Peter Hince is a London based photographer and writer. Extensively photographing the music industry in the 1970s and 80s, Peter is an industry icon with clients ranging from Braun and British Airways to Jaguar and Virgin. Peter also worked closely with the British rock band Queen, publishing a memoir on his time with the band, Queen Unseen: My Life with the Greatest Rock Band of the 20th Century. We asked Peter about where his love for photography began, his time touring with Queen and making what he’s learnt through his extensive career.
You’ve written a book about your time touring with Queen as head of the tour crew, and you’ve also exhibited some of the photos you took during this time. When did you start to take your photography seriously, and was there a trigger for this?
I’ve always been interested in photography. I started taking it seriously in my late teens. However, when I was touring for the first time with Queen in Japan when I was about 20. I bought a Nikon camera as you could get a good deal in Japan, quite cheap. I started to take photos of the band while they were recording, rehearsing or doing some videos. I started to build an archive and got quite confident. They liked my work and wanted me to do it a bit more professionally. Obviously I didn’t get paid to begin with as it wasn’t my job but it’s very lucrative now. I would share my photos with them so unfortunately some images got lost, but there were some I have kept for my private collection. Right now, I’m working on a big book: a 600 page special using loads of my photos. The film Bohemian Rhapsody helped boost the profile and interest in the band again and, therefore, my work as well. It’s been great! I’ve been selling more prints and book sales have gone up. It’s been translated into lots of different languages such as Japanese, Brazilian, German, Russian and Italian.
Thinking about taking photos at big live events, what are the challenges and what’s your secret to taking great photos at gigs?
I didn’t take photos at gigs as I was working as part of the crew primarily. I fortunately did get the opportunity to once or twice, but my main job was to look after Fred and George. Giving them drinks, cues, microphones. I had to be on it 100% so it wouldn’t have gone down well if I was thought to be slacking. When they were doing videos that was sort of considered my downtime, so I took most of my photos then.
You’re also a fan of scuba diving and have had quite a few covers with your underwater images. Can you tell us a little bit about your experience working underwater, and what drew you to working underwater?
I like scuba diving. I first did it in 1980 while we were touring. We had a break in Bermuda or Hawaii and tried it then it carried on from there. In the late ‘80s I got qualified and spent lots of time around the world doing it. I bought a basic camera as I didn’t want to get all the kit, just a plain camera with black and white film. People liked the photos, so I did exhibitions around the world, won awards and even licensed t-shirts. I continued to dive but haven’t for a long time now. My partner dives also so we may get back into it when we have time, but it would be for the joy of it rather than for work, despite still getting requests. At the time it was a nice outlet, a hobby from the chaos.
What’s an exciting commission you’ve worked on?
In the ‘90s I did a Cadbury Schweppes annual report, and also worked for Unilever, going around the world for three months in business class. Very hard work. The Music business gave me a lot of experience that helped with photography as I was responsible for things such as equipment and shipping. I gained the experience of putting a shoot together with no problems. Whereas others hadn’t gained that knowledge yet, such as having spare equipment, and I always had a “the show must go on” attitude so always had a backup plan. I also knew how to budget and deal with the politics and logistics. I got a reputation for being reliable, and people liked my work. Because I came into it from the music, I wouldn’t consider myself to be an “arty farty” photographer. I pride myself on doing a job on time and to budget, and I’m hard working. Back in the day you had to test film, check and then run again. It’s a different world now. You can email prints and it’s instant. I would send certain aspects back and then the rest. If there were courier problems, you still had some here. I knew the best labs to process the film around the world. Now doing the talks, putting on a show, I’ve learnt how to reach the audience. I learned a lot of that from Fred “you do it with quality and style”, and “don’t accept second best”. He used to raise everyone up, keep you on your toes. There was always the attitude of “you stay up till it’s done”. This is the job, photography isn’t easy. You have to make sacrifices. My partner is an actress, so she gets it. The talks I do are interesting to those who lived through that time. I’m 65 now but when I started, I was a baby. There’s some who remember those times and they want to hear about it and read about it. At talks I have the screen with images and rock music playing. Talk the first half and then Q&A in the second. I go to a lot of music colleges and similar places, and it’s primarily word of mouth. I don’t really do photography as much anymore, as I don’t have as much heart in it and I don’t have all the top end digital gear. It was a different era back then too.
Who or what inspires you?
All kinds of things. Travelling, music, nature. It’s hard to say one thing. Fred was my biggest inspiration. Bowie as well, but he had a very different style of working.
What piece of kit could you not do without?
My phone these days. You needed so much kit back then, and I had lots of special bits. I guess, really, I couldn’t have lived without my assistant.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Enjoy it more. At the end of the day, it’s a job. Music, film, it’s still a job, and not always glamorous. I got stressed occasionally as I wanted to do my best. At the time you’re doing what you’re doing.
Do you think putting the pressure on helped you achieve your best?
I’ve never been super creative, but I had a style that agencies liked at a high level of work. My personal work (underwater) was my creative work and writing. Soaking in that creativity can be contagious. We were young and got on with it, having fun when we could. I look back fondly on music and photography. I wouldn’t go back as it was a unique time, it’s very different now. Bands are of their era. You won’t get another Queen or Beatles. They are influenced by their time. If Mozart had the internet who knows what he would have done.
What’s next for you?
Mainly the talks. I’m doing more corporate talks. When I’m next in London I will let you know. I’ve been to the Union club a few times with Tom, and I’m a Long-term member and shareholder. They’re great, fun evenings, lots of food, packed! basically you can let rip and relax. I’m still writing, projects, sitcoms, movies, traveling, and enjoying life. My partner would agree.
Have you ever had to make an insurance claim?
I have. Almost just as I signed up with Williamson Carson. It was a Renault shoot in the south of France. The car was on a little beach and I had to wade into the water to photograph surfers. The Tripod legs were in bags and we created a tunnel where we could pass film back and forth from the beach. A wave came and the tripod toppled with my Hasselblad on it. I wasn’t quick enough to catch it, so it fell into the water. Thankfully I had a spare camera and lens so it didn’t stop the shoot but when I got back, I called Williamson Carson to tell them what had happened. It was no problem. I was told to go get it fixed and we’ll sort it. With my insurers before Williamson Carson my studio had a break in over the weekend. My assistant discovered it while I was away, so she called saying what had happened. I told her to log what had been taken, call the police and hire a security guard to stay there while it was vulnerable. Insurer came over to inspect it like a loss adjuster with an attitude of “it’s your fault, you could have done more”. They did pay up but wouldn’t pay for the security guard. My thinking was that the thieves could have come back and taken more! They only took smaller stuff as it was on the second floor and used nearby roofs to gain access. In my opinion I acted responsibly as it could have been a much bigger claim if they came back, but they still said they wouldn’t pay. So, I said bye bye to them. Tom had contacted me before so I called him up and said could you do my insurance. That was back in the ‘80s and I have been with Williamson Carson ever since. I also had an underwater camera that got flooded. When they get flooded, they are ruined. 22 years ago, that was. My lens got damaged once. Tom said do this and that and it was sorted, replaced without any fuss. I’ve always had a good relationship with Williamson Carson, they’re always great and recommend them to all.