Darrell Westmoreland is “the guy” — that’s what people in the music industry will tell you. Name any major musical artist (Kurt Cobain, Jon Bon Jovi, Paul McCartney, and Joan Jett, among many others), and we can pretty much guarantee he’s photographed them at some point in time.
“I’ve been taking images for 49 years — 47 of those years in the entertainment industry — and I have just about seen it all,” Westmoreland, 67, said. “It’s been one hell of a run.”
The Montesano native — who still calls the Grays Harbor County city home — started photographing the music industry during its heyday in the 1970s, when being part of an artist’s entourage meant behind-the-scenes access and rare moments alone with them.
“The music industry will never be anything like it was in the ’70s and ’80s,” he said. “It was literally sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll. I liken my professional work life to being semi-retired, because it’s been a party for the last 47 years. I love what I do and plan to keep doing it till I drop or can’t do it anymore because of health reasons.”
Westmoreland is still a highly sought-after photographer. He is the house photographer for the Tacoma Dome and the Washington State Fair for their mainstage acts.
In October, he will release the first iteration of a series of coffee-table books, the first of which is entitled Snap, Click, Flash: All Access Pass, and includes musical artists from all genres, and a handful of comedians and actors.
425 caught up with Westmoreland via phone earlier this summer to hear more about his storied career and much-anticipated photo book.
By Lisa Patterson and Shelby Rowe Moyer.
Photos by Darrell Westmoreland
Q: How old were you when you picked up a camera?
A: I was 18 years old. It was 1969 and the first week in yearbook class. My friend asked if I would take pictures at football games, school events, and (whatnot) for the yearbook. I said yes, and she handed me a Yashica twin lens and told me to leave the settings as they were on the camera and just shoot. She was a cheerleader for the games and events, and she didn’t have time to do it. So, she was out, and I was in. The rest is history.
Q: When did you fall in love with photography?
A: Forty-nine years ago, when the camera was handed to me.
Q: How did you break into the music business to become so successful?
A: When I got out of high school, I was still shooting pictures. I was starting to build up some clientele. And I got this assignment from (the local newspaper) to go shoot this event that was going to happen in a couple months. It was a music festival in 1971 in September. I met one of the promoters, and he hired me as his personal photographer to document it. That was my first exposure to the music industry and festivals.
By then, I had shot a lot of political stuff and events for the newspaper, and I was also stringing for a few other people — I also had started shooting for the wire services. My style was more journalistic, because I was shooting a lot of that kind of stuff. After (the music festival), I would go to concerts, sneak my camera in, and take photos. Then a friend, Stan Foreman from Capitol Records, hired me to come shoot a meet-and-greet of whatever artist was there. He started hiring me for concerts, and at concerts there are always multiple acts, so I started getting hired for other record companies. Within about a year and a half, by 1977, I had all the labels — like 60 record labels. I was constantly shooting meet-and-greets, festivals, and I started shooting for all the Seattle radio stations. It all kind of fell into place.
Q: Who was your favorite person or persons to photograph? And why?
A: Hard to say now. Dolly Parton was my favorite person for a long time. Now, these days, the artists are either really fun to work with or not fun to work with at all.
Q: What is your favorite photo or photos?
A: It changes. Right now, it’s Tom Petty. There’s a head shot of him from 1978. I started hanging out with him 39 years ago. I worked with him multiple times. Right now, he’s kind of my favorite artist.
Q: Tell us about your book. Why was this important for you and your family to create?
A: It’s got so much history. It starts from 1974 and goes to 2016, and it’s all black-and-white. Black-and-white, in my opinion, is kind of timeless. The book is something that I’ve been wanting to do for the last 25 years. I started playing with it, and thinking about it, and compiling (photos), and then I‘d stop for a while. Then in 2000, or 2001, I decided I would do a book. I’m sure my family is excited. They are excited. I did it because I have so much cool stuff. I needed to do a book.
Q: Who have you always wanted to photograph? It could be anyone, even someone who’s not alive anymore or isn’t in the music industry.
A: Probably John Lennon and George Harrison. They would have been cool, I guess. At this point in my life, it doesn’t really matter anymore. To think back on who I could have shot — ehhh … that’s a tough question. I always liked photographing the President. I always thought it would be cool to be on the press corps to be the photographer for the President of the United States. But at my age, it doesn’t matter.
Q: Do you have a favorite camera or equipment?
A: Nikon cameras and lenses. I’ve been shooting with this brand since 1974.
Q: Do you have a specific style of photography you prefer?
A: Get in, get the shot, get out. Quick, fast, and fun. Paparazzi-style, but with permission.
Q: What tips do you have for amateur photographers who want to take better shots?
A: I absolutely recommend taking some classes. With the emergence of phone technology, everyone is a “photographer” in some sense. But just because you can take photos on your phone, that doesn’t mean you are a photographer. I also teach classes to high-schoolers. … I’m an advisor for three of the largest school districts in Grays Harbor (Aberdeen, Montesano, and Hoquiam). I’m on the advisory board for the photography and yearbook classes. I’ll give advice and just help them out.
Q: What are your thoughts about the industry as a whole? Is this still a career path to go down for young photographers hoping to make a good living?
A: It’s a hard profession to make a living at anymore, with all the kit cameras and cellphone cameras. And so many people are making images for free, or selling them for cheap, or giving them away. I think if you’re going to work in the photo industry, you need to know how to make images. But going into business as just a photographer these days … it’s really hard to make a decent living.