Ringo Starr Gets the Picture
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Making the great look good is no mean feat.
By Anita Barcsa
I was born and raised in Hungary and moved to the U.S. 16 years ago to pursue new opportunities. I’ve always been artistic — I studied fashion design and worked as a personal chef, but I fell in love with photography, almost by accident, in 2007, when I received a semi-manual Canon S90 at Christmas. I looked up any information I could find online and practiced everything.
By 2013, my work was in an international art exhibit in New York; by 2018, I was winning awards. So it wasn’t that surprising when a company called Vulcan contacted me this past September. They needed a photographer in San Jose, California, to photograph Ringo. As in Ringo Starr. Yes, the Beatles drummer.
Not only that, but they needed someone to photograph Ringo and His All-Starr Band. When it comes to music, I listen to everything from classical to Nine Inch Nails. Being a self-respecting European, I also listen to a lot of deep house and soft lounge house, but really I’m all about rock ’n’ roll and the blues — AC/DC, Pearl Jam, B.B. King, Eric Clapton. When I was little, though, I’d listen to my parents’ music: the Beatles.
Ringo was as he’s always appeared: a pretty happy guy.
I was photographing more than just Ringo, though. I had a total of 22 musicians to shoot, most of them band members: Santana lead singer Gregg Rolie, saxophonist Warren Ham, Toto guitarist Steve Lukather, drummer Gregg Bissonette, even Men at Work’s Colin Hay.
Ringo was the 14th person on my list that day. Most people are not so sharp after 14 of anything, but in this instance, me not being sharp wasn’t an option. There was a catch, though: Vulcan’s instructions about how the musicians needed to be shot were super specific. No glasses, no jewelry, no piercings, no shadows on the faces, ears had to be visible, only slight smiles. No problem. At least it wasn’t until one of the musicians came in, Steven Lukather.
See, I had to touch his hair to move it off his ears.
“Great. Now I have to look like an asshole,” he grumbled. This is what we in the business call a “shitty attitude.” My bigger concerns are usually uncharged batteries, forgetting memory cards or equipment not working. Shitty attitude leaves me wanting very much to say, “Well … you’re acting like one.…”
My job was to pull it together and both cheerlead and get the job done. And honestly there was only one star on the shoot, and it wasn’t this guy. So, over and done, and then the face from decades of music and media limelight was right there: Ringo Starr.
What was he like? Very laid-back, super personable, no attitude. I mean, it was obvious that he wanted to go someplace else and hang out, but we shook hands and were off to the races. The problem with photographing famous people is that sometimes they get “camera face.” Some have been photographed so many times for professional reasons they use a fallback face that, to the trained eye, lacks what makes that person who they really are. Even at corporate photo shoots most people expect a cookie-cutter shoot, but my goal is to have fun, make them genuinely laugh. This is the only way I know to truly capture someone’s essence.
Ringo, though, he let his personality shine throughout the shoot and he was as he’s always appeared: a pretty happy guy. We talked, mostly about a shared interest in photography.
When I first started taking photos, I never anticipated how fulfilling it would be. I get to meet people at their happiest and document that. I love the challenge of connecting with someone I’ve just met; as a photographer not only do I have to connect with them, I also need to be able to make them let their guard down. It’s a vulnerable place to be, but my job is to make my subject trust me in a short amount of time. And with Ringo by the end? It seemed like he did. The truest test? The photographs themselves.
Just as quickly as we started, we ended. It was time for the band to play. And when I say “play,” it did look like children’s play: effortless and full of pure joy. The venue was filled with music that reminded me of childhood road trips, and the musicians played one another’s songs, usually the bigger hits — “Africa,” by Toto, “Oye Como Va,” by Santana, “Who Can It Be Now?” by Men at Work — and, of course, songs by the Beatles.
The audience was the most diverse I’d seen in age — kids as young as 8 and elders over 80 — and ethnicity, all of them having a wonderful time singing along with the songs. The power of music to unite is incredible.
What I love about photography is that it’s as technical as it is creative and the most beautiful photographs emerge from unguarded moments. I also love what I get to give to people: a deeper look into something that they already value. So the best compliments I’ve gotten from people when they look at their photographs are when they say to me, “You see me” or “You captured me.”
I stayed for the whole performance. The one outtake of the shoot with Ringo that wasn’t used by Vulcan? I’ve posted that here. It really captures me.
- Anita Barcsa, OZY Author Contact Anita Barcsa