Someone on Flickr scanned Nik Cohn and Guy Peelaert’s brilliant seventies book, Rock Dreams. Continue reading For Your Viewing Pleasure: Rock Dreams
A gorgeous response to Christgau on Lady Gaga. Continue reading “Top Music Critic”
Ode to an Aging Rock Critic Continue reading From Incidental Comics…
I am suddenly and irrationally obsessed with “wordles.” See the post below (from Nov. 11) called “Architectonic.” Now see the “wordle” version. Continue reading Wordles wobble but they don’t fall down
Pop counterculture photojournalist, Theresa Kereakes has been chronicling bands since the late 1970s. From working the ticket counter at the Whiskey to producing and supervising installments of VH1’s infamous Storytellers series to shooting video for Sting’s Rain Forest Foundation, her career continues to expand. This month the photographer has the distinctive experience of having two sets of works in Christie’s Pop Culture Auction. Among collectables … Continue reading Iconic Producer: Punk Rock Photographer Theresa Kereakes Gets Her Wings
Jay Blakesberg is not one of the original classic rock photographers. He was too young for that wave, but perhaps that is what contributes to his distinction; casting him as a sort of Cam Crowe of photography. Starting out as an unabashed Deadhead in Northern California, he departed only in that his musical tastes were more eclectic.
As a teen there was his typical basement den involved in a typical ’70s daydream, with hippies milling about, and as for the club and theater music scene he took advantage of everything that vital part of America had to offer in those pivotal times. It wasn’t soon after that his hobby of taking concert snaps grew into a career with more personal alliances, taking stills of artists like John Lee Hooker and Taj Mahal to Joni Mitchell and Tom Waits.
This past December, Blakesberg celebrated 30 years of photography by releasing a book (his third from Rock House Books) of his chosen photos and memories, Traveling on a High Frequency: Jay Blakesberg – Photographs 1978–2008. His photographs have appeared in all the usual periodical suspects; Rolling Stone, Guitar Player and Harp Magazines and have also been printed onto canvas with poster artist Richard Biffle painting them onto the canvases. The biggest seller? Jerry Garcia.
AR: What got you interested in photography? Who were some of your favorite photographers?
JB: I started bringing a camera to concerts in late 1977. I used my dad’s camera. I would develop the film in my mom’s basement where I had a small darkroom. At the time, I was aware of Jim Marshall, a San Francisco photographer from the ’60s. He did a lot of jazz in NY, but by the early ’60 was back in San Francisco. He did shots of all the SF bands and at Woodstock and Monterey Pop. Herbie Greene was another photographer. These were the shots I was seeing in some magazines and books.
AR: It’s clear that you loved music, but interesting that you chose something visual over literary.
JB: I think I have always been drawn to the visual. It was an easier way for me to communicate and make sense of what was around me. I saw Trouser Press and Creem, but I wasn’t a regular subscriber. If you’re a writer, you need to find a more tangible place to for that kind of work. Photos could be just for me and my friends. They did not have to be published to be shared.
AR: Did you recognize your strengths right away or were they a little more hard won?
JB: No, I did not. I think if you’re that young, you don’t immediately recognize things like that. It’s not really part of the thought process at 16 or 17. If you like what you do, that’s enough to go on. I mean, a lot of what I did looked okay, and I guess that was inspiring enough to keep trying.
AR: Did you start out with only concerts or some stills?
JB: Mostly shows at first. I grew up in New Jersey so it was mostly indoor shows, but there were some outdoor free concerts at some local colleges. There was no access to bands for posed shots, so it was just live concerts.
Scott: Did you ever reach a point with music photography where you felt you had enough? You’ve branched out into so many other interesting areas – is it because there were always other things you wanted to do, or did music photography take its toll?
Laura: Both, in fact. I felt I’d accomplished all I’d wanted to in photographing bands (creatively, that is) and I wasn’t interested in repeating myself. I probably could have made a nice living taking variations on the same photos over and over, but truthfully that wasn’t very interesting or challenging to me, from a creative point of view. At the same time, the industry was changing. I felt the focus was becoming more on style over substance – image, fashion, high-concept shoots. Celebrity culture. The makeup and clothing were the stars, not the artists. Some of my photo sessions evolved into huge productions, involving a dozen people on a sound stage. Once the novelty wore off, this didn’t interest me. In fact, towards the end I refused to shoot anyone unless it was just one-on-one – just me and them and maybe one assistant – preferably in natural light, as intimately as possible.
Scott: Talk a bit about your job as Photo Editor at New York Rocker. Was being an editor something you particularly enjoyed (I mean, in comparison to being a freelance photographer)? What was the atmosphere like there? Was it difficult putting the paper out every month?
