Five mintues with legendary Sydney rock’n’roll photographer Tony Mott

An avid traveller, Tony was born in Sheffield, England. He trained as a chef before relocating to Australia in 1976 and opening a restaurant in Armidale, NSW. After his visa ran out he worked as a chef on a cruise ship, where he fell in love with the art of photography while documenting the places he passed through. In the early 80s, he became a fixture on the Sydney rock scene, and soon began snapping the underground bands of that era. A book compiling Tony’s best shots has just been released, called Rock’N’Roll Photography is the New Trainspotting ($65 + $10 postage from www.tonymott.com).

Who taught you how to photograph?

I had an art student friend in Sheffield called Paul the Gut – he was a big drinker. He did amazing black and white portraits and he taught me how to process and print. Taking the actual portraits was all self-taught through trial and error. I tried a lot and made a lot of errors.

Tell us about starting out as a rock photographer.

I went to see the Divinyls a lot at the Piccadilly Hotel in Kings Cross and basically learnt how to take live shots by following Chrissie Amphlett around. I didn’t realise at the time that she is the best female performer ever – she still is.

Who are you favourite Australians to photograph?

Chrissie, Tex Perkins and Tim Rogers. They are all characters and they lend themselves to the camera by hamming it up. In Chrissie’s case, she intuitively knows what will look good. Tex and Tim are true rock’n’roll stars.

Is there anyone you’ve shot who’s too rock’n’roll?

Keith Richards. But that’s why he’s Keith. He lives it, breathes it, smells of it.

What’s a fail-safe tip for taking a great portrait?

Never treat your subject as a model, make them comfortable. How? With humour, alcohol and sex. The last bit fails more often than not, in fact it always fails but it’s still a dream of mine.

What Australian locations do bands like to be photographed in?

When overseas bands tour here the obligatory tourist photo is often called for. Overseas press love seeing the Opera House, Harbour Bridge and even koalas.

But it’s funny how Australians are embarrassed to be photographed in front of their own iconic images. No Sydney band in front of the Opera House, no Melbourne band on a tram.

What’s your favourite Australian destination to photograph?

The Kimberley and The Olgas because they are so alien to anything I’d ever seen. You can’t help but be impressed by these f-ing big rocks in the middle of nowhere.