Last week the Hunter Museum unveiled a new exhibit called “Sound and Vision: Monumental Rock and Roll Photography,” which features 40 famous photos of rock ‘n’ roll royalty. The postcard I received in the mail contains a photo of the Rolling Stones likely taken during the shoot for the “Between The Buttons” album cover back in the mid-1960s, so I’m sure that’s one of the 40. Only 39 left to see.
Even though the postcard doesn’t go into detail about the remaining photos or photographers featured, I’m intrigued enough to want to pay the old Hunter a visit and see what’s what. I’m a huge fan of not only rock ‘n’ roll, but also photography, especially when the subject matter is something or someone I enjoy.
I suspect this exhibit may or may not feature some of the more memorable rock n’ roll photographs that are tattooed in my memory—Keith Richards sitting under poster that reads “Patience Please ... A Drug Free America Comes First!”, Gram Parsons in a Nudie suit standing in the desert, Pete Townshend in mid-swing of smashing a guitar as Keith Moon kicks over his drum kit, the iconic yet ironic photograph of The Pretenders neatly dressed on the cover of their second album.
It’s no light-bulb revelation that the images of rock stars captured in photographs help add a visual element to the audio art they make. Isn’t that why album covers are so iconic? Listening to “Sgt. Pepper’s” is a little more interesting when you’re staring at the album cover trying to figure out how many stars you can identify—and then wonder why they’re there. And, when you see a press photo of The Beatles heading out on the train to enlightenment with the Maharishi or whoever, their mystery becomes a little deeper than “I wanna hold your hand.”
In fact, to me, looking at photos and video of my favorite artists performing is just as much part of the audio experience as the catchy tunes. But that’s probably true for anyone who enjoys live music. Why would anyone want to stand and watch someone play an instrument if that action didn’t add a certain feel to the experience of hearing a song being played right in front of you?
When a photographer snaps a cool photo of that action, the image sometimes becomes as much a part of pop culture as the music. Regardless, band photography—whether iconic or not—has always been a tool of marketing. Back in the 1980s, I remember taking many a photo of local bands standing against brick walls to be used as 8” x 10” black-and-white glossies in hopeful press kits. Sadly, none of those acts ever made any of us famous.
I say “us” because some photographers have enough hits to be rock stars themselves. Several come to mind—Annie Lebovitz, who has photographed just about anyone you can name; Bob Gruen, who might be best known for his photos of John Lennon in his NYC T-shirt; Henry Diltz, whose photos can be found on more than 100 album covers it seems. I don’t know if the work of any of these photographers is included in the exhibit at the Hunter, but if so, they’re likely still making a buck on that fateful snap of the shutter.
I’m glad rock photographers earn a little chunk of change every time their work is (legally) used. Otherwise we probably wouldn’t have as many people out there capturing the hundreds upon hundreds of shots required to get that one jewel that may eventually become emblazoned in our minds each time we hear a certain band or song. I’m sure I’ll be singing at the top of my lungs (in my head) when I see what the Hunter has rockin’. Check it out.
Chuck Crowder is a local writer and general man about town. His opinions are just that. Take what you read with a grain of salt, but let it pepper your thoughts.