Saturday, October 29, 2011

Who Shot Rock & Roll?

Rock & Roll. Is it only about the music? It's never been just about the music. It's entertainment. And yes, more than that, too.

Now, it's been absorbed into the art scene in a travelling exhibit called "Who Shot Rock & Roll: A Photographic History, 1955 to the Present." First displayed at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the travelling art show has been making a circuit that includes the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts, Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Akron Art Museum, Columbia Museum of Art, Birmingham Museum of Art, Allentown Art Museum, and Annenberg Space for Photography.

Today the exhibit opens at the Tucson Museum of Art, 140 N. Main Ave.

When you think about it, rock stars probably owe a huge debt to the photographers who captured their images to place them on billboards (the Doors in L.A.), magazine covers ("on the cover of the Rolling Stone") and embed them in our memories. The music has been part of our culture for more than half a century, but its the images that transformed rock superstars into icons of our times.

Hendrix could have played guitar with the same skill without the colorful getup. What if KISS had just worn the clothes they wore to high school? Was Tina Turner's singing approved by her short-skirt shimmy-shine glitterati dresses? That's called entertainment. And the cameras loved it.

For what it's worth, there are more than 180 photographs and videos in the exhibit, demonstrating the power of Rock & Roll and its impact on society. Curator Gail Buckland, the noted photography scholar, assembled the exhibit.

A book featuring even more photos than in the travelling exhibit was published in 2009 by Buckland. Here's a description, followed by excerpts from a review.

More than two hundred spectacular photographs, sensual, luminous, frenzied, true, from 1955 to the present, that catch and define the energy, intoxication, rebellion, and magic of rock and roll; the first book to explore the photographs and the photographers who captured rock’s message of freedom and personal reinvention—and to examine the effect of their pictures on the musicians, the fans, and the culture itself.

The only music photographers whose names are well known are those who themselves have become celebrities. But many of the images that have shaped our consciousness and desire were made by photographers whose names are unfamiliar. Here are Elvis in 1956—not yet mythic but beautiful, tender, vulnerable, sexy, photographed by Alfred Wertheimer . . . Bob Dylan and his girlfriend on a snowy Greenwich Village street, by Don Hunstein . . . John Lennon in a sleeveless New York City T-shirt, by Bob Gruen . . . Jimi Hendrix, by Gered Mankowitz, a photograph that became a poster and was hung on the walls of millions of bedrooms and college dorms . . .

And from Publishers Weekly:
Buckland's visually hypnotic history of rock photography is as much a history of rock as subject as it is of photography. In fact, it is the inseparability of the two that lies at the heart of Buckland's argument. ...the power of the image in the formation and sustenance of rock-and-roll culture from 1955 onward.

Not every reader review of the book is grand, but the power of rock and roll imagery has been undeniable.

Since the images from the travelling exhibit are copyrighted, the images here have been retrieved from the superb collection of Andrew Perfetti's rock and roll images. You can find him on Facebook.

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