Guy Webster's Big Shots
The renowned rock and celebrity photographer talks to Classic Rock about his sumptuous book Big Shots, a captivating account of the singers, groups and Hollywood stars he’s immortalised.
The Beach Boys, Rolling Stones, The Doors, Love and Spirit are just some of the artists Guy Webster worked with at pivotal moments in their lives. He became friends with most of his subjects, partly because he wasn't interested in the ugly or the reportage side of photography. His method was simply to "make people look beautiful and glamorous."
Webster fell into his life behind the lens by accident. The son of wealthy Beverley Hills parents – his father was the noted Oscar-winning songwriter Paul Webster – Guy grew up playing with the children of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. Candice Bergen was a regular visitor to his home and Jack Nicholson was a teenage pal.
After studying acting at UCLA and political science in Copenhagen, Webster was called up for Vietnam duty but swung a Bilko-style furlough by telling the enrolling officers he was a conscientious objector and practicing Buddhist. "They also thought I was gay but it worked out for me. I was so lucky they put me in charge of decorating Christmas trees and then suggested I enrol at the Art Centre School of Design, which was then the best photographic school in America. They gave me a camera and one roll of 35mm film and told me to take some pictures on a weekend pass. I learnt how to mix chemicals and developed my own modest roll and both my friends and the teachers said, 'this is actually great!'"
Webster’s father didn’t fancy his son becoming a photographer – he wanted him to go to Yale and get a proper job – but Guy lucked out again when a mafia boss whose daughter he was seeing sent the young lovers off to a garage where the aspiring snapper was given carte blanche to help himself to any equipment he wanted – which happened to be a whole bunch of expensive (and stolen) Pentax gear: cameras, lenses, everything.