SOHO — Gered Mankowitz was only 18 years old when he got his first big break as a portrait photographer, shooting a new hit band known as the Rolling Stones in his small England studio.
It was 1965, and the Stones were starting to make waves with their new album, "Out of Our Heads."
They could feel something big was going to happen — it was only months before the U.K. release of the single, "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" — and Mankowitz had a tingly, excited sensation that this band was about to make history.
"They were on the verge of exploding on both sides of the Atlantic," Mankowitz said. "They were big enough to be the most important band for me to have anything to do with, but I felt like we were on the edge of something much, much bigger."
Now, 47 years later, Mankowitz is one of several photographers chosen to be a part of "Rolling Stones: Celebrating 50 Years," an exhibit that celebrates the extraordinary life of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and the other members of the Rolling Stones from the beginning of their union as a band in 1962 to today.
"We're all bloody good photographers, and we've all caught a part of history," he said of the exhibit, which is open to the public starting Friday at The Morrison Hotel Gallery in SoHo.
"It's an extraordinary range of photographs."
The exhibit is important, Mankowitz says, because of the nature of the photographs, which get up close and personal with the Stones. Images of the band in their formative years, on tour, drinking whiskey and performing in front of screaming crowds, show through the years how they transformed with changes in rock 'n' roll.
For Markowitz, the mission was all about illuminating their personalities as they were developing in the beginning — letting that bit of punk peek through in a portrait setting, back when it was against the norm in 1965.
"For me, from the very first moment I saw them on television, they seemed to be naughty, to be rebellious, and to be cheeky. They were unlike the Beatles, who were posey and accepted, and wore suits and ties and your grandma liked them," he said.
"The Stones were rough and ready and weren't shiny and were gritty, and your grandma hated them. I wanted that to show."
For Ethan Russell, a photographer hired for the Rolling Stones American Tour in 1969, the mission was to keep the band members as authentic as possible.
In one shot, Keith Richards is seen sitting by an anti-drug sign. In another, he is looking very out of it, leaning against a wall and obviously not posing for the camera.
"Since the photographs weren't mediated, art directed or manipulated, the viewer gets to really be there.... like I was," Russell said.
"There's a lot in this, both happenstance and perhaps on purpose. And so we have these pictures, and so we have history — a win-win for everyone."
To get his shots, Russell said he would often stand for hours, poised for the perfect moment to shoot his subjects. The way he shot, he explained, allowed other people to see the humanity of the band, rather than just the superstars they had become in the public eye.
"From my point of view, it really was what it was," Russell said. "It was neither bigger nor smaller. You get the person, not the performer."
Other photographers, like Lynn Goldsmith, were so much a part of the action that they sometimes felt themselves getting very caught up in it.
Goldsmith shot tons of photographs of the band backstage, including those showing Keith Richards preparing to dive into a crowd of screaming fans, and another of him leaving a stage filled with shoes, as the audience wildly gestures at him.
In one anecdote, she talks about how she nearly got separated from the band on tour in 1978, when Keith Richards had to rescue her from a security guard who was trying to detain her. She nearly missed the limo — and also the shot that ended up being the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine in 1978.
"Keith Richards is my hero," she said simply about her experiences with the band.
Other photographers included in the exhibit are Terry O'Neill, who shot some of the first photographs of the band together in 1963, Ken Regan, who was with them for nearly 30 years, and Henry Diltz.
Diltz, who hung out with Keith Richards when he shot a tour of the band, "The New Barbarians," featuring Richards on guitar in 1979, was taken by the glamour of the rock star lifestyle that band members of the Rolling Stones led.
"We barn-stormed the country in a private luxury jet and stayed in luxurious hotels in major cities," Regan said. "I enjoyed three weeks of amazing music and a window on an amazing lifestyle."
Regardless of individual experiences, however, photographers agree that the exhibit will not only be popular with music photograph collectors, but it will also provide an important glimpse into one of the most important periods in modern music history.
"We will see a wonderful, vivid picture history of a band that we all know now, but may not remember from the 1960s," Mankowitz said. "It's magical and extraordinary."