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December 11, 2018

Zappa Krappa: The Lost Photographs of Frank Zappa Sitting on the Toilet Found After 50 Years

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.”

The contact sheet (Robert Davidson)

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.

Zappa himself was led to believe the same, that Davidson was profiting from a poster version known as the ‘Toilet Poster,’ or ‘Phi Zappa Krappa.’

“The photographer who took it made a poster and sold it for his own profit and then that poster was bootlegged all over Europe and eventually went into the United States and millions of 'em were sold,” he said in an interview. “But I couldn't stop them from doing that.”

The measures by his management proved futile due to the vast amount of pirate reproductions that had already taken place. Ultimately neither Davidson nor Zappa received any royalties from the image. Davidson would go onto spend the better part of half a century searching for the lost negatives.

Finally his luck changed. In 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.”

(Photos © Robert Davidson)



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