Gallerist Julia Gragnon on New Paris Exhibition ‘La Villa, The Rolling Stones, 1971 – ‘

Above image: Keith Richards & Mick Jagger, Villa Nellcote, Villefranche sur Mer, 1971 © Dominique Tarlé / La Galerie de l’Instant

In 1989, when The Rolling Stones accepted their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Mick Jagger famously quipped that they were there on their best behavior, celebrating 25 years of bad behavior. Which, of course, is a glib way of recognizing the complete, and sometimes bloody, siege of pop culture the band were part of from their genesis in 1962 through the ‘70s and on into the better part of the ‘80s (after that it wasn’t much talked about).

The Stones, miraculously, have survived innumerable tough scrapes over the decades, including drug busts, the deaths of band members and hangers on – founding members Brian Jones and Ian Stewart most notably – the horrendous Altamont concert in 1969, which firmly entrenched their “satanic” public image, and perhaps most tragically, the Jagger/David Bowie video of their cover of ‘Dancing in the Street,’ which, despite being universally ridiculed, still hit #1. But of the hundreds of notorious incidents one could document throughout the career of greatest rock and roll band in the world, a top five list would unquestionably include their summer of ’71 excursion to the South of France, where, at a glorious 16-room mansion on the Cote d’Azur rented by Keith Richards, a month’s long party raged, and a majority of the band’s masterpiece, Exile on Main Street, was recorded. 

That the Stones’ time at Villa Nellcote is so vividly recollected is in no small part due to the photographic evidence that exists of it. In fact, the whole summer could have become a minor footnote in their career if not for the images – and for that there is photographer Dominique Tarlé to thank. Originally from France, Tarlé moved to the UK in the ’60s as a teenager, and was soon hanging with le tout swinging London’s music makers thanks to his unassuming ability to roll with the scene. 

nita Pallenberg, Keith Richards avec sa Telecaster, Gram Parsons, Gretchen Burrell, Villa Nellcote, Villefranche sur Mer, 1971 © Dominique Tarlé / La Galerie de l’Instant

In 1970 Tarlé accompanied the Stones on a short tour of England and was then forever one of the family. When, coincidentally, his UK visa ran out at the same time the band decided to flee England under tax burdens, they all ended up in France; an invitation to lunch at Keith’s palace on the sea turned into a four-month visit, and by the end of the summer there were two thousand pictures to show for it. 

Every Stones fan knows of Tarlé and those infamous shots: Keith with Gibson Hummingbird opening the grand front doors of Nellcote, Gram Parsons and Anita looking on as the guitarist noodles with a Fender, and Jagger, Charlie Watts, Bobby Keys, and others getting through the hot summer days waiting for the muse to strike, are as ingrained as the chords of ‘Tumbling Dice.’ What new revelation has come to pass is the existence of the other 90% of Tarlé’s trove, which, thanks in part to the 50th anniversary of Exile in 2021, are now starting to come out. 

Last year there was the book, La Villa, which gathered 150+ photos of the time, and had a one-time printing of just 1500. And now there are the exhibits, especially the one currently showing at Paris’ Galerie de L’Instant – and Dominique Tarlé, La Villa, The Rolling Stones, 1971 – adds a whole new depth of knowledge for about that time. This April the exhibit moves south, and just a town or two over from Nellcote – sold to a private buyer in 2005 for $128 million – to La Cour des Arts in Saint Remy de Provence.

We spoke with Tarlé’s long time gallerist Julia Gragnon about the photographer’s experience with the band, and how the exhibition came to be.

Mick Jagger & Keith Richards, Grand Hôtel du Cap-Ferrat, 1971 © Dominique Tarlé / La Galerie de l’Instant

How long have you been working with Dominique? 

I have the gallery in Paris now for I think it’s 17 years. And Dominique, we started working together, I would say maybe, 14 years now. And my first connection to him, without me knowing it, was we work with the same printer, but I didn’t know that because my father was a photographer for Paris Match magazine, and I was taking care of his archives and loving the work of the lab. And I remember – do you know that picture of Dominique’s, of Keith Richards in front of the door?

Where he’s holding the guitar with no shirt?

Exactly. Then this one is called “Knocking,” and I remember seeing that picture at the lab and thinking, wow, that’s pretty nice. But that’s it. Then I was at an auction with a friend of mine, and usually we were bidding on the same items. Not that time. He would bid on the Rolling Stones pictures, and I was like, “Why did you get this? Who cares to see Keith Richards in his pajamas?” And he was like, “You missed it completely.” And then he told me Dominique’s story that I didn’t know at the time, my gallery was really young. And I thought, shit, maybe I did miss something. 

And after maybe two years, I’m sitting next to a guy who owns the photo lab and it was at the…Visa pour l’image, it’s a photojournalism festival. And they do this thing about the Rolling Stones and suddenly I’m like, “Oh, check this out! That guy Dominique Tarle, that’s something.” And the guy next to me is laughing at me, and he’s like, “Well, he’s working for me.” And I’m like, “I don’t think so, because that guy is showing his pictures worldwide, so he’s not working for you. He said, “No, no, no, I’m telling you. He’s working at my lab. He’s my employee. Come over on Monday. I’ll show you.” 