Laura: I have great memories of the Rocker. As Photo Editor and chief photographer, it put me in the enviable position of being probably one of the few photographers of the time who had access to most of the punk, post-punk, new wave, No Wave, and college radio (as it was called then) bands of the time. I was there during Andy Schwartz’s reign as Editor, from 1980 until 1983, when it folded. The Rocker was on the second floor of a commercial loft building on lower Fifth Avenue – a few metal desks, a stereo that was always on (and where I first heard Mission of Burma, Prince, and countless other bands), tons of posters and flyers and a few ratty sofas. As a freelance photographer you’re always on the move, but being a member of the editorial staff meant I had a home base, and, without sounding too corny, I was part of a family, which I really appreciated. Once a month we’d pull an all-nighter pasting the issue together, with Xacto blades and melted wax. Since the Rocker was around the corner from Danceteria, we’d generally meet at the office and all head over there for gigs afterwards. I made some wonderful friends there who I am still close with.
Laura Levine’s work is too varied and voluminous to be hemmed in to one particular time, scene, or discipline — the bio on her website rightfully describes her as a “cross-disciplinary visual artist” — but I’m assuming many readers of this site discovered her work the same way I did: via her photography in the pages of several music publications during the ’80s, including the Village Voice, Trouser Press, Musician, Rolling Stone, and especially New York Rocker, where she served as chief photographer before becoming Photo Editor. Levine’s photography resumé reads like a Who’s Who of those loopy years following punk and disco: from early snaps of Prince and Madonna (pre-world domination) to photogenic weirdos like Captain Beefheart, August Darnell (a.k.a. Kid Creole), and Bow Wow Wow’s Annabella Lwin to No Wave shit disturbers D.N.A. and Glenn Branca to “new romantic” mop-fops Yazoo to rap icons Run-D.M.C. and Afrika Bambaata to hardcore visionaries Black Flag and X to… well, you get the picure.
A restless and eclectic artist, Levine eventually branched out from “rock photography” into painting, movies, animation, and antique junk proprietorship, along the way winning awards for her documentary film work and producing a lavishly illustrated series of childrens books (including Wig! a collaboration with the B-52’s). LauraLevine.com is a terrific resource that showcases her work across the spectrum, while providing information about current and upcoming projects. She was a key contributor to Byron Coley and Thurston Moore’s 2008 publication, No Wave: Post-punk. Underground. New York. 1976-1980, which features several of her photographs of that scene’s “horrible noise” merchants. This month, several dozen of her photographs will be featured in the exhibition Backstage Pass: Rock & Roll Photography at the Portland Museum of Art, opening January 22; she has also contributed an essay to the show’s accompanying exhibition catalogue, published by Yale University Press. And this fall, her work will be included in a major music photography retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum.
Levine was kind enough to recently answer a number of e-mail questions about her work, with particular emphasis on her time at New York Rocker, a publication I hope one day receives the proper tribute it deserves.
(In addition to Levine’s online photo gallery, be sure to check out her sale page on Illogator, where, for a limited time, Levine is offering archival hand-signed prints of her 1991 photo of Bjork to readers at a special discount. Of the image, Levine says: “I’m often asked if I have a favorite photo and I can say without hesitation that it’s this one right here. All of the elements combined to make it one of my favorite moments as a photographer, and it happened purely by chance.” Click on her gallery to read more of the story behind the photo.)
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Scott: I assume that, like everyone, you were into music at a young age, but what first sparked your interest in the visual aspect of music? How did these two passions come together in your mind?
Laura: I didn’t consciously make the connection between music and photography until I’d already been shooting pictures as a teenager for a few years (documentary-style street photography), but now that I think of it I was probably influenced by the magazines and album covers and imagery of the time. I had rock posters and photos I’d cut out from magazines in my room and in particular I remember a copy of a photograph of Janis Joplin taken by the great David Gahr on my bedroom wall which I’m sure seeped into my subconscious night and day.
Being the wily New York City kid that I was, as soon as I had a camera I was sneaking it into concerts, even if it meant shooting from the nosebleed seats. I’d hide my camera in my jeans and the telephoto lens in my sock, and I actually managed to get some pretty decent shots (this was around 1974) of Elton John at the Garden, Bette Midler’s Clams on the Half Shell Revue, etc. I printed up a fake press pass and managed to talk myself in as “press” to shoot Patti Smith and Paul Simon (among others) from right beneath the stage at a concert in Central Park. Getting the shot always involved a bit of stealth and moxie if you were a sixteen year old kid. Years later, when I had proper press credentials, I never lost that thrill to be able to have the run of the backstage at the Garden or shoot from the side of the stage or from the photo pit.
So even though I later ended up focusing more on portraits, it started, I guess, with performance photos.