Wednesday, January 27, 2010
WHO SHOT ROCK n ROLL at the Brooklyn Museum
Over the weekend I visited the Brooklyn Museum to check out their current exhibit, "Who Shot Rock and Roll: A Photographic History, 1955-Present." I have a great interest in both music and photography, so this exhibit combined two of my favorite pastimes and kept me very busy for the two hours that I spent getting through it.
As the title states, the photographs in this exhibit range from the roots of rock and roll in the 1950s, with a section dedicated to Elvis Presley; through the folk, classic and hippie rock of the 1960s, with sections dedicated to Dylan and Hendrix; stadium rock of the 1970s with shots of Bowie at his peak Ziggy Stardust period; punk and new wave of the 1970s and 1980s represented by some great images of the early CBGB days in NY and the LA and London punk and alternative scenes; pop 1980s with shots of Madonna and Michael Jackson; and gritty photos of the 1990s grunge scene. The exhibit was lacking photographs from the current state of rock and roll, which really didn't bother me so much, since I tend to side with the 80s scene. If you're looking to see photos of Lady Ga Ga, you won't find it at the Brooklyn Museum.
The exhibit is broken up into different themes, including photos of FANS (Beatles frenzy; Morrisey fans fighting over his shirt); early images of icons just STARTING OUT (including and image by Amy Arbus--daughter of Diane Arbus--who photographed Madonna on the street days before "Lucky Star" hit it big; very early images of The Beatles pre-Fab Four when Stuart Sutcliffe and Pete Best were in the band); some really fantastic PERFORMANCE images of Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Talking Heads, Ramones, Freddy Mercury, Grace Jones, Salt n Pepa, the original Pretenders, and many others.
But one of my favorite parts of the exhibit was the many original photographs on display that were used as album covers. It was exciting for me to see images I have been so familiar with over the years in their true form. The original photo from the B-52s first album, shot in black and white; the trippy image on the cover of Led Zeppelin's "House Of the Holy"; the Ramones photo session for their self-titled album; the different concepts that eventually became the cover for Grace Jones' "Island Life"; the concert photo used as the cover of The Clash's seminal album "London Calling"; the controversial image of a topless 11 year old girl used on the album by Blind Faith; and my favorite: the reproduction of Manet's masterpiece "Dejeuner sur l' herb" as envisioned by Malcolm McLaren, featuring a naked 14 year-old Annabella Lewin and the rest of Bow Wow Wow wearing clothes designed by Vivian Westwood. The image, like the one for Blind Faith's cover, was controversial because Lewin was only 14 when she posed without her mother's permission. With these two controversial photos, I thought it would be a great fit to also include the Beatles so called "butcher cover," but it was nowhere to be seen at the exhibit.
There were three powerful photos that especially stood out for me. The first was a slice of life captured by Ian Tilton of Kurt Cobain weeping in a corner moments after storming off stage; the second was a mammoth lenticular portrait of Jimi Hendrix made up of 19 different images; and the third was a huge image by Andreas Gursky that used 15 different images of Madonna on stage, photographed over a few days from the same vantage point, that when combined to express a trippy image of Madonna as marketplace. I stood at these three images for a number of moments absorbing all there was to see, in the case of Hendrix and Madonna, and all there was to feel in the Cobain photo.
The images run the gamut of those who contributed to the history of rock and roll, musically and photographically, and paved the way for future generations. It contains photographs by some of the world's best know photographers such as David LaChapelle, Bob Gruen, Mark Seliger, Annie Leibovitz and Richard Avedon, as well as lesser know, but equally talented photographers.
The exhibit only runs until January 31, 2010 so if you're like me and wait until the last moment, and also a fan of rock and roll, photography, or both and are in the Brooklyn area, then but sure to make a visit before it moves on.
-- Robert L.