Rock & roll photography at Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama (2011)

Rock & roll photography: Who Shot Rock & Roll

Birmingham Museum of Art Presents First Major Museum Exhibition Devoted Exclusively to Rock & Roll Photographers
on View June 24, 2011 to September 18, 2011

Press release text by Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama

Who Shot Rock & Roll: A Photographic History, 1955 to the Present, the first major museum exhibition to acknowledge photographers for their creative and collaborative role in the history of rock and roll, will be on view at the Birmingham Museum of Art from June 24, 2011 through September 18, 2011. Organized by the Brooklyn Museum the exhibition is curated by photographic historian and author Gail Buckland and features many rare and never-before-exhibited photographs. Locally, Ron Platt, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Birmingham Museum of Art serves as the exhibition’s site curator.

"We are so pleased to be partnering with the Brooklyn Museum to bring such a dynamic exhibition to our community. These photographs, fantastic works of art in themselves, exhibit a mesmerizing part of our social history,” says Gail Andrews, R. Hugh Daniel Director of the Birmingham Museum of Art. “In addition, by presenting this exhibition, we are addressing one of our institutional goals of engaging new audiences around works of art.”

Role of photographers in rock history

From its earliest days, rock and roll was captured in photographs that personalized and frequently eroticized the musicians. Photographers were handmaidens to the rock-and-roll revolution, and their work communicates the social and cultural transformations that rock helped bring about from the 1950s to the present. This exhibition is a history not of rock and roll, but of the men and women who have photographed it and contributed to its success.

“I see this exhibition as an incredible opportunity to bring together an audience that cuts across race, age, ethnicity, gender— there is something in this exhibition for anyone who has ever relished the energy and excitement of rock, soul, or hip hop,” says Ron Platt.

Featuring approximately 175 works by 105 photographers, Who Shot Rock & Roll is organized in six sections: images taken behind the scenes; snapshots of young musicians at the beginning of their careers; photographs of live performances that display the energy of the performers on stage; images of the crowds and fans; portraits that go beyond the surface and celebrity of the musicians; and conceptual images and album covers highlighting the creative and collaborative efforts between the image makers and the subjects.

“This exhibition demonstrates the enormous role photography has played in making this music so important to our culture.” says Ron Platt. “ I think visitors will come to the exhibition to see images of the bands and musicians they love— whether it’s the Beatles or Tina Turner or Tupac Shakur. It’s my goal that visitors will leave the show not only having deeper insight into the lives of some of their favorite musicians but also knowing more about some of the people that took these pictures and in turn contributed to this cultural phenomenon.”

The works

Among the works on view are such iconic images as William “Red” Robertson’s erotic 1955 photo of a pelvis-thrusting Elvis Presley that appeared on his first album; The Clash’s London Calling album cover by Pennie Smith depicting Paul Simonon smashing his Fender bass guitar; the contact sheet of Bob Gruen’s portrait of John Lennon in a sleeveless New York City T-shirt; Don Hunstein’s photograph of Bob Dylan walking with his girlfriend Suze Rotolo down a snowy Greenwich Village street; David LaChapelle’s image of Lil Kim as a bikini-clad cop; and Anton Corbijn