Ever since the birth of Rock and Roll, behind the scenes there have always been the shooters, the camera guys with the long lens photographing the musical gods in action. From its earliest days, when William “Red” Robertson captured a young sensuous, gyrating Elvis Presley on a Tampa stage in 1955, to today’s photographers shooting our musical idols on stage and behind the scenes, rock and roll photographers have provided us with the moments we remember long after the show is over. In some cases, those behind the lens have become famous themselves like Bob Gruen, Lynn Goldsmith, Jim Marshall and Robert M. Knight.
At almost 60 years old, when the film was made, Robert M. Knight is still photographing rock concerts. It’s a career that has lasted more than 40 years. With his extensive catalogue, consisting of more than 200,000 photos, Knight began as an obsessed teenager listening to the forbidden sounds (he grew up in a religious family home in Honolulu where his father was a minister) of rock and roll. His way to get close to his music idols was to photograph them. He saved up for a camera and suddenly, and sometimes to his own amazement, found himself up front in the photographers pit, even getting personal with many of his rock idols like The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Jeff Beck and ZZ Top. Knight was one of the first professional photographers to shoot Jimi Hendrix and he was absolutely the last to photograph Stevie Ray Vaughn, who became a friend, on the final day of his life during his last concert.
Rock Prophecies follows Knight who at this stage of his career is looking for new and young acts that he can help break into the big time. He succeeds with Australia’s Sick Puppies and as the film ends his focus is on a young blues guitar player named Tyler Dow Bryant who is knee deep in talent. The film is interesting, filled with stories that are a rock music fan’s fantasy. It is even more powerful when the filmmakers focus on Knight’s private life, specifically as he became the sole responsible person to support his Alzheimer stricken mother (father previously passed away) with monthly bills totaling close to $9,000 a month. We are privy to moments when he visits his mother that are emotionally moving and sad. It’s heartbreaking to see a once vibrant person reduced to childlike behavior. Knight was offered $3.5 million for his complete archive of negatives but turned it down. He realized the money would solve the financial problems of taking care of his mother, but could not part with his lifetime of photographs. He does eventually come to make a deal with the Jimi Hendrix estate to sell them the copyright of his Hendrix photos yet receive enough income from them to comfortably take care of his ill mother’s needs.
Knight is an interesting character and there is a lot of backstage behind the scene looks at the rock world to make you droll over, but don’t expect anything in the way of gossip. This is all about the music and the photographs. We do get to meet one of rock music’s premiere photographers, an idol to even Knight. The great Jim Marshall allows Knight and his wife to visit. For those unfamiliar with Jim Marshall, well he has taken some of the most iconic photographs in music including the famous shot of Jimi Hendrix setting his guitar on fire during his performance at the Monterey Pop festival. He was the only photographer allowed backstage at The Beatles final concert, and he was the chief photographer at the Woodstock Festival. His photographs grace more than 500 albums covers including the Allman Brothers Live at the Fillmore East cover. Even if you don’t know Jim Marshall you know his work. Annie Leibovitz once called Marshall THE rock and roll photographer. Knight is not in Marshall’s league and he just about admits that when he and his wife are granted the visit to Marshall’s apartment, but his work is intriguing. Rock Prophecies is, like its subject, straight forward, a documentary of an interesting and unique artist.