Photographer with 60,000 undeveloped images in rock history ‘waits to come back to life’ | Photography

IIn Charles Daniels’ modest home in Somerville, Massachusetts, on the outskirts of Boston, lie tens of thousands of undeveloped photos, sitting in moldy boxes scrawled with cryptic markings and decaying instructions.

Most have been sitting there for over five decades, and while Daniels can’t be sure just what’s hidden in his hoard, he knows for sure that much of it chronicles a pivotal moment in culture. pop – when rock had as much of an impact as the Who, the Faces and Jimi Hendrix made their first mark in America.

As a young man in the 1960s, Daniels obsessively took pictures, filming anything that caught his eye, wherever he walked. By 1967, he had an enviable vantage point for this obsession, thanks to his time hanging out and working as emcee at the Boston Tea Party, a key venue for the psychedelic rock revolution.

Despite his closeness to history, however, Daniels never took his bounty seriously. “Most of what I shot I just forgot,” he said in a Zoom interview from his home. “We took a lot of things for granted at that time.”

Charles Daniels with Ronnie Wood. Photo: Courtesy of Charles Daniels

In fact, it wasn’t until the isolation caused by the Covid lockdown that Daniels’ longtime partner Susan Berstler finally pushed him to begin the arduous task of having his work developed. The relatively small number of shots that have been developed so far demonstrate Daniels’ rare perspective on the stars of the day. “We all hung out together,” he said. “So I had an intimacy with the bands that no one else had.”

This can be seen in the coarseness of the photographs. Unlike the carefully lit and finely composed work of rock photographers like Annie Leibovitz, Henry Diltz or Jim Marshall, Daniels’ shots are more like the snapshots you’d get from a friend. As a result, they capture something more casual, close and real. “What’s unique about Charlie’s photos is that they show you what life as a band on the road was really like in those days,” said Steve Nelson, who booked and managed the Boston Tea. Party at its peak. “Because he was part of the team, his photos show the bands in a new light.”

The Tea Party was the perfect place to catch it. According to Peter Wolf, lead singer of the Boston-based J Geils Band, “British bands came to the Boston Tea Party to gather their stuff before heading down to Hartford, then New Haven and then New York, where the media awaited them. It was a testing ground. »

A black man wearing a hat rests his hand on his face
Daniels at his home in Somerville, Massachusetts. Photo: Tony Luong/The Guardian

“It’s a shame the Tea Party was never mentioned in the same breath as the Fillmores in San Francisco and New York, because it was just as important,” said Ryan H Walsh, whose book Astral Weeks: The Secret History of 1968 centers on the Boston. music scene of the time. “It was essential.”

A “visual diary”

The way Daniels himself became an essential part of the scene reflects the attitudes of the time. The club never officially hired him as emcee. He naturally evolved into the role. “I was someone who was there every weekend on the scene,” Daniels said. “I knew the music. So when they felt they needed a little intro for the bands, instead of just starting to play, it became pretty easy for me to become the announcer.

He first did it for Wolf’s pre-J Geils band, the Hallucinations, in 1968. “I met Charlie hanging out in Harvard Square, which was a cultural mecca,” Wolf said. “We saw each other at various shows and became very close.”

So much so that Wolf began using Daniels as a foil on a radio show he hosted on Boston’s leading underground rock station, WBCN. Wolf let Daniels host the nights he couldn’t make it back from a gig in time, and he gave him his nickname: “the Master Blaster”. Still, Daniels’ style as emcee and DJ avoided the over-the-top tone the moniker implies. “Charlie’s style was very soft and easy,” Wolf said. “He was welcoming to people, and that’s why I think he developed such a friendly relationship with the groups he photographed.”

White man sitting on amp and playing guitar
Keith Richards. Photo: Courtesy of Charles Daniels

For Berstler, Daniels’ immersion in black music may also have played a role. “One of the reasons Charles made such an instant connection with many British rockers was their love of black music,” Berstler said. “For these guys, this music was something new. For Charles, it’s something he grew up around.

She thinks the fact that he didn’t seek to publish his photos strengthened his relationship with the musicians. As Daniels said, “It was just something I was doing for myself.”

No wonder Berstler calls these images “Charles’ visual diary.” A roll of film we collected made me laugh,” she said. “It was a few pictures of whoever was his girlfriend at the time, pictures of people on the tube and people walking down Newbury Street, and then towards the end of the roll, behind-the-scenes pictures of Pete Townshend and Keith Moon So it was less “Charles shot the Who” than “it’s Charles day”.

