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Smiling Buttons by Gered Mankowitz

In November 1966 on a foggy London morning The Rolling Stones and a young photographer called Gered Mankowitz piled into Keith Richards’ Bentley and their manager’s Rolls Royce, after an all-night recording marathon at Olympic Studios. Their destination was Primrose Hill, a beautiful park in North London, which also happens to be the city’s highest point, and a perfect setting for a photo session.

Mankowitz recalls: “I had decided that I wanted to contribute something special to the photographs and had constructed a filter of black card, glass and Vaseline that I attached to the 50 mm lens on my Hasselblad camera. This gave the images their strange, ethereal, slightly druggy quality, with the guys dissolving into the background, and the backgrounds appearing as abstract shapes.” 1966 London was swinging and swirling in a collective trippy haze, and despite the elements and the early morning, Mankowitz wanted to capture the spirit of the times: “It was cold and damp and I knew that I wouldn’t have very long before they all got pissed off at me, so I had to work quickly,” says Mankowitz.

He shot the band in color, black and white, sitting on a bench, standing up, and at slightly different angles, each time varying the dynamic of the group. The photos reveal how the erratic Brian Jones, who started out as the bandleader, was becoming more marginalized and slowly drifting out of the picture.

The whole session took around 30 minutes and afterwards the band stumbled down the hill to the waiting cars. Later that day, Mankowitz showed the transparencies to the manager Andrew Loog Oldham who was so dazzled by the photos that he decided to put one of the shots on their forthcoming record Between the Buttons, which was released in early 1967. This photograph is a slight variation on the record cover, which is more moody, with the drummer Charlie Watts dominating the frame. Here the band is more relaxed, almost happy, and Mick is now the leader of these new cool lords of the manor.