It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll, But I Like It (the pictures, that is)

Have you been to a live concert lately?  Look closely next time and you might notice that group of photographers moving in close to the stage as the show begins, but – oddly – moving on shortly after the show begins.

Turns out, the idea that photographers get the first 3 songs of a set to get their work done has become pretty commonplace over the last decade.  Why?  Who knows?  Odds are that it has to do with money and allowing the best images to be crafted by the band and for the band only.

But it wasn’t always so.  A fanatastic new book, Who Shot Rock & Roll, offers up proof with a photographic history of more than 200 iconic images taken from 1955 to the present.

NPR’s blog, The Picture Show, offers up a brief feature on the book, authored by “photographic historian” Gail Buckland, and an interview with one of the featured photographers, Ian Tilton.  Tilton’s comments on the current state of rock photography are particularly telling:

“When I was taking live pictures at big gigs in the ’80s and early ’90s, we were able to photograph the whole set. Then in the mid-90s, someone said, “You can do the first 3 songs only.” … Now the first 3 songs are useless — the band hasn’t gotten into their stride; they aren’t even sweating! And that’s what great live rock ‘n’ roll photography is all about: atmosphere and sweat and the band getting “lost in music.” That’s never gonna be at the beginning of a set. It’s always near the end! Do you think I would have gotten those classic photos of Kurt Cobain smashing his guitar in the first 3 numbers?”

Ian Tilton's contribution of his photograph of Nirvana's Kurt Cobain at the Motor Sports International Garage in Seattle on September 22, 1990

Ian Tilton's contribution of his photograph of Nirvana's Kurt Cobain at the Motor Sports International Garage in Seattle on September 22, 1990

Art this good deserves its own exhibit and Who Shot Rock & Roll will get its day at the Brooklyn Museum.  The exhibit, Who Shot Rock & Roll: A Photographic History, 1955 to the Present opens on October 30th and runs through January 31, 2010.

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~ by acm213 on October 23, 2009.

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