So I did. And as we’re sitting like this, we were talking and suddenly he went, “Oh! He just walked by. He went out for a cigarette. Go say hi.” I just went out and I met Dominique on the sidewalk. He was smoking a cigarette. And he was like, “Oh. I hate gallerists. They’re assholes.” And I was like, “Well, I’m nice. Come over. Come say hi. Please don’t tell me when you come, because I’ll fix the place, it’s going to be fake and everything. So he did, and of course he came the worst day, you know, I had deliveries, I had boxes everywhere, friends everywhere, it was a pure mess. So he went in, I was like, “Oh no! Get out, you can’t go here, it’s a mess, I’m so sorry.” And he said, “It’s really a mess. I love it.” And that’s how we started working together. 

Keith Richards, Villa Nellcote, Villefranche sur Mer, 1971 © Dominique Tarlé / La Galerie de l’Instant

Before Nellcote he was already kind of friends with the Stones, right?

He had met them several times. He was on tour with them, in the previous tour, just before they would move to France. There was a short English tour and he was traveling with them at the time, and it’s Bianca that told them they were moving out from England because of tax issues, that he was welcome to drop by and say hi, and they were all moving out to the south of France. So then, he got in touch with the management. He went to the south, and the first visit he paid was to Keith. If he had paid a visit to Mick, maybe none of that would have happened. It’s so many little moments of coincidence mixed with luck that brought him to that.

If he had been with Mick, maybe there would have been a couple of photos, maybe more staged, posed out on the veranda, and that would be it. Certainly, it was a big party there, and Keith has said you know, you don’t want to be following my diet, but Dominique didn’t get sucked into that really, it doesn’t sound like.

Not at all. And he was very protected by Keith, who said, “You don’t get to the kid.”  Yeah. Very protective. And he always says he never felt more secure than living with Keith Richards.

That’s amazing.

At the time he was already considered as one of the world’s most dangerous persons. There’s that picture of Keith holding Marlon (Richards), and it was like, does this guy really look like one of the most dangerous people in the world? I don’t think so. He would see them and Anita taking care of the kids, and then playing that music all the time, and Dominique says he couldn’t be more in Heaven than those times because everything was just perfect.

Some of these photos have not been seen before, locked away, right? 

What we wanted to do to celebrate those fifty years was to show more, to show other pictures than the one that we’re used to. And Dominique, it took me those thirteen, fourteen years to get to the contact sheets. Dominique was very reluctant, which I understand, because the contact sheet is very private, it’s like being in your closet of underwear.

After asking for so many years, I said, “Dominique, we have to do something special for the fiftieth anniversary.” And suddenly, he said yes. But he had no more reason than saying yes that day than saying no the day before. Suddenly, it just happened. So it took me maybe two months to check out all those sheets. I think, if I remember correctly, he had maybe sixty-five or seventy of black and white, so that’s quite a lot.

Jake Weber & Mick Jagger, Villa Nellcote, Villefranche sur Mer, 1971 © Dominique Tarlé / La Galerie de l’Instant

So that was a fantastic time for me. I had so much fun. I remember at the time, I was connected to Marlon, and he was working on a documentary about his mother, Anita. And he would tell me, “Julia, when there are some images you don’t know of my mom, please send them to me, you know, little group by group.” So I did, every once in a while. And I remember once, it’s the picture of Keith hugging Anita on the chair. And you don’t see their faces, but you know it’s them the second you see it. And I remember Marlon would write me back and say, “Julia, you made me cry.” Because every kid wants to have a picture like that of his parents, right?

Right, of course.

But at the time, when Dominique did all those shots, he would take pictures and wouldn’t see them because he didn’t have a professional lab in the south of France. So he would store the rolls and then after six months, when he went back to Paris, he had done his work, he developed everything, sent everything to the villa, and everything came back. The people from the record company gave him a call one day saying, “Dominique, we have that big package for you. Can you please come and take it out? Because it’s taking up too much space.” 

So he took everything back. And maybe two or three shots were missing, because they kept the one of the dog and the baby and stuff like this. And then he started showing them to some agencies, and he was very shy because people were like, “Where’s the drugs?” or, “Oh, is anybody fucking anybody?” Well, you know, Mick was just married, Bianca was pregnant, Keith had just had his baby, so it was not that time. Sorry. So people were like, well, it’s not very interesting. Exactly the way I’m reacting to the pictures that he bought at the auction. Like, who cares about seeing Keith Richards in his pajamas? And I was so wrong. And they were even more wrong than I was. So he was very upset and he stored everything else and he went to work for that lab, professional lab, for years.

Dom was friends with Keith, was he pals with the other guys as much?

Yes, yes, absolutely. It’s just that I’m telling you, maybe if he had been at Charlie’s place, maybe he would have stayed also. But he was so lucky to be there. It’s really an addition…of pure luck, you know? Because if Keith didn’t have those caves, I don’t know where they would have recorded the thing. The luck of being at Keith’s, the luck of coming at the right time, and luck, luck, luck, luck. You know? 

Dominique says many times when people ask him, he says, “Well, I’m still there, you know. I never went back.” 

Above from top:

Keith Richards & Mick Jagger, Villa Nellcote, Villefranche sur Mer, 1971 © Dominique Tarlé / La Galerie de l’Instant

Anita Pallenberg, Keith Richards, Villa Nellcote, Villefranche sur Mer, 1971 © Dominique Tarlé / La Galerie de l’Instant

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