Rock photographer Deborah Chesher photographed musicians when “the music business was about the music”, self-published a new book of her work, blogged about the process, and told us all about the journey. Her book, Everyone I Shot is Dead, is required reading for everyone who loves music, rock stars or wanted to be a rock star.
FBLA: How did you decide to do the book?
DC: One day the thought “everybody I shot is dead” crossed my mind. After mulling it over for a while, I decided to pay tribute to the wonderful musicians I had the privilege to photograph who had since passed away. I originally thought it might be a small book of 20 but it turned out there were 48, plus a few more whose photos I seem to have lost.
How did you round up all your negatives (this is film, not digital, for the most part, right?)
DC: They’re all film. Except in the front of the book there’s a small picture of my empty slide boxes with musician’s names on them that I shot digitally.
All the photos had been stored away in boxes since the early 80s. I had no idea what I would find or even if the photographs were any good. It turned into a real treasure hunt. Finding negatives without contact sheets and putting them in the scanner and having them materialize on my computer screen.. It was an amazing experience.
You set up your own publishing company to do the book?
DC: Yes. I also published my first book, Starart, in late ’79. It is a coffee table book exhibiting the artwork of musicians Joni Mitchell, John Mayall, Ron Wood, Commander Cody, Klaus Voormann and Cat Stevens. I had many many offers on that book from the big NY pub houses but when they couldn’t guarantee the quality of the production I had promised the artists I turned them down. Fortunately, publishing Starart myself turned out to be a good thing–the book has become a collector’s item. I’ve seen used copies of the trade hardcover sell for $500.
Was this genius or madness?
DC: A little bit of both I suppose. I wasn’t planning to do this one through my company, but while researching through my old journals I came upon the section that covered the endless meetings I had in NY for Starart. After reliving that process, I decided I didn’t want to go through it again. Taking on the publishing side could be considered madness–it’s a tough business and hard to turn a profit, especially on coffee table books because they cost so much to manufacture. But I’d rather make less money and put out a higher quality product that I can be proud of.
Worst person to photograph?
DC: None. They were all great. I was lucky. I got along with everyone.
Most painful part of the book process?
During the last year of putting the book together I lived and breathed every one of the musicians 24/7. When anyone asked “What do you do?” my answer became “I live with dead rock stars.” There were moments of great sadness (lots of those moments actually) and a few bouts of anger at the ones who left us to soon, the ones whose deaths could have been prevented. But there was also a lot of joy in the process because I got to fall in love with them and their music all over again.
Best part of the book process?
DC: So many things… Going through my pictures, reliving and writing about the amazing times, listening to the music (it was so great then and sounds even better today), watching whatever footage I could find.
And since working on the book I’ve been in touch with or heard from several family members which has been very rewarding for me because so far they are all very happy that I’m honoring their loved ones in the book. I think it’s important to remember that our beloved music icons are also real people with families who love them and miss them.
DC: I still have lots of work to do with the book–promoting it and getting foreign distribution (even though book publishing in one country seems to go global without foreign deals thanks to the internet), etc–I’m nowhere near wanting to let it go. But I’m also in pre-production/development on a movie I wrote which will be another long and involved project that I’m really looking forward to.
Are you signing anywhere here in LA?
DC: I don’t have any signings booked in L.A. at the moment. However, all the books that are ordered off my website are signed. I’m also planning a big exhibit/party for LA but that won’t be for a few months.
You can listen to Chesher on Geekerati Radio here.