Roger Kasparian, Magic Sixties

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French photographer working his magic in the mid sixties, with an archive covering British, US and French artists, including Beatles, Beach Boys, Stones, The Who, Serge Gainsbourg, Francoise Hardy and more…

Roger Kasparian was born on 12 January 1938 in Paris’s 14th arrondissement. His father was already a photographer and had created his own studio (studio Boissieres in Montreuil, just outside Paris) in 1945. Aged 16, Roger joins his father’s studio where he learns all aspects of the craft of photography for the next four years. At 20, he is drafted for the “Algeria war” and has to leave France. His visits back are infrequent, and he stays in Algeria for three years until 1961.

In November 1961, during military leave, he is admitted at the military hospital of Val de Grace. In hospital, he meets Jean-Dominique Kieffer Turian. A few months later, Roger is making the transition back to his normal life and out walking in Paris with a friend. By chance he meets Jean-Dominique, who is now a freelance reporter for the daily newspaper “Paris Jour”. Jean-Dominique is looking for a photographer with a car. That night, Jean Dominique (his pen name) takes Roger to the Bana Club where Claude Chabrol (a film director from the Nouvelle Vague) is dining with friends. Roger take some pictures, and his first picture is published the day after in Paris-Jour.

Roger works with Jean Dominique until 1963, and subsequently he works as a freelance photographer. At the same time, a whole generation of young French musicians are being deeply influenced by the music coming from the USA and Great Britain: they are know as the “yé-yés”. These artists are trying to record their own songs or are making French language covers of popular hits. Roger is from the same generation and feels that something is happening. He contacts every record company in order to meet their new artists at the very beginning of their careers. He begins to sell his pictures to different newspapers: France-Soir, Stern, Bonjour Les Amis, and Ciné Magazine. He also sells his pictures to the record companies to use for the promotion of young artists and for the picture sleeve of their records: The Animals, Marianne Faithfull, Claude François, The Spotnicks, Johnny Hallyday, Ronnie Bird… and many more.

Roger recalls: The most interesting character I photographed in those days was probably Serge Gainsbourg. All these new bands were quite easy to work with, since we were all innocents and the purpose was to do the best pictures for them but also for me. Serge Gainsbourg was a little bit older. He had become a key part of the Rive Gauche scene ,where he first started, but he was bottoming when I met him. He had also the feeling that all these new rhythms from US and UK would definitely change the music industry and Philips/Fontana (the label he was signed on) had already asked him to work on songs for these new french “idols”. So he called me in order to make some pictures for the press, he knew pretty well what image he wanted to show, really easy to picture. By the end of the day, he told me “they want me to make some “soup” (easy songs) for the Yéyés , I will then I will buy me a Rolls Royce and write erotic songs”. It was in 1963 ! ”

The key radio station for this generation of musicians and fans is Europe N°1, where a live show “Musicorama” is promoting new singers and bands. Roger becomes one of the official photographers of this show, and here he will capture the performances of visiting British and American artists such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Little Stevie Wonder, The Kinks, The Who, The Troggs, The Beach Boys, The Animals…and established artists such as Gene Vincent, Wanda Jackson and Jerry Lee Lewis.

Despite the innocence of the period, games are still played. Here’s Roger: “When The Beatles arrived in January 1964 for their dates in Paris, they landed at Le Bourget airport. They were coming from England where Beatlemania had already started, but in France, the fans could not access them since the police has formed a cordon preventing them getting close. So they went off the plane, came in the lobby of the airport, saw that nobody was running to them (like in “A Hard Day’s Night”). Brian Epstein went to see the police to tell them that this was ok, the Beatles went back to the tarmac of the airport, came once again in the lobby running from the fans that were allowed now to run after them. I am still laughing about that.”

Throughout the 1960s Roger divides his time between Paris and the French Riviera where he visit his mother. He typically stays in the South for whole summers. Most of the yé-yé singers stop there for their summer tours, so Roger spends time with them, before, during and after their shows, looking for more natural pictures.

 By the end of the 60’s, the yé-yé wave starts to slow down, and in 1970, Roger decides to stop working as a freelance photographer and takes over his father’s photographic studio. He puts the showbiz world behind him, and becomes a typical local photographer, taking pictures of marriages, birthdays and municipal councils, and he volunteers to be the photographer of the Armenian community.

Meanwhile, his classic 1960s music archives lay undisturbed – until now, when they are finally put under the spotlight they deserve.