In early 2018, an email popped into my inbox inviting me to an exhibition at London’s Lomography Gallery Store.
The picture for the invite featured one of rock music’s most recognisable names, taking a mirror selfie with my favourite cameras: Brian May with his Pentax ES II in the early 1970s. Lomography were hosting an exhibition of his stereo photography from Queen’s heyday in the 1970s and 80s, which he had turned into a book.
In 20-odd years as a music journalist, most of them in London, I’d never managed to interview Queen’s guitarist. But now I knew that if I found myself standing next to him, I would have the perfect icebreaker.
Fast forward a few weeks later. I’m stood next to Brian May with a glass of fizz in my paw. It turns out I have the perfect icebreaker.
I cut to the chase and tell him it was great to see a pic of him with my favourite camera. He didn’t miss a beat. The next 10 minutes was a level of Pentax nerdery that would do camera repairers proud, Brian finding exact photos from his book to illustrate the “sweet spot” when it came to using the 3D stereo splitter (an attachment that turned the humble screw-mount SLR into a stereo camera). It was further proof of my not-at-all scientific theory that the nicest photographers shoot Pentax (furious emails to the usual address, please).
He also told me there was another stereo photography book coming out before the end of the year – this time turning the race to the Moon into stereo photography.
My day job is at one of the BBCs long-read and features sites – BBC Future. It’s a site that covers science, technology and health – everything from the space race to climate change to how the bacteria in hour hit affect your health. Here was a chance to talk to Brian May about two of his other passions – photography and space exploration.
His publishing PR set the wheels in motion, and some months after the exhibition launch me and my colleagues Howard and Alan found ourselves in Brian’s publishing HQ to interview him about both the cosmos and the mysterious dimensions of stereo photography.
It was made all the better by the fact that Queen’s guitarist is not just a collector and an archivist. It was one thing that he talked about the card in a packet of Weetabix that led him to buy a stereo viewer to see a pic of two hippos in glorious 3D as a young boy. It was even better that he was able to show the card, the viewer, and the first camera he ever bought – and the first prints he made for his viewer – after all these years. A spark that hadn’t left him more than six decades later. (Watch the video interview here)
Our interview took the best part of a couple of hours but whizzed by. At the end, I reminded him that we’d talked before about both shooting on the ES II and that I’d bought one of mine along. “Wait here,” he said, and disappeared upstairs. A few minutes later he came down with a Pentax stereo attachment – the same one he’d used to take pictures of Queen in the 1970s was suddenly screwed onto the front of my ES II.
So that’s how I found myself in a garden somewhere in the Home Counties, shooting Brian May on my Pentax ES II and his stereo attachment, on a roll of Kosmo Foto Mono. Queen’s guitarist in stereo, just without the power chords this time.