His approach was so flippant, Wolf said, that “some people started joking that there was no film in his camera. He took so many pictures that no one saw! he said.

Daniels’ connection to photography began just as purely. Although he was born in isolated Alabama, Daniels grew up in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood, where he began taking pictures at age 12 or 13 after discovering a camera in his parents’ closet. “I just filmed what was happening in the neighborhood,” he said.

Left: Cameras and camera lenses on shelves Right: Rolls of film in cardboard boxes
Left: Charles Daniels’ collection of cameras and lenses. Right: Film not developed at Charles Daniels. Photo: Tony Luong/The Guardian

He considered himself a street photographer, much like Bill Cunningham, who later became well known for photographing fashion that caught his eye on the streets of Manhattan. In the late ’60s, when counterculture became a generational definition, Daniels found both his craft and his medium. “Things were moving quickly,” he said. “When the music started to change, it elevated everything.”

Resurrect 3,200 rolls of film

He became so interested in the new exotic English musicians who started coming to town that he started dressing like them. “I became as visually interesting as them,” he said.

He formed a special bond with the foppish and tough Ron Wood and Rod Stewart, whom he first met when they were in the Jeff Beck Band. “Jeff kept most of the money and didn’t give Rod and Woody a lot of pay, so they quit and formed the Faces,” Daniels said.

To reinforce their new effervescent image, the Faces had a bartender serve them drinks on stage during their shows and they asked Daniels to dance and drum with them. “I became a character on stage,” he said.

Left: Black and white image of a woman resting her hands on a man's shoulders Right: Man lounging on a pool chair outdoors
Left: Peter Wolf backstage with a friend; Right: 1970s image of Rod Stewart by Charles Daniels. Composite: Courtesy of Charles Daniels
Three men sing into two microphones
Ron Wood, Billy Preston and Mick Jagger on tour in 1975. Photo: Courtesy of Charles Daniels

They even invited him to travel in a Lear jet with them to concerts in other cities. “The rest of their entourage was sent on another plane,” Berstler said. “But Charlie was still in the jet.”

While on tour, she said: “Charles got chastised [by the tour manager] because he spent more money on the road than Rod Stewart!

“To be honest,” Daniels chuckled, “it never slowed me down.”

Obviously, Wood didn’t care because when he joined the Rolling Stones in 1975, he invited Daniels over just to keep him company and cover all his expenses. “Roadies had to sleep four to five to a room,” he said. “But I always had my own room.”

men on the city street, both wearing sunglasses
Daniels and Peter Wolf. Photo: Courtesy of Charles Daniels

One person who was not thrilled with Daniels’ presence on the Stones’ tour was Annie Leibovitz, the official tour photographer. “She was going out of her way to make sure I didn’t get good photos,” he said. “She was standing in front of me. But I was always going to get something.

Although he loved the Stones, his idol was Hendrix, so it was a dream come true when he was asked to host and shoot his show at Boston Garden. “They wanted to know how much to pay me,” Daniels recalled. “I said I would do it for free. But they paid more than anyone else at the time: $200. I would love to get my hands on the movie I shot of this show.

In the years since the heyday of classic rock, Daniels has remained a staple of local shows. He was also hired by a blues and jazz club in Cambridge called Night Stage so that the largely black artists who played there, including Etta James and Howlin’ Wolf, would feel comfortable in what was an environment extremely white. Later, Daniels made a living making dance and fitness videos. Several of his vintage photos were later published in a lavish Book of Faces, and in the past 20 years he has exhibited his work twice in local galleries.

Black man sitting on couch putting hand on face
The project lifted Daniels’ spirits at a difficult time. Photo: Tony Luong/The Guardian

Over the past two years, Berstler began the development process with a local lab, which the couple paid for with money from a local arts grant. Realizing the magnitude of the project, however, a friend set up a GoFundMe campaign with a goal of $40,000. It raised over $56,000, enabling Daniels to hire Film Rescue International, which specializes in such projects. Even for them, it remains a daunting task. With over 3,200 rolls of film – each containing 12 or 36 shots, at 120mm or 35mm, respectively – that’s over 60,000 photos.

The project lifted Daniels’ spirits during a difficult time. At 79, he is undergoing chemotherapy for a blood disease. His greatest hope is that the restoration project will result in a book, something that would never have occurred to him in the 1960s when he lived and filmed in the moment. “Now I take it much more seriously,” he said. “It’s amazing to think that all those things had been sitting there all this time, waiting to come back to life.”

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