The Lost Portraits Of Jimi Hendrix And Frank Zappa


Written by Oscar Henson
13 Thursday 13th July 2017

This weekend, Whitebank Fine Art is hosting a photography exhibition in London’s Mayfair, featuring previously unseen portraits of two giants of 1960’s music: Frank Zappa and Jimi Hendrix.

Photographers Robert Davidson and Mike Berkofsky have spent the better part of half a century searching for the lost negatives. Now, exactly fifty years on from when they were first captured, the photographs are being officially exhibited in public for the first time.


In the summer of 1967, nineteen year old photographer Robert Davidson was commissioned to shoot Frank Zappa in his London hotel room to promote an upcoming concert at the Royal Albert Hall. Upon arrival, Zappa met him at the door – wild-haired and scantily clad – and almost instantly retreated to the toilet. Robert seized the opportunity and asked through the ajar door if he could take his picture on the throne, there and then, at his most intimate. 

Zappa obliged – and the images that resulted, informally dubbed the ‘Zappa Krappa’ pictures, quickly became some of the most iconic images of the 1960s. The snaps were pirated prolifically, with unofficial poster reproductions reaching into the millions, ultimately engraining the intimate portrait of Zappa into the fabric of pop culture. Speaking in 1983, Zappa echoed this sentiment, stating, “I’m probably more famous for sitting on the toilet than for anything else.”



Three months after the shoot, Zappa’s management, incorrectly assuming that Davidson had been benefiting exclusively from the reproductions, sent representatives to his studio, who forced him to part with the original negatives.

However, their efforts proved futile due to the vast amount of pirate reproductions that had already taken place, and ultimately neither Davidson nor Zappa received any royalties from the image.

Moving forward to 2010, Davidson learnt that the original negatives had been found, and were to be sold online by a Los Angeles memorabilia company, Rockaway Records, who had purchased them from the estate of Herb Cohen, Zappa’s manager. Davidson contacted Rockaway Records to relate his story, and in turn they kindly agreed to repatriate the 10 surviving negatives for a token sum. Rockaway’s Mark Steckler stated, “We are just glad that Robert Davidson could get them back.”

Around the time of the Zappa shoot, Davidson’s friend – twenty two year old Mike Berkofsky – had been commissioned by the influential 60’s magazine ‘Rave’ to shoot a second giant of 1960’s pop music: Jimi Hendrix. He couldn’t have known at the time that this would be one the only sitting portraits of Hendrix taken before his untimely death in 1970.

The shoot was taken on a high quality medium format Hasselblad camera. Once completed, the processed rolls of film were handed over to the magazine and never returned.



Fortunately, before processing, Berkofsky visited the laboratory and requested a clip test to check the film exposures. This clipping turned out to be the only surviving record from the shoot - and it too was misplaced and assumed lost until recovered by Berkofsky in 2014 from a Los Angeles storage facility. Unfortunately the storage had been severely affected by the disastrous 1994 Northridge earthquake, causing severe moisture damage, which in turn led to fungal infestation.

Determined to restore the negative, it was washed carefully over a period of time – and with each wash new layers of bright colour were revealed, imbuing the image with a new psychedelic vibrancy.

The images have gone down as some of Davidson and Berkofsky’s most important works from the 1960’s, at a time when they were working in the same studio. This new exhibition marks something of a reunion following decades of separation from their lost works, and a final chapter in their bizarre narratives


50th Anniversary: 1967-2017. Previously unreleased Frank Zappa & Jimi Hendrix images shot by Robert Davidson and Mike Berkofsky will be shown at 32 St. George Street, Mayfair, W1S 2EA on Friday 14 July - Saturday 15 July 2017.


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