From Chapter 46: Steve Olson (Fall 2011)
Images courtesy of: Moshe Brakha
A force. Not the easiest thing to make oneself. The discipline to make that choice, not the easiest to come by. Moshe Brakha creates what others wish they could. To be imitated is the highest form of flattery, so they say. Sometimes it can be taken as just being ripped off. Within the world of photography, Moshe Brakha stands alone. Creative, original, always pushing himself to develop something that has never been done.
Steve Olson: What’s your name?
Moshe Brakha: Moshe “Hollywood” Brakha. Born in Israel, reborn on Fairfax in Hollywood.
SO: What was it like making the transition to Hollywood?
MB: In Israel, when I was in the service, I was actually into just being a soldier. I finished the Six Day War in my years and I came over to Hollywood.
SO: You were a frogman, no?
MB: I was a frogman, and I don’t remember anymore about the army because I don’t care, really. Today I know one thing: images.
SO: When did you get to Hollywood?
MB: I came in 1969. Everything was still hippie.
SO: Were you going to school?
MB: No. I was like anybody else: painting, getting small jobs. Once I picked up a camera, I never dropped it.
SO: Where did you pick up a camera, Israel or here?
MB: Here. I was lucky. When I moved here I was living next to young artists—photographers, painters—and that’s what got me into this life.
SO: Why did you go to the camera?
MB: For some reason I got the disease. I don’t see anything but images. I’m sick. I’m addicted!
SO: That isn’t sick. You followed your love and your passion.
MB: It was either this or music. So it was photography, I guess.
SO: So what year did you pick up a camera?
MB: Seventy, I had a darkroom in the garage.
SO: In Hollywood things were happening, no?
MB: It was happening, but my dream from day one was to go to Art Center [College of Design]. If I got to Art Center, I got to Mount Sinai.
Before that I got into city college, LACC. Shit if I knew English! But I got the B! [Laughs] I got the average. I got accepted into Art Center. When I finished LACC I had a solo show.
SO: What year?
MB: Seventy-two I went to Art Center, so it must be ’71.
When I was in my seventh semester, one of the teachers introduced me at Columbia Records, and they gave me my first album cover to do. I did the album Silk Degrees, Boz Scaggs, and the rest is history, because the first album cover I did went to the Grammys.
SO: And back then they paid money for album covers, because album covers were extremely important. So when you first got your check—
MB: The first one was I think $500. The biggest ever was like $1,200.
SO: But that’s a lot of money then.
MB: A lot! I didn’t have shit money, you know. More than that, I got a BMW! Without having nothing, all of a sudden I become the fucking hot record-cover guy. The hottest!
SO: What photographers did you like?
MB: In school it was always Guy Bourdin, some Irving Penn, also Weegee. That’s it. I never got into [Richard] Avedon. …Oh! And I got into Diane Arbus.
SO: The freaks.
MB: The freaks. And that’s it. I didn’t care for anything else.
SO: Name me some record covers you did.
MB: We did Richie Havens, Jackson 5, Boz Scaggs, The Ramones. Then I started to shoot all those punk people, Devo, all that era. Then I was Mr. Hollywood. I was in the club!
SO: When did you start in advertising?
MB: Jeff Weiss. When I met JW, that’s when I understood advertising. I didn’t understand that type of photography at the time. I educated by him, he educated by me, and we started to advertise. I remember in the beginning it was Richard Shoes. We used to shoot an ad every month.
SO: What year?
MB: We’re talking ’76 and up.
SO: So punk was an influence.
MB: At the same time, punk. I grabbed Jeff, I said, “Come!” Jeff used to be scared of punks. It’s the truth! [Laughs] He used to be scared to come to the clubs. Jeff was hippie. He couldn’t figure out how to relate to those clubs. It’s intimidating if you’re not into it.
SO: It was scarier back then. If you didn’t know and you went to a punk-rock show in ’77, you see freaks.
MB: You see all this banging and shmanging and all the sweat and the freaks! And “Who are you?!”
SO: But why did you like punk rock back then?
MB: It was me. It was a free expression of something radical. It was the beginning of the movement and I felt like I was part of it. I became friends with every band, of course with my camera. But I was friends with every fucking punker.
SO: There were sick ideas happening throughout that whole time with you guys and your peers.
MB: There were a few photographers.
SO: I’m not even talking photographers; I’m talking more like design and the energy of what was going on.
MB: I was very energetic and I drove a lot of energy between designers.
SO: You shoot Richard Shoes, but when did you start coming into big advertising deals?
MB: It’s all JW. When he became big, I became big. Jeff got a bigger job, I got a bigger job. When we finally got into Margeotes [MFW], then it was like, boom!
SO: Would you guys go and pitch jobs together?
MB: Yes. TDK. You did MFW from the beginning with us.
SO: Oh, I didn’t know that part. I figured MFW was happening a couple years before my arrival.
MB: You were part of the beginning, because anything we did, we did testing.
SO: The TDK test is so ill. It’s better than the actual commercial. It’s TV, shot on Super 8. It’s insane. There are no cuts.
MB: Before MFW, Jeff did a campaign on tires for Goodyear. It was beyond brilliant, and he got kicked out.
SO: They got jealous of Jeff ’cause he was so much further ahead than they were.
MB: At the time, for those people, he was punk. That’s when I met Maripol, in ’75, when I graduated and went to New York. And that’s when I got introduced to Basquiat, Blondie, Kid Creole and the Coconuts.
To read the whole article, cop Chapter 46: Steve Olson.