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Remembering Guy Webster Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

20 February 2019

Guy Webster, one of the early innovators of rock-and-roll photography, died on Feb. 5 in Ojai, Calif. He had been suffering from diabetes and liver cancer in the months before his death.

Born to Oscar and Grammy Award-winning songwriter Paul Francis Webster and his wife Gloria, Webster graduated from Beverly Hills High School before briefly attending Whittier College. He interrupted his studies to join the Army.

When he was asked if he knew anything about photography, he lied. Thinking it better to shoot than get shot, he boned up on the subject at the base library. By the time he was discharged he had become the head of the base's photo department.

His father wanted him to work on Wall Street, he said. So when he declined an offer to enroll at Yale so he could study photography at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, he was on his own.

He planned to be a fine arts photographer but one day record producer Terry Melcher suggested he do an album cover for the Rip Chords. "It was for their Three Window Coupe album, with their song Hey Little Cobra," Webster recalled. "Terry actually got me started thinking, 'I can shoot some album covers and make some money.'"

'Guy was a friend to everyone.'

He took his approach from watching film directors work. "Alone, with the actor, they could get a lot more than if he's in the group," Webster once told Ibarionex Perello. So he shot individual portraits of band members first, disarming them and getting them to relax in front of the camera.

From 1964 to 1971 Webster shot cover photos for albums by the Beach Boys, Love, Captain Beefheart, Simon & Garfunkel, the Doors, the Byrds, the Rolling Stones, Van Dyke Parks, the Mamas and the Papas, Nico and more.

He left the country in 1971 to protest the Nixon administration, studying art history at the University of Florence while building a large collection of vintage Italian motorcycles.

When he returned to the U.S, he began photographing celebrities, building a list of portraits which came to include Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Paul Simon, Randy Newman, Harry Nilsson, Herb Alpert, Jerry Lee Lewis and more. In addition to his rock celebrities, Webster shot portraits of Jack Nicholson, Barbra Streisand, Jane Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Igor Stravinski, Truman Capote, Zubin Mehta, Jack Nicholson, Candice Bergen, Michelle Pfeiffer, Ted Danson and more. His presidential subjects included Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.

In 2014 Kenneth and Harvey Kubernik published a retrospective of Webster's work in Big Shots: Rock Legends and Hollywood Icons with a forward written by Brian Wilson.

In an interview with Variety, his daughter Sarah said, "My dad was loved by all. He was a people's person and touched the lives of so many."

While he kept a studio in Venice, he moved to Ojai in 1980 where he raised two daughters from his second wife Leone. In addition to his interest in motorcycles, he was an avid golfer and tennis player and held court over coffee first at the Ojai Coffee Roasting Co. and later at NoSo Vita telling stories about Hollywood.

According to friends, he would invite people to join the group because "he couldn't stand to see anyone sitting alone." Donna Granata, who profiled him in 2009, recalled, "Anyone could join the conversation and introduce themselves to him and he would be very gracious and inviting. Guy was a friend to everyone."

And he took their portraits. Despite suffering a stroke in 2015, he continued shooting and last month the Porch Gallery exhibited his Ojai Behind the Mask, featuring those portraits of local residents.

A special fund has been set up in his memory to support the Oak Grove School in Ojai. Donations may be made to the Guy Webster Photography Fund at Oak Grove School, 220 W. Lomita Ave., Ojai, CA 93023-2244.

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