“I didn’t know at the time that my first Rolling Stone Magazine assignment photographing Tom Waits would be one of the most memorable photo sessions of my career. Arriving at the Tropicana Hotel in West Hollywood in 1977 where Tom Waits lived in a little bungalow in the back… a very crowded and congested space. I didn’t know much about Tom at the time but not before too long I knew that this was not going to be easy to pull off. A little nervous to say the least armed with my Nikon F camera and some assorted lenses.”
“I placed Tom in an outdoor lawn chair that really looked a little odd inside the room but after awhile and looking around at all the eclectic furnishings and decor it looked pretty good through the camera. The image that was published in Rolling Stone was my first setup… I couldn’t get any eye contact from Tom so I’m basically lying on the floor shooting up so he would be looking at me. I remember a quote from him early in the shoot “Mitchell you’d be better off taking pictures of landscapes then taking pictures of me”. When I first saw the photo in the magazine I was quite happy about the results.”
“Tom had a very dusty piano in the corner of the room and that image is also one of my favorites. We then left the Tropicana and started driving around Hollywood stopping at certain locations which led to personally my all-time favorite image of Tom with the two kids. What made the photo so appealing here is this tall man dressed all in black and the kids could not care less..they paid no attention to him. Eventually Electra Records cut out the image of Tom and made it a standup poster in the record stores… I also won a contest with this image from Bam Magazine. I eventually got one of the standup posters that was life size… to this day I have no idea what happened to it.”
“After leaving the location with the kids I found a few more stops that were pretty interesting but it was really difficult to beat the first two images. When people come to my studio for a shoot I give them a tour of my work and Tom gets rave reviews… I have two very large framed photos of the lawn chair shot and of course the black and white one with Tom and the kids. Later on I shot Tom with the Patti Smith Group and Iggy Pop.
All of my Tom Waits prints are for sale and I am currently working on a book with about ten Waits images. I’ve been doing Photography for about 40 years and I will never ever forget this experience.”
(Photo credit: Kind permission of Mitchell Rose)