Famed photographer John Rowlands isn’t just a National treasure, he’s a global treasure and Canada is proud to call him a Native Son. John has photographed such legendary performers as the Beatles, David Bowie, the Rolling Stones, the Who, Rush, Kiss, Sam Cooke, Linda Ronstadt, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Gordon Lightfoot, Glen Campbell, Leonard Cohen, and of course Elvis Presley and too many more too mention.
John recalls how he got started in the photography world.” I was a 13 year old living in Ottawa, Canada and I borrowed my Dad’s camera and went to see Brenda Lee perform. I took pictures of her show and when the set was over, I went backstage to try and talk to her. I knocked on the door and her mother answered. I asked her to tell Brenda how much I enjoyed her show. Her Mom said “Tell her yourself , she’s right here”. I talked to her and told her I had a whole roll of shots that I’d send to her. She liked the shots and I was paid the princely sum of $35. Doesn’t sound like much but in 1960 gold was $32 an ounce so I was paid more than the price of an ounce of gold. I used the money to buy a knock off Gretsch guitar, I think I paid $30 for it.
“ His only regret from that day? “ I used all the film taking live shots and didn’t get any shots of Brenda in the dressing room.”
In 1965 John was at a concert with Canada’s answer to the Beatles, Montreal’s J.B and the Playboys and founding member of the Playboys , guitarist Bill Hill recalls the event,“This guy knocked on our dressing room door and said ‘ I’m John Rowlands, can I take some pictures of you guys?’ We of course agreed and John became an instant friend. And over the years he captured some great shots of the band. I’m happy to say we are great friends to this day. He’s an excellent photographer and an even better human being.”
In the 70’s John had taken some shots of Elvis concert in Detroit for RCA Canada. Ed Preston was working at RCA in Toronto and had some RCA New York guys coming to town for a meeting. He had John’s Elvis photos blown up and placed in plain view for the New Yorkers to see. Ed explains, “I knew these were great shots and wanted these guys to see them. When they saw them they said
“those a great shots of Elvis, we’ve never seen them before.” I said ‘yeah I sent our guy to Detroit to get them. The next Elvis show in Buffalo John was invited to be the official photographer.”
And John Rowland says, “Thanks to Ed Preston I had a long and prosperous run taking shots of Elvis Presley and it opened the door to a whole world of great acts being aware of me.”
Ed Preston summed up John Rowlands unique skills in a story he told about a press gathering for one of his RCA acts. The band said to Ed, “Would have been nice if you had hired a photographer.” Ed pointed out , “John has been here the whole time taking pictures,” And in Ed’s words that was part of the rare talent John had. “He captured great photos and candid un-posed pictures because you didn’t know he was there.”
John’s famous profile shot of David Bowie from 1976, dubbed by Bowie himself “The Archer,” was used as the iconic display image for the 2013 “David Bowie Is…” exhibition organized by England’s Victoria & Albert Museum, which subsequently toured the United States and Canada. John had suffered a serious stroke the year before, but was recovered enough to visit the show.
So with all the praise and applause it’s time to give john a hand of a different kind. He needs our help. After a series of strokes, this Canadian master photographer needs support with daily living and with cataloguing his millions of unique images as a national cultural heritage. And to compound the problem john has suffered two more strokes, which have weakened him, impaired his mobility, and at least for the time being cost him the use of one hand. As a result, he is more than ever in need of help. But today, because of Mr. Rowlands’ fragile health the future of this unique Canadian cultural heritage is imperiled.
His assets and merchandising manager, Sandra Mendez Rosenbaum, has begun a Facebook fundraiser for him. The funds are required to cover expenses like a new computer adequate to the cataloguing project, and at least a part-time assistant. Together with John’s friend, the legendary Canadian rock promoter Nick Panaseiko, Ms. Rosenbaum is working to draw the attention of the provincial and national governments, libraries and archives to Mr. Rowlands and his extraordinary legacy. John Rowlands is a national treasure, and his photographs are an irreplaceable treasure trove.
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Thanks John Rowlands for all the memories you’ve captured and we look forward to seeing you back in good health and you’re archiving completed.