An interview with…Bill Bernstein

Starting out photographing for a weekly newspaper in New York City, Bill Bernstein has worked his way to the very top of his game and is now regarded as being a foremost world-class portrait shooter.

Bill started out working for The Village Voice, a weekly newspaper based in New York City. He soon discovered a penchant for portrait photography, and has since photographed so many people, ranging from celebrities, to members of the public, to corporate businesspeople, to his own family.

Bill can also add to his extensive CV that he has worked for Sir Paul McCartney. Bill has been invited along on all of Paul’s tours in order to come and capture the madness. Having met Paul over 20 years ago, Bill has an all access pass; meaning him and his camera can go where they want, when they want.

In 2004 Bill and Paul collaborated on a book, Each One Believing. The book documents Pauls 2002/3 Back in the US and Back in the World tours. It gives the reader a unique insight into the mechanics of touring, offering hundreds of images of Paul, the band and the crew on stage, off stage and backstage, as well as extensive interviews with all involved.

I managed to speak to Bill and ask him a few questions:

Has photography always been something you’ve wanted to do?

I started my career in graphic design but found photography to be more exciting and challenging. I quit my graphics job and started freelancing for The Village Voice in NYC in the late 70’s.

How do you prefer to shoot? Do you like setting up shots in a kind of studio environment or do you prefer to be the fly-on-the-wall and capture the action as its happening?

I enjoy them both. They both offer different challenges. Studio shoot is all about manifesting a vision or idea through lighting and pose. It is a collaborative process. The other (reportage) is about finding the moments that captures the event.

What kind of cameras and lenses do you generally use?

I have used Nikon cameras since the start of my career. I generally use a wide angle zoom and a medium to telephoto zoom lens.

You’ve photographed some pretty famous people. But who’s been your favourite person to photograph?

My favourite person to photograph is my son Jackson, now seven. He’s a natural in front of the camera and I get to save moments of his childhood.

That’s such a great answer!

So how did you end up working for Sir Paul McCartney?

I was introduced to Paul by his former publicist in the US back in 1989. After a photo session in NYC Paul requested that I come out on tour with him. I have been working with him ever since.

While on tour did Paul give you a list of do’s and don’ts, or were you allowed free reign to photograph as and when you wanted to?

I was not given any restrictions whatsoever, but I had to use my better judgment and instincts to choose the things that I photographed. I needed to build trust and so I would sometimes ask if he had any objections to things that I wanted to shoot. Generally he was quite open.

Do you have any favourite pictures from the McCartney tours you’ve worked on?

Piano Point is one of my favourites. Also Lone Biker. Both show the Man, alone, in his world. Piano Point is on stage after Let It Be, and Lone Biker is Paul on a bike ride in Germany the morning before a show.

What have you got planned for the future?

I am finishing up editing and designing a photography book of images of New York City nightlife from the late 70’s. It is being published by a UK publisher and will be released in Sept 2011. These are photos that I took when I first started working for The Village Voice. They are images from The Mudd Club, Hurrah’s, Studio 54, Xenon and such. All black and white. The title is Disco’79.

It’s been a pleasure talking to you, Bill.


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