Posted By craig on February 2, 2010
I know this is about 2 days too late for any locals to take advantage of, but I finally went and saw the “Who Shot Rock and Roll” exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum last week. I wasn’t disappointed, and I was very disappointed. Let me tell you why:
As someone who got into photography in a large part because of the connection between music (which I always loved and, like most every teenager/college student, dabbled in before I found my talents lied elsewhere) and the photographic image I have always had a soft spot for this subject. I had an instructor tell me that music photographs were pointless because you can’t hear the music. I agree with him, unless the photograph is great. If it is you can very much hear the music and so much more. You can be a part of the moment, from the inside. You can see the energy.
A lot of the photographs of musicians are successful because of the images and media that came before and after that. This much is true. Most people know who Debbie Harry is and will look more closely at the photo of rag tag East Villagers on that grungy CBGB stage. Unless you grew up under a rock, you know that is a young Madonna in that Amy Arbus shot. Would those images be as interesting to you if you didn’t know who those people were? Maybe not. So I think it’s safe to say that a lot of the power behind rock and roll photography lies in the celebrity factor. But it’s that same celebrity factor that kills a lot of photos before they can ever happen. The people making money off of that cultivated product fear that a look behind the velvet curtain may kill the goose. The publicists and management are there to say no no no to a lot of ideas and shooters. Jim Marshall said a few years ago that music photography is dead because of these factors. I can’t disagree. Maybe a lot of these images in the Brooklyn Museum show are special because they can’t happen again. Photographers may not be able to get close to their rocking subjects and we will only be left with paparazzi shots in the future. No looks inside. No rawness. That’s why I was disappointed. The show sort of felt like a wake for a dead relationship.
“Who Shot Rock and Roll” is moving on to the Worcester Art Museum, The Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Akron Art Museum, And Columbia Museum of Art.