It was all the fault of a $20 second-hand camera. When he saw that, he found his calling. The Accidental Photographer, directed by Swedish filmmaker Janolof Fritze and screening in Docs for Sale, chronicles the legendary Henry Diltz’s 50 years as a snapper of the rock & roll greats. Diltz has captured them all, from Paul McCartney to Bruce Springsteen, from Linda Ronstadt to Mickey Dolenz. “Henry was the only one that we allowed to be around all the time taking photos,” The Monkees’ drummer Dolenz says in the film.
“He is from the ‘60s and he hung out with his friends in Laurel Canyon,” says director Fritze. “And these friends became famous. They became The Eagles and The Mamas and the Papas and The Doors and so on, and suddenly he was doing LP covers.”
“All the musicians lived there and I was one of them,” Diltz agrees. “I knew all these people. Neil Young, Stephen Stills, David Crosby, and then I picked up a camera for no reason … I didn’t plan to be a photographer. I never went to school. I just started taking candid documentary photos of all my friends when I hung out with them every day, and then they all became famous, one by one. They had hit records and I was kind of in the business.”
In the film, Diltz talks about his life, telling the (often very funny) stories behind the photographs, and how they came about. “We also have about 30 interviews with people like Ringo Starr, Jackson Browne and Garth Brooks, and many of the old still-living guys,” adds Fritze.
Diltz reveals he has taken over 800 pictures over the past two days in Amsterdam, a city he has visited a few times in the past. He was here in the late 1950s when he was at college in Munich, “and then the next time was with David Cassidy in 1974 maybe … Amsterdam is a very lovely place. You know, a lot of bicycles. I love to photograph them.”
“It’s all about framing,” he adds. “You frame up your friends, or you frame up the moment, and people say, ‘when you photograph these rock & roll people they always look so happy,’ and I say it’s because I wait. I look and I wait until I think ‘ah, that’s how I want them to look’, and then I take the picture.”