In 1969, Nancy Lee Andrews worked for the world renowned Ford Modeling Agency. "I was the tall, All-American dark girl, different from Penelope Tree, my contemporary, who was edgy." Andrews' entry into the music business soon followed. The Fillmore East had just opened in the East Village, featuring acts like The Association, Mad Dogs and Englishmen, Leon Russell, Freddy King, The Cream, Hendrix, and a close friend mentioned they could gain access to the club through the back door.
So they did. All this, the exposure to the art of photography, the familiarity with the New York culture scene, especially music, and her love to learn and experience new things shaped Andrews' life. So, when Andrews met and worked with the great fashion and Life magazine photographer, and noted photographer of Marilyn Monroe, Milton H. Greene, the stage was set. Seeing Andrews' interest and passion for photography, and the fact that she bugged him more and more about F-stops and lighting, Green decided to give her a camera and some film, saying "Let's see what you get." The camera was a Nikkormat Nikon, which Andrews still has today.
Andrews immediately went out into the streets of New York City, and photographed her world, people in the streets, pigeons, street profits and the lost souls. "It all connected right away. I was around the old school masters: Avedon, Irving Penn, and it was always about perfection -- key lighting, fill lighting -- they really set up the shot. That all came into play later on. For now, though, it was about capturing the moment in a compelling way -- composition was key. That immediacy stayed with me my entire life. I remember one trip to Morocco, when I went to the Dyers Mart, Fez. The street urchins, the workers, the poorest of the poor - they were so happy with nothing. I fought to have those pictures in my book (page 255). The publisher wanted just the big names, the famous figures of the time. But I am glad they are in there - the market pictures. It was a big part of my private journey, which was not just about famous people. It was all a learning process."
Soon, Andrews met and fell in love with Carl Radle. He was the bass player for the blues-rock group Derek and the Dominos of "Layla" fame, that included Eric Clapton, Bobby Whitlock and Jim Gordon. "The wonderful shot of Eric Clapton at Stonehenge (pages 14-15) in the book shows Carl's innate ability with the camera. That joy of taking pictures we both shared pushed me even further into photography." There are two wonderful pictures of Carl, one at a concert in Anaheim, California, and another on a beach in Hawaii that shows Andrews' true ability to quickly compose a shot, which brings intimacy to her work. A difficult task since many of these images were captured in very public places.
It wasn't long after Radle and Andrews split up, that Andrews met Ringo Star. She had moved to Los Angeles and hooked up with May Pang. "This was at the time that John Lennon was separated from Yoko Ono, about 18 months or so, which ended up being a very creative time for John when he met, and fell in love with May Pang. This was also the time that I met the two-time Grammy winner Harry Nilsson while I was working for Lou Adler. One evening, at Peter Lawford's beach house, May and John brought Ringo over, and with a wink, introduced us. I later found out Ringo has asked for this introduction. We started dating in the fall of 1974, and shared a house in L.A. by 1974. His three children would often visit - those were great times for friends and family. I was in love with Ringo, and I quickly learned he really had to be looked after and protected. Sure, he could be a jerk at times, but we had a place in popular culture history that was immeasurable. Ringo's kids are all grown up now - Lee, the youngest, is in her late 30s." Looking through the book, there are some great shots of that time - Ringo telling stories to the kids at bed time (page 57); at the Hunter's Inn, Devon (page 60); and the portrait of Ringo, back-lit by the sun and in soft focus on page 215. There's a dreaminess in that photograph, that you often see in Andrews' photos, which gives certain images a surrealness or dreaminess that adds to the fantasy life she lead. You get a bit more of that, but perhaps a little more deliberate on pages 208-9, where you see an image of male hands with an afternoon drink on a Monte Carlo balcony. This same work was used for the Bad Boy album cover. There's another Monte Carlo shot which I love because it looks so much like those times, or at least the way it was portrayed by others. It's on page 202, and it shows George Harrison, Jackie Stewart (the famous racing driver) and Ringo in 1977 in for the Grand Prix. You can tell the photograph is posed, yet there is enough lack of formality to make it fun.
Andrews always seemed to be going back and forth between the thoughtful, more planned shots to the spontaneity of quickly capturing the moment. "One evening, as we often did, Ringo and I were looking at a bunch of my new slides. At one point, he just blurted out - "Let's get some lights" and soon, the house became more of a studio." You can really see Andrews' understanding of lighting effects on page 63, where Ringo is backlit and looking very saintly in his robe and crown. I also like the way Andrews handles natural light, shadow and texture in the nine intimate and rare portrait portraits of Keith Moon on page 124.
"When we were in New York the winter of 1977, and staying at the Plaza Hotel, there was the famous blizzard of '77. I remember looking out the window periodically for two days, to find people going about their business on cross country skis. We were in town, and we wanted to shoot the album cover for Ringo the Fourth. Ringo said he wanted a medieval theme for the cover. Rita Wolf and I went out and picked up some props, swords, chain, and with a little flash on my camera we went to work. At one point, I suggested to Rita, that she get into stockings, red heels and a sexy teddie and hop up onto Ringo's shoulders. The frontal view of her legs around Ringo was the front cover, and I just turned them around for the back cover. Very sexy." Andrews' book, "A Dose of Rock 'n' Roll," which focuses much of it's attention on the 1970s, also has some classic rock and roll photographs that she made much later. The color image of Leon Russell performing in a concert, in Moscow in 1987, on page 30, and Edgar Winter, same place, same year (page 180) compare favorably to any great iconic rock and roll photograph. On the next page, 181, is a timeless and fun image of Billy Vera in Hollywood, in 1979, which plays with patterns, color and composition.
Andrews' studio and home is now in Nashville, Tennessee. She works mostly with independent musicians as an image consultant and photographer. She lives there with her husband of fifteen years, entrepreneur Eddie Barnes. Andrews' book is a sincere attempt to share a look into pop culture, mostly of the 1970s, but in a more intimate and relaxed way. "Fashion, music, hair styles, life style, it was all about those times, special and unique to those times. And they were also good and wholesome times. My job was to keep some semblance of normalcy for Ringo, which gave us both the grounding we needed."
In addition to her limited addition book which can be found at www.daltonwatson.com , Andrews' has two important exhibitions this year. From June 11-17, she has a show with May Pang at June Kelly Gallery in SOHO. The exhibition is called "John Lennon and Ringo Starr: A Time Remembered." In July, the second exhibition will be titled "A Dose of Rock & roll, and a pinch of Country," and will be held at the Tennessee State Museum. - D. Dominick Lombardi
Mr. Lombardi is an artist with representation in Kasia Kay Art Projects and in Chicago, Van Brunt Gallery in Beacon, NY, and ADA gallery in Richmond, VA; a writer with Sculpture, Sculpture Review, DART, and NYARTS; and an independent curator.