GALLERY: Bowie To Foals Captured

La Vie Est Bellia: photographer Richard Bellia announces crowd-funding plans for a book drawing on a vast catalogue of images of musicians

Legendary French photographer Richard Bellia – the man who quite literally trademarked ‘Rock & Roll’, and whose images were described by Reggie Kray as “classy” – has announced plans for a new book, Un Œil Sur La Musique 1980-2016 (One Eye On Music 1980-2016). The 5kg book, due for release in November 2016, will compile over 1,000 pictures compiled from his extensive archives. Bellia’s work – a startling collection of intimate backstage shots, striking portraits, live performances and historical ephemera, all shot in vivid black and white – includes rare shots of acts including David Bowie, Genesis P. Orridge, Joe Strummer, Erykah Badu, Nirvana, Manic Street Preachers, Paul McCartney, Radiohead, James Brown, Elliott Smith and John Lydon. (Bellia was the first to capture Lydon’s self portrait in the Sex Pistols’ Denmark Street recording studio which was granted Grade II* listing status in 2016.)

Bellia started working as a photographer around the age of 18, after failing to make the grade as a chef. “I’ve always liked music and thought that shooting musicians was a good way of getting to talk to them,” he explains of his original motivation. “Also, it seems to me that you don’t look like an idiot hanging around at concerts when you have a camera.”

In the mid 1980s, he moved to London, and by 1987 he was working as a staff photographer for Melody Maker, alongside regular assignments for French media such as Liberation and Les Inrockuptibles. Former colleague Simon Reynolds – author of Retromania and the forthcoming Shock And Awe: Glam Rock And Its Legacy – recalls their work together fondly: "Bellia has an original eye – gritty and quirky. His archive is a vital visual document of the last three decades of alternative music. He also cooks a marvellous coq au champignons et lard fumé."

Looking back over his career, Bellia – who these days lives in Lyon, and even now shuns digital photography altogether, arguing that it is “a waste of time” – says, “I think I managed to shoot some of the main figures of pop and rock music over the past 30 or more years. As I look through my files, I often think I would like to go back and take five times more photos than I did: being at appointments punctually, shooting the opening bands, going to the after show parties etc. But then I think I should just shut up and stop complaining!”

Bellia is raising funds for the project by inviting people to contribute here before June 17, 2016. He’s also offering some unusual benefits, including rare signed prints, workshops, the opportunity to exhibit his work and even have your home decorated. The latter could be especially interesting: last year the Pullman Hotel, in London St Pancras, invited Bellia to decorate various spaces on their premises, including Room 1409. “There is a special price,” he explains. “You don’t pay for the bar. You have the room and drink whatever you want.” Bellia also left a special note for the room’s occupants, written in marker pen on the wall: “Welcome to the rock and roll room. I left some skins behind the Iggy frame.”

As for his ownership of the Rock & Roll trademark, Bellia is typically modest. “So far, the only thing I made out of it is to send my New Year’s wishes to French rocker Johnny Hallyday, saying ‘Sir, you are the best representative of my brand, Happy New Year’. That’s all I ever did with rock and roll.”

The gallery of photographs below begs to differ.

Bellia is raising funds for the project by inviting people to contribute here before June 17, 2016

Robert Smith in 1985

David Bowie in 1996

Bobbie Gillespie in 1991

The Smiths in 1986

PIL in 1983

Siouxsie Sioux in 1988

Foals in 2008

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