Karl Ferris  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Karl Ferris is an English photographer/designer (b. 1948) best-known as one of the principal innovators of "psychedelic" photography. A photographer to the “British Rock Elite” - Eric Clapton, Cream, Donovan, The Hollies and Jimi Hendrix - Ferris was invited - as a style consultant and their personal photographer - to help create their public images. He was given an insider's access to the “Experience” that helped define the look of the 1960’s and influence youth culture and lifestyles worldwide.


Early Years

As a post World War II baby who grew up in Hastings, England in the 1950’s, Ferris learned two things that would later affect his life - the first being the history of Hastings, which had been conquered by the Normans in 1066. This spawned an interest in this medieval period of history and young Karl would bicycle around Norman castles fantasizing about battles, knights, chivalry and heraldry. The second thing he learned was an appreciation of art, with some of his early paintings included in a show at the Hastings Museum. He later went on to study at Hastings College of Art, focusing on the Pre-Raphaelite style of painting which would later influence his psychedelic photography of the late 1960’s.

After school, and with dreams of traveling to India, Ferris signed up as a steward on a P&O liner that went to Australia via India. After returning to England, he served two years with the Royal Air Force for his National Service (Conscription) as an aerial photographer, where he often flew in jet fighters operating the gun camera during dog fight practice. During this period he became friends with a fellow conscriptee who was a member of a Liverpool “Mersey Beat” group, and he was introduced for the first time to this type of music.

He was invited back to Liverpool to see a new group - The Beatles - who were appearing at the Cavern Club and was introduced to them there. From that point, he was hooked on “Beat” music from which The Beatles took their name.

After his military service, Ferris immigrated to Vancouver, Canada working as an assistant there to master photographer Harry Nygard. From Nygard, Karl learned the skills of composition, form and texture. He also began an involvement in the “Beatnik” lifestyle and began hanging out in coffee bars, listening to poetry readings and the progressive jazz of such artists as Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy and Ornette Coleman. He photographed his first music subjects at these gatherings for local newspapers and magazines. He also began to take fashion shots of girlfriends and models, building up a respectable portfolio. Nygard told him that he had a real talent in this area, but to further expand his portfolio, he should return to London where the “Mod” fashion scene was creating new opportunities in the world of arts, music and fashion.

In 1964 Karl returned to England and the “happening” Beat scene. Ferris received commissioned work as a fashion and cover photographer for teen magazines 19 and Petticoat and later for Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, French Mode and Marie Claire. These commissions brought him to such locations as Paris, Cannes, Munich, Ibiza and Morocco. When he wasn’t working he would join into the “Scene”, and after meeting (and eventually dating) Denmark’s top “superstar” model of the time (Maude Bertelsen), Karl was introduced to a Pop group called the “The King Bees” who invited him to sing cover versions of Rolling Stones songs with them, and so he began touring in and around Copenhagen with this group.

He eventually returned to England for a “fashion shoot” offer with Vogue. In 1966 The Beatles had just released “Rubber Soul” and Karl had the chance to meet up with their official photographer, Robert Freeman, who encouraged Ferris to experiment with different styles of images - which he promptly did – and created his unique psychedelic style. That summer on a trip to the Spanish island of Ibiza he discovered and began shooting the innovative psychedelic fashion work of designers Simon Posthuma and Marijke Koger – aka The Fool (design collective) - and these photos were eventually printed in the fashion section of The Times. This was the first time such psychedelic photography and fashions had been seen anywhere. He and The Fool were then invited to come to London to shoot some more “Psychedelic” fashion features.

From this work, Ferris received many commissions. He also began working on “Psychedelic Happening shows” during which moving images of colored liquid and photographs were projected over freeform dancers. The likes of Paul McCartney, Graham Nash, Eric Clapton, T Rex, Pink Floyd and John Lennon dropped by and began participating - by playing music - with these shows. In 1966, Ferris was also invited to do a stage "Liquid light show" for Pink Floyd, which is believed to be one of the first ever done in England.

Ferris meets Jimi Hendrix

Ferris was introduced to guitarist Jimi Hendrix in 1967 through musician/producer Chas Chandler, who had “discovered” Hendrix. Karl received the compliment of a lifetime when Hendrix remarked to him, on seeing his portfolio, “You‘re doing with photography what I’m doing with music - going far out beyond the limits and blowing minds”. Hendrix then asked Ferris to be his photographer and to re-shoot the cover for the UK version of his album “Are You Experienced” – which he was unhappy with - for the US market. Hendrix said he wanted “something psychedelic to blow the minds of the fans” and that represented his music and style.

And so Ferris began experimenting, using a giant Nikon fisheye lens and a secret Infrared film that had just been released by the military, who had used it for U2 plane spying. This film was given to him by Kodak London who had seen his color experiments going through their Lab. The manager asked Karl if he could find some way to use the Infrared film commercially, so he started using it on Fashion and Rock shoots. Kodak was so please with the results that they gave Karl his first exhibit in their London gallery. Out of this experimentation came the famous “fisheye” photograph used for Jimi’s first US record album cover, which he also designed. His images then appeared on all three US "Experience" album covers released during Hendrix’s short life - “Are You Experienced?”, “Axis Bold As Love”, “Electric Ladyland” and the Japanese "Smash Hits".

