Whether touring with the Rolling Stones or taking pictures of Ella Fitzgerald here at WTTW, photographer Paul Natkins snapped many memorable images of music giants.
Rock, reggae, jazz, folk, R&B – he captured it all. Producer Marc Vitali sat down with Natkin and he shared stories and images worth thousands of words.
“When I started, I made this conscious decision early on that I wasn’t just going to shoot the bands I liked and the music I liked. If I did that, I would shoot pictures of John Prine and Steve Goodman all day, but I thought I had to be full and I had to shoot everything,” Natkin said. “So I befriended the promoters and went to a gig every I was going to a thrash metal concert one night and the next night I was going to shoot Rodney Dangerfield.
WTTW met Natkin in his home studio and scoured nearly 50 years of records. Some works ended up on magazine covers – other images fill the first book devoted to his photography.
“I like to photograph everyone who puts on a show, everyone who jumps, even if I don’t like them as people – which I like most people I photograph – but I will photograph the Rolling Stones every time that they’re in town, he said. “Buddy Guy I’ve worked with for over 40 years.”
In 1983 he took one of his most recognized photos.
“I took a picture of Ozzy Osbourne and Randy Rhodes in 1983,” Natkin said. “People tell me this is the most famous heavy metal photo ever taken.”
This image even ended up on a limited edition snowboard.
“These guys aren’t like aliens,” he said. “They’re normal human beings who just have some sort of talent that propels them onto a stage, and they like to have fun too.”
VIDEO: Photographer Paul Natkin toured with the Rolling Stones in the late 80s and early 90s. Here he tells the story of playing pool with Keith Richard and other famous friends.
Even with exceptional access, some photos are difficult to obtain, including a specific photo of Miles Davis.
“He played the whole show with his back to the audience,” Natkin recalled. “And I knelt on the floor of Park West and stayed for two hours until he turned to leave and waved at the audience, and I took a picture.”
The music industry has changed dramatically in the nearly 50 years he’s been in the business.
“I don’t shoot much anymore. 10 years ago, I shot 200 bands in a year,” he said. “The year before the pandemic, I shot eight. And that’s because bands, managers and publicists don’t want to be photographed anymore. They want their friends to take pictures with their iPhone. And they all have the same answer when I ask them why – they say “Because you make too much money with us.”
Natkin said that was really a misconception.
“If they ever looked at my sales report from the agency that represents me, they would start laughing, because over half of the photos they have licensed, my share of the sale is less than $2, but they look at me with all my expensive gear and I’m like, ‘This guy must be making a fortune,'” he said. “So they limit the amount of pictures I can take, they limit where I can take pictures and they limit who I can sell the pictures to.”
And as Natkin celebrates the release of his book, he doesn’t know where his archive of music history will end up.
“I haven’t figured it all out yet,” he said. “They’ll probably go to a museum or an art department at a college somewhere. Who knows?”
The book, “Natkin: the moment of truth‘, features more stories from the music industry – including the time he was shooting pool with the Rolling Stones and photographing Prince on his 26e birthday. You can also see more of his photographs.
VIDEO: Paul Natkin’s big breakthrough came in June 1984, when he was asked to photograph the 26e birthday in Minneapolis. Here, he recounts how that assignment turned into a work of photographing Bruce Springsteen and the Jacksons.