who informed me that Buffalo Springfield would be performing a soundcheck at a beachside folk club. Do you desire to come?
“And I thought, ‘Yes, I do’ because I wanted to go photograph people on the shore. I never even attended the soundcheck!
“A half-hour later, as I returned to the parking lot, I saw a two-story mural of a man riding a bicycle, and as I was photographing it, Buffalo Springfield strolled out. I yelled, “Hey, guys, can you just stand there for a second?” because I wanted to demonstrate the scale, the perspective, of how tall this mural was.
“After an interview, a magazine called me and offered $100 for the shot. That was a huge deal: $100 was equivalent to a week’s salary, and I had never made a dime from photography before.”
The first album cover, Crosby, Stills, and Nash, was released in 1969.
In 1963, I met Stephen Stills. He was a young man performing solo guitar in a coffeehouse, and he enjoyed my band’s four-part harmonies.
“Six years later, he had departed Buffalo Springfield, David Crosby had been expelled from The Byrds, and they were singing at parties together. Mama Cass saw them and realized they required a singer with a higher voice; she also knew Graham Nash was unhappy in The Hollies. Consequently, she introduced everyone and orchestrated [the ensemble] in a sense.
“As they were recording the first album, I was down at the studio. They did not have a group photo, so we drove around Los Angeles in my friend Gary Burton’s ancient Ford station wagon from the 1950s”.
They stepped out of the car, sat down, and the ancient house with the couch outside was perfect.
“Between the time I took the photo and when it was developed, they chose the moniker Crosby, Stills, and Nash. They stated, “That would be a fantastic album cover, but look, we’re sitting in the wrong order: Nash, Stills, Crosby.”
“I responded, ‘That’s no issue. Let’s return. Five minutes will pass if you sit in the proper order, boom, bang, bang. However, when we arrived, the residence was gone. It was leveled and converted into a parking lot.
Therefore, we had to retain the original.
Paul and Linda McCartney: Life, 1971, portrait
“I met Linda Eastman while getting my film developed in a New York photo studio, and we became friends over lunch. I later learned that she had married Paul McCartney. And I exclaimed, “Wow, what a coincidence!”
“A year later, she called me and said, ‘Henry, we’re in Malibu and we need photos for the RAM album. So I went outside and spent the afternoon consuming lunch with Heather and Mary while lounging around the swimming pool.
“As I took photographs, Paul was seated in a deck chair and strumming a ukulele. I saw Heather and Mary hold hands and leap into the pool together. Paul began singing continuously, “Two little sisters jumping in the pool.” I thought, oh my God, there’s a Beatles song that only I will ever hear.
“Towards the end of the day, Linda said, ‘We need a beautiful portrait of the two of us,’ so we went over, brought flowers, and took the photos. Then she stated, “We need these first thing in the morning because we’re sending one to Life magazine.”
“Life magazine was the Holy Grail for photographers, so it was only natural that I arrived early. In 1971, before digitizing and emailing, the Life magazine editor was present in the living room. One of the slide board photos was picked, put in her purse, and brought to the airport for New York. That was the front cover.”