The Lost and Found Jimi Hendrix

Guest Post by Michael Berkofsky

With Jimi’s Birthday upon us, I thought it would be fitting to describe the back story on how I came to meet and photograph arguably the most talented instrumentalist the world has seen.

Jimi Hendrix - Michael Berkofsky

The editor of Rave, Terry, called me at the Covent Garden Studio,
“Mike have you heard ‘Hey Joe’ by Jimi Hendrix? It’s moving up the charts, it’s at 37 today.”

“Can you photograph Jimi at 3.00pm this afternoon? He’s got an interview after that, you will only have 30 minutes, can you do it?”

I had just heard Hey Joe in the car that morning. I was a young upstart East End Kid trying to make it as a photographer, I couldn’t let a chance like this go.

We could smell a cloud of Jimi’s petunia perfume, it hit the 6th floor studio before he walked in.

He was a vision wearing a crimson Napoleonic velvet jacket, looking very imposing.

His skin was light – that is not very black though with a hint of gold and red, I thought he may be part American Indian. Jimi told me he was 24, I told him I was 22.

Jimi was surprisingly shy.

“Where’s your guitar Jimi? I heard your record, it’s great.”

“No sir I want to show off my ring.”

He held it at arms length in front of his face. “Jimi, its YOU they want.”

As I looked through the borrowed Hasselblad I could see his black Afro disappear into the blue background. I decided to put a strobe behind his head and found a rarely used deep red theatrical filter in the filter bin in order to match his jacket.

I showed Jimi the polaroid, state of the art in 1967 and he loved it.

When we’d finished the shoot I had convinced myself I’d gone over the top and ruined my career. First job and I had gone Hollywood.

Recently a well known art expert pronounced it ‘Christ-like’ and ‘Iconic’.

Rave liked the pictures and promised me they would give me the transparencies back but they never did. I just kept the clip test.

Other photographers were also complaining about not getting back their film including shots of the early Beatles, the Stones, Eric Clapton.

Recently we heard that years ago there had been a flood in the basement of Tower House, it had been a dark kept secret that the rats ate everyone’s film.

I became a busy photographer. I moved around a lot and I mislaid the clip test. I knew I had it somewhere so I didn’t freak out just then.

Around 1980 I was shooting TV and film commercials and by 1984 I had my own
production company in Los Angeles.

I was still wondering where the clip test was, I would search through my Hasselblad format work regularly as if it was going to reappear back by magic.

In 1994 we were rocked by the Santa Monica earthquake!

As soon as the ground settled my long time assistant Robbie and I went to our storage place near where the 10 freeway came down.

I had to throw a lot of vintage photographs away.

Robbie and I split up boxes of transparencies and negatives.

I took the Hasselblad film still hoping to find the lost transparency as if by magic.

The 35 mm boxes were stored in Robbie’s Santa Monica garage before the aftershock.

It was November 2010, 25 years after the quake when I had a call from Robbie, “Mike I’m clearing out my garage and I have 3 boxes of yours.
Do you want them?”

I drove straight over there.

I checked the boxes when I got them home, they were absolutely covered in slime and fungus.

There were many sheets of transparencies and Kodachrome 35 mm boxes.

I eventually came across a sheet with some badly affected Uschi Obermeier shots and on that sheet there was Jimi hidden away covered in …shit!

As you can imagine – I was very excited to find my clip test.

He’d been put into a 35 mm Kodachrome mount, inside the mount was the rest of the clip test.

Fungus just love hot damp cardboard and the paper tape holding the clip test down.

I worked on it, washing and scanning it many times, worried that the emulsion might float off from excess cleaning..

Just as well the original Kodak Ektachrome 120 frame of film is starting to fade.

Happy Birthday Jimi

The Lost and Found Jimi Hendrix photographic prints are for sale.

View the pieces for sale

Photographic prints are on Fuji Gloss 30 x 25 inches (76.3 x 63.5 cm).