Back in the 60s when the whole world seemed to be going through puberty, Jerry de Wilde was spending his time taking his camera to the most magical events the world had to offer. Hendrix concerts, enormous festivals, love-ins, communes, tie-dye workshops, you name it – Jerry was there photographing things that, in his absence, would perhaps never be recorded. He’s been shooting the same spectacular, vivid photography ever since, and has taught his very talented daughter Autumn the same skills. The photos below are all taken by Jerry, in the magical period of time that was the 60s. He has very, very kindly agreed to answer some questions for us, all of which you can read below. What an honour to speak to a man so immersed in a culture long gone.
Can you describe the feeling you get when looking back through your old photographs?
What a lucky guy on a great ride!
What camera are the majority of these shots photographed on?
I started out with a 35mm Pentax with screw mount lenses and then moved on to a Nikon F-2 35 mm bayonet lens system.
Things in the 60s always look better, brighter, funner, more relaxed in photos – did the camera lie or was that actually how it was?
First of all, Kodachrome film should get the credit it deserves for giving the 60’s a great look. However, after getting a Bachelor of Science degree which helped me grasp the photochemical nature of film photography, I then pursued a degree in theatre. The skills I acquired in improvisational techniques helped me to let people be themselves. The camera was just a prop. What was important was the subtext between us and the trust that developed as a result. The camera doesn’t lie. It was a less stressful time and a sense of adventure permeated the air. People wanted to live in the moment. As Baba Ram Das said, “Be Here, Be Now”.
Nowadays it seems that every single person is photographing everything they see at the time, did you feel in the 60s that you were rare for carrying a camera around?
Well, yes. Back then there were relatively fewer photographers and if you could work sort of invisibly and not be a distraction, you were welcomed to document an event whether it was a concert, club date, demonstration, or a happening. Early SLRs had a through-the-lens light meter system and automatic exposure mode didn’t come along until much later. This discouraged a lot of people who thought seeing, sensing and metering light to come up with appropriate exposures was too complicated. It did give an alchemical feeling being able to shoot, process and print while testing the limits of the photochemical process. Nowadays, most people’s photos look very similar because the camera is making the creative decisions instead of the photographer.
I read that Robert Frank told you to try and find the story in photographs, rather than just taking pretty pictures. Can you explain how you can capture a story?
Robert suggested that I think in terms of what my pictures were about. What was I trying to say. He suggested I think of a photograph being more like a poem so that the viewer would want to view it again and again much like re-reading a favorite line of poetry.
You seem close with the people in the photos, do you still keep in touch?
There was a wonderful sense of family. We tried to support and inspire one another creatively and that feeling still exists today amongst those of us that are still here. There was also the feeling of instantly familiar faces. Although you had just met someone you felt that you had known them for a very long time which helped to created a wonderful sense of trust.
Your daughter Autumn is also incredibly good at capturing wild moments in her photography, did you teach her how to take photographs from a young age?
It seems there were always cameras laying about the house and all I did was to answer a lot of questions and allay fears of failure. You learn more from your mistakes than your successes. Being somewhat self-taught myself I never told her what to shoot because I wanted it to be an expression of her personality and creative process. At a young age she studied theatre, music and ballet performing mostly in front of the camera and it wasn’t until her early 20’s that she was drawn to working behind the lens.
How has your approach to photography changed over the years?
Yes, it has simplified. Over the years I have tried to capture the spirit in people and I took it as far as I could. I now find that working with large format cameras in black and white makes me more selective by pre-visualizing the final print before I snap the shutter. When I was working commercially I could easily shoot ten to twenty rolls of films a day. Now, I enjoy backpacking into remote areas and hunting for images seeking to capture the spirit of the abstract landscape but rarely shooting more than a dozen sheets of film a day.
They say the camera is the only machine that stops time – do you agree with that?
The camera is an extension of your self. It gives you the opportunity to capture a moment that can be shared and live on in people’s memory. Heart attacks stop time but they are not as much fun.
What’s the best bit of advice you can give to aspiring photographers?
Trust yourself. Ask questions and express your ideas whether others agree with you or not. Develop your own voice and uniqueness. It’s all you got.