A look at the photography of the music world’s Terry Manning
Since he walked into Memphis’s Stax Records when he was 14, looking to start a career in music, Terry Manning has been immersed in the arts. Best known as a music producer and engineer, Manning is also an avid and accomplished photographer — he’s worked as a photojournalist for NME — and his efforts behind the camera are showcased in a new photography exhibit at Boston’s Cyberarts Gallery starting this weekend.
In his musical endeavors, Manning has worked with everyone from Led Zeppelin to Shakira and Lenny Kravitz, and his photography has ranged from cataloging life in the recording studio to capturing evocative urban landscapes. His photos of Martin Luther King Jr. are among the last taken before the civil rights leader’s death.
We met with Manning at the gallery, located in Jamaica Plain’s Green Street subway station, as he worked on the installation of his show.
Q. When was the moment you decided to really invest time and effort into photography?
A. I’ve done the photography as long as I’ve done music. So it’s been a big deal to me, and really in my mind as big a thing as music.
Q. How do you decide whether to use digital or film?
A. Digital is easy. You don’t have to buy film or develop it, you can immediately see it. But it doesn’t mean I won’t ever shoot film again. There’s something to be said for 35mm film because when you blow it up you get much more grain, and there’s a certain thing you get, there’s just an atmosphere that happens with the granularity, like in my picture of Dusty Springfield. But I’m not against digital at all, I’m totally there for it, musically and photographically.
Q. Do you always carry a camera around with you now? Is your shooting more planned, or more spontaneous?
A. My phone’s right over there! [Laughs] But that’s a great question, because back in the ’60s, I would almost always have one of my Leicas on my shoulder, because they’re so small. I got so good at reaching down, pulling the lens out, and focus it by guessing, almost. If there was a scene you didn’t want to interrupt and you wanted to catch people doing something without them knowing you were doing it, I’d just click. My digital cameras have very high resolution, but I carry them maybe half the time, because they’re a little bigger.
Q. Are there any photos at your exhibit that recall a really specific story for you?
A. Oh, there are several. I’ve got one picture of [producer, songwriter, and guitarist] Steve Cropper the day we mixed “The Dock of the Bay,” and Otis Redding had just died three days earlier. But we had to get this out, and so we went out in this fog of tears to the session. One of my photos is of Steve in this session, just when he and I had finished the mix, and he said, “Just let me sit here and listen to it,” and it’s him sitting and listening back to the mix, holding his head in his hands, touching a fader. And I stepped back and got a picture of that.
The day Martin Luther King Jr. came to Memphis on April 3, 1968, he arrived at the Memphis airport. And Al Bell, Dr. King’s friend and president of Stax [where I worked], called me saying, “I know you just got that new car, would you mind coming up to the airport?” So I got there, and [King] is coming down the concourse. I walked with him and a few of my other Stax friends, and the press came rushing up. A few of my pictures actually have the press in them. That’s very special to me because we left from there and went to Dr. King’s hotel and everyone got off, and just nine hours later or something, he’s shot on April 4.
Q. What are you trying to capture in your musical and photographic work?
A. Music is an inner emotion that somebody literally emotes. . . . The ideal thing to do . . . is to capture that as best you can, but not capture the sound, capture that emotion. And that may be a great mike, it may be a bad mike, you might have done something wrong, but somehow that emotion came though, and then you put it on some final thing, whether it’s a print for a photo or a CD for music, and somebody somewhere in a perfect world gets that emotion back. Someone listens to it for the first time and goes, “Wow, I know that, I’ve felt that.” It’s evoked an emotion in the end user.
Q. Are there any subjects you want to study more through your photography, or anything you’re hoping to do more of?
A. What I want to do now is to go out on specific days and say, this is a photography day. I’m not going to do any music, I’m not even going to listen to music. Those are the times when I seem to see the best, and to grasp best the vision of what I want. As soon as I can I’m going to buy a little van and just do a tour of the US, all by myself, with plenty of film and cameras, and do nothing but shoot . . . but I’ve got five albums to finish for now.
At Boston Cyberarts Gallery,
141 Green St. (Green St. T), Aug. 21, 6-9 p.m., and Aug. 22-23 and
Aug. 29-30, noon-6 p.m. Free. www.terrymanning.com