Karl went on to create the album cover images for Donovan’s “Gift From A Flower To A Garden”, “Wear Your Love Like Heaven”, “For The Little Ones” and “Hurdy Gurdy Donovan E.P.” and (again, partnering with The Fool) for The Hollies’Evolution”. He was also instrumental in creating their overall looks for the shoots, which then became their recognized public images. During the years 1967-69, Karl Ferris was one of the preferred photographers to the British rock elite, shooting also many publicity photos for them. He was called "The Icon with the Nikon" by the musicians and Press back then.

In 1968, Ferris accompanied Donovan on his U.S. tour and was commissioned by LOOK Magazine to shoot a feature article on Donovan, after which he was retained as a 'Stringer' in Europe to shoot images for music articles there. In 1969, Karl's Donovan psychedelic shots were featured in an article in TWEN, the famous German art magazine.

1970’s through 2000

Karl left London with his pregnant wife Anke in 1970 and went to live in Ibiza to bring up their son Lorien in that idyllic setting. Karl continued shooting fashion and glamour photographs for magazines in Europe and the USA. In 1980, Ferris received a commission from Playboy Magazine to photograph "Welcome Back Kotter" star Melonie Haller (John Travolta's love interest and the only female “Sweathog”) for a "Celebrity Pictorial" in the famous Bo Derek issue. In 1983, Karl married Melonie and they went to live in Hampstead, London near Karl's original 60's studio. In 1984, a daughter Melissa was born in London, and during this time in the U.K., Karl worked shooting glamour and nude photos for Oui, Club and the Raymond Revue. In 1990, Karl was commissioned by Playboy in the Netherlands and Germany to shoot glamour layouts for them. Later, in 1995, Karl and Melonie returned to the U.S. and lived in the New York area, where Melonie Haller-Ferris took on various acting rolls in film and television.

2000 to present

In 2000, Ferris returned once again to the Vancouver, Canada area and established his new studio and publishing company there. Working alongside with famed illustrator Bob Masse, Karl’s best-known works have been reproduced in a new series of posters and fine art prints that recreated promotional posters of many of the events that Ferris had photographed in the 60’s at such iconic London concert venues as the Royal Albert Hall and Saville Theatre and featuring acts such as Cream, the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Donovan. Also in 2000, Karl was commissioned to supply three of his original 1967 Hendrix photographs for cover and inside booklet of the ultra-premium "The Jimi Hendrix Experience" box set.

In 2003 Ferris began his quest to revisit a time in music that defined a generation with “The Ferris Experience Happening”. Exhibiting his famous record album cover photographs and a psychedelic multimedia video and slide show, the first of these “Happenings” opened in Vancouver, Canada at The Exhibitions Gallery. It was be the first time in 35 years that such an exhibition had been staged.

In 2005, Karl’s Happening show and photo gallery exhibit began a tour of major cities in the U.S., starting with the San Francisco Art Exchange and continuing in Toronto and other cities in 2006. Also that year, Karl was asked by the Hip-Hop group Sweatshop Union to shoot and design the album cover for their record titled United We Fall. They admired his “60s-style” approach to photography and wanted something “Beatle-esque” for their new album’s cover image.

In 2006, a feature film documentary called "Revolution" went into production (to coincide with the 40th anniversary of "the Summer of Love"). Also in 2006, Karl's film company Helixus Productions started to film a feature documentary and mini-series called "Revolution - The Cultural Revolt of the Sixties and its Continuing Legacy” which explores the origin, flowering and long-term influence of psychedelia, a subculture that in the 1960s achieved a mass influence.. This film includes over 100 interviews with many of the era’s key innovators and will show how revolutionary new art forms were created as an expression of the counterculture and utilized as a tool for tearing down the existing establishment. A sample of interviews included: musicians Donovan, Mick Fleetwood (Fleetwood Mac), Willie Nelson, Paul Kantner (Jefferson Airplane), Keith Emerson, John Densmore (Doors), Patrick Simmons (Doobie Brothers) George Hunter (Charlatans) and Mickey Jones (Dylan's 1st Electric Band), Woodstock MC Wavy Gravy. designers Alan Aldridge (Beatles), Storm Thorgerson (Pink Floyd), Alton Kelley, Stanley Mouse (Grateful Dead), Klaus Voorman (Beatles), John Van Hamersveld and The Fool (Simon and Marjke), models Patti Boyd - Harrison and Charlotte Martin, Jenny Boyd, actor/activist Peter Coyote,Summer of Love” exhibit curator Christoph Grunenberg, photographers Astrid Kirchherr (Beatles-Hamburg), Bob Seidemann, Gered Mankowitz (Rolling Stones), Bob Whitaker (Beatles) and Herb Worthington (Fleetwood Mac)and many others, The documentary is a serious investigation of the phenomenon and long-term impact of this cultural shift. In addition to the featured interviews, the film will also include music, period stock footage and current footage of locations of many of the events covered in the film (as well as many psychedelic images which are used as transitions). The film is scheduled to be released in early 2010.

In 2009, a book "The Karl Ferris Psychedelic Experience" of his Psychedelic Hendrix, Donovan, Cream, Fool and Fashion photographs (including a DVD Slide show screensaver) will be published.

Karl is also producing a Trilogy of feature films based on the biography and influence of the 15th century father of Surrealism Hieronymus Bosch. Of which he is also a Writer, Producer, Director and Art Director.

Currently a TV documentary on Karl's work and life "The Karl Ferris Experience" is being finished.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Karl Ferris" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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