The rock photographer whose images of David Bowie in concert are among the most iconic in the music world has opened a gallery in King Street, Hammersmith.
W6 is a part of London with deep resonances for Denis O’Regan.
As a youngster he saw one of the Beatles’ famous Christmas shows at the Hammersmith Odeon (“Everyone threw jelly babies!”); in 1973 he was back there to see Bowie perform on the last-but-one night of his Ziggy Stardust tour; and at the height of the punk boom he was a regular at the Clarendon and the Red Cow.
Now a youthful-looking 65, Denis has turned shop space at 271 King Street, next to the Premier Inn, into an exhibition space to display images from a 45-year career photographing musicians, on stage, backstage and travelling to gigs.
Framed pictures of Bowie, Queen and the Stones fill the walls, with constantly changing digital displays broadening the range he can show, summing up the glamour and drudgery of life on the road.
How did it all start? Young Denis was working at a corner shop opposite Olympic Studios in his home town of Barnes, when a couple of young women came in to say Bowie was about to turn up to record there. He grabbed a camera and took a few shots. A career was born.
He went on to document tours by Duran Duran, Thin Lizzy, Spandau Ballet and Pink Floyd, creating along the way a vast archive of pictures that chronicle the evolution of music over the past half century.
Among his most impressive shots is a bird’s eye view of Bowie playing Milton Keynes Bowl on the Serious Moonlight tour. Long before drones, Denis (who hates heights) forced himself to climb the scaffolding to get a picture of the 63,000-strong audience stretching as far as the eye can see. It is an image you could stare at for hours.
The Denis O’Regan Gallery is a mix of retail space selling limited edition prints, books of images and signed box sets, and gallery – open to all as an art space in which to admire this intriguing genre.
It’s also Denis’s office space, and a place to dust off old negatives and contact sheets – many black and white – that haven’t seen the light of day for decades.
The gallery space is also going to be used for musician and photographer events.
From his early days with a £5 Zenit camera, taking snaps at punk gigs in west London for the music papers, to being made the official photographer on a Rolling Stones tour, Denis has loved both the travel and the interaction with musicians.
But it is for his Freddie Mercury and David Bowie pictures that Denis will live on. He travelled constantly for eight months with Bowie – a rare fellow Londoner in the inner circle.
“He wanted photos to be taken, everywhere,” said the photographer. “’Where’s Denis?’ became the phrase of the tour! He was great; really down to earth. At home he lived very modestly. He drove a Volvo.”
Nowadays, said Denis slightly wistfully, thanks to mobile phones, everyone is a photographer. “There’s no mystique any longer,” he said. “That’s been lost. What I do now is not as vital anymore.”
Rock has claimed so many of its great performers down the years, so how has Denis, travelling with the bands, managed to remain unaffected. “I just wasn’t into the drugs,” he admitted.
The Denis O’Regan gallery is open office hours during the week, and on Saturdays. Prints on sale include some that have been written on by the band members he was snapping, and contact sheets covered in evocative chinagraph pencil scrawls.
The gallery is at 271 King Street, W6 9LZ.
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