While rock ‘n’ roll is found in the rhythms that move feet, and the singers that reach deep into one’s soul, there’s no denying it’s also a visual medium.
But while MTV ushered in the video age, rock ‘n’ roll photography is as old as the music itself, and Who Shot Rock & Roll: A Photographic History, 1955 to the Present (2009, Knopf), a new book by part-time Warwick resident Gail Buckland, seeks to bring attention to the photographers rather than the subjects themselves.
“It was actually a friend’s idea,” says Buckland, who has written and collaborated on 11 previous books of photography. “He just said, ‘There’s not a great book that looks at the image of rock.’ I realized he was correct; almost every collection of photographs is really about who is in the image, rather than who took the image. My intention was to really bring this group of photographers from history into the pantheon because of the merit of their work.”
While some photographers like Annie Leibovitz and Bob Gruen have become well known for shooting iconic rock ‘n’ roll photographs (included in Who Shot: Liebovitz’s images of Bruce Springsteen and Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry, and Gruen’s photos of Kiss and John Lennon), others in the book aren’t quite household names. But even so, Buckland says they played a pivotal and often unheralded role in the explosion of rock ‘n’ roll in the mid 1950s.
“This is a bipartite revolution,” Buckland says. “The music alone really couldn’t do it. It really needed images. It’s the pictures the kids responded to in terms of how they dressed or wore their hair.”
Who Shot Rock & Roll sees legendary shots like Gered Mankowitz’s 1967 image of Jimi Hendrix and Astrid Kirchherr’s stark 1960 pictures of the pre-Fab Beatles in Hamburg sit comfortably alongside lesser-known images from the inception of rock ‘n’ roll right up through the present.
And because the book focuses on the photographer rather than the star, rock is also gloriously represented by images of fans of everyone from the Smiths (Ian Tilton) to P. Diddy (James Mollison).
Of all the photographs in the book, the one that perhaps shows the most joy found in rock was taken by Walter Sanders. In the 1955 image, an integrated crowd at the Brooklyn Paramount is in the throes of ecstasy at Alan Freed’s Easter Rock ’n’ Roll Show. But seen among the grinning faces of teenage rebellion is a pair of fathers, one looking stunned, the other nauseated.
Buckland won’t say whether she has a favorite photograph in the book, though she does recall being inspired by the work of Don Hunstein as a teenager, especially his image of Bob Dylan and Suze Rotolo arm in arm on West Fourth Street. “Just on a personal level, I remember having The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan propped up on my bedroom wall, and I remember thinking, ‘I want to go where they’re going,’” she says. An outtake of the session features in the book.
The book arrives at roughly the same time as an accompanying photographic exhibit, which continues at the Brooklyn Museum through January 31.
- Jerry Schatzberg, Frank Zappa, New York City, 1967