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Too Tough to Die

: 02.07.2005
: 1616
: Moscow, Russia

: 02, 2007 2:56 am     : TTTD

I met the Ramones when Tony Wright asked me to shoot the cover for Subterranean Jungle. A year later, a call came from His Rockin Royal Highness, Johnny Ramone himself. He told me that he definitely wanted me to shoot another cover for them, but he asked me if I knew any other art directors, as they were not happy about the way the cover of Subterranean Jungle looked.

What was wrong with Tony Wright? I asked. The graffiti on the cover he did for Subterranean Jungle really looked fake we didnt like it, Johnny said. Having worked with Tony on many projects by this point, I knew the range of his talents and capabilities. Dont write Tony off so quickly. Tony is extremely versatile. He will design the cover any wan you want you just have to be clear and tell him what you like and what you want. I felt an allegiance to Tony. After all, I would never have shot Subterranean Jungle - or probably even met the Ramones if Tony had used another photographer.

At the following creative meeting with Johnny and Joey about the upcoming cover session for Too Tough To Die, Johnny asked me if I had ever seen A Clockwork Orange, the Stanley Kubrick film. Not completely, I said, not elaborating that I found the film kind of boring and didnt appreciate the excessive sadism that the film projected. Johnny told me that, in the film, there was a scene of a mugging in a tunnel in London and that the band wanted to recreate that scene or at least the feeling of it.

I asked my now ex-boss and mentor, professional fashion photographer Lane Pederson, where in NYC could a small pedestrian tunnel be found. Lane told me that there were lots of tunnels in Central Park and suggested one near the Childrens Zoo. I checked that tunnel - as well as a dozen other tunnels in Manhattan - but Lane was right; the small diameter of the tunnel at the zoo lent a scale to the shot that would be perfect. The tunnel was small and would make the guys in the band look bigger in relationand more imposing.

As this was a job for Warner Bros. Records and the budget was quite substantial, we rented a Winnebago to use as a dressing room. I asked the band what they wanted in way of refreshments and they said pizza and beer! This time, I felt like I was in charge of quite a big production. I had two assistants, a valid location permit, and the Winnebago we rented had an on-board electric generator to supply us with electricity for the lighting. We sealed of one end of the tunnel with clear plastic sheeting to control the smoke that would come from the smoke machines. We had several powerful studio strobe lights with blue-colored filters or gels outside the far end of the tunnel to backlight the blue smoke background and white light from the front of the tunnel to illuminate the group.

After shooting a couple of Polaroids to test the exposure, then several roles of 2-1/4 slide film, all the while listening to Johnny complaining about why the Polaroid pictures took so long (one minute!), I changed the Polaroid film pack from color to B&W for quicker developing time (30 seconds). Johnny was now looking at a B&W Polaroid and asked me I thought we were shooting this in color!? I then let the band take a pause and asked them if they wanted to eat some pizza and beer. They ate the pizza, but I noticed that the full case of beer was untouched. After the pizza break, we resumed the session and I took another color Polaroid, but this time the white front lights didnt flash for some reasonand wow!

It was clear from the image on the Polaroid that the silhouette of the band in the tunnel against the blue and smoky backlights was really powerful. Tony asked me to shoot a whole roll with no front lights. I then called a wrap, although I wasnt quite convinced about the potential masterpiece that had just been created. The band quickly disappeared into the dark night without so much as a good bye.

After my assistant broke down all of the lighting and camera equipment and loaded everything into the Winnebago, I wanted to offer my hard-working crew their well-deserved first beer of the evening. When I looked into the Winnebagos icebox, the whole case of beer had disappeared.

lephgdtr1c.jpgThe following evening, I showed the developed film to Tony. It was clear that the backlit shots were by far the bomb and since this was the seventh LP for the band most of which had their faces on the cover we thought that it would be easy to convince the group to use the silhouette shot. A couple of days later, when we met with the band to show them a mock-up of the cover, the band immediately agreed upon our choice. Tony added some simple block white type to the cover design which read RAMONES and TOO TOUGH TO DIE and one of the most powerful and classic rocknroll LP covers of all time was created.

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