Rock Photographer Michael Putland Dies at 72

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Bob Marley, Mick Jagger and Peter Tosh at the Palladium Theater, New York, 1978 after a Rolling Stones concert (Photo: © Michael Putland)

Michael Putland, who left school at age 16 to work as an assistant to various photographers, and ultimately photographed everyone from Abba to Zappa, died today (Nov. 19), according to numerous internet reports from several of his colleagues. Putland, who had prostate cancer, was 72. His death was confirmed by Lucy Bell, a prominent gallery owner who recently opened an exhibit of his work.

In 1969, while in his early 20s, he had 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. That work led him to accompany the Rolling Stones on their 1973 tour, which began a long-standing relationship working with the band.

Putland is the third prominent rock photographer to pass within the past two weeks. On Nov. 7, Robert Freeman, who shot five consecutive album covers for the Beatles, died at 82. And on Nov. 16, Terry O’Neill, who documented many of rock music’s and popular culture’s most iconic subjects, died at 81.

Lynn Goldsmith, herself a prominent photographer, who knew Putland for over four decades, wrote of her friend, “We always worked together to try to get fair pricing for all photographers work. It was never a competition…he was a comrade.”

Putland’s work included intimate shoots with artists at their homes: David Bowie painting his ceiling at Haddon Hall, John Lennon and Yoko Ono in the White Room at Tittenhurst Park, Roger Daltrey in his kitchen, Jeff Beck with his hot rod cars, Billy Joel by the fire in Putland’s own apartment, Keith Richards at his Upstate New York farmhouse, Robert Plant at home in Wales… and in the recording studio with Paul McCartney, Stephen Stills, Marc Bolan, Yes and David Gilmour.

He moved to New York and established Retna in 1977, which became one of the largest independent photo agencies in the world. In 2019, when the company was acquired by Globe Photos, its assets included more than 750,000 negatives and 250,000 vintage prints of celebrities and pop culture icons, along with fashion and event images from the 60s to early 80s. Its library includes rare early photos of the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, Bob Marley, Elton John, David Bowie, Abba, Kiss, Bruce Springsteen and hundreds of other major recording artists, as well as fashion models and other celebrities and icons.

He photographed numerous album covers including Harry Nilsson’s Son of Schmilsson, shot at George Harrison’s home, Friar Park. The Kinks’ Dave Davies used one of Putland’s photos on his 2018 archival release, Decade.

Mick Jagger, Astrid Wyman, Bill Wyman, Linda McCartney and Paul McCartney, Palladium Theater, New York, 1978 (Photo: © Michael Putland via Lucy Bell Gallery)

Putland was born in 1947 in Harrow, outside of London, U.K. and took his first pictures at the age of nine.

Of his career, Putland said, “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… and thrilled to be still finding new ones. A great never ending journey.”

In 2018, Putland published a book, The Music I Saw. An exhibition of his work, also called The Music I Saw, opened on Nov. 16 at the Lucy Bell Gallery in East Sussex, U.K., where it continues through January 16, 2020.

Bell told Best Classic Bands, “Collaborating with Michael and his wife, Sophie, has always been good fun. Extremely professional but always tempered with good humour and notably his strong sense of integrity.”

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5 Comments so far

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  1. S. Tyru
    #1 S. Tyru 20 November, 2019, 03:47

    If true this is sad – another of the greats gone – however you do seem to be the only website carrying this news.

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  2. Rach
    #2 Rach 20 November, 2019, 06:22

    R.i.p. Michael .. very happy memories. A charming , lovely person

    Reply this comment
  3. Chris C
    #3 Chris C 20 November, 2019, 07:28

    Friar Park (In Henley) was the home of George Harrison, not Harry Nilsson.

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  4. Cheryl
    #4 Cheryl 23 November, 2019, 14:24

    I just got word about Michael’s passing and found this article…we were great pals in NYC during his heyday….am devastated…one of the sweetest, least jaded men ever…and so brilliant…was.thrilled to have a couple of picture of my gf and me in his book…so happy he sent me a beautiful, inscribed copy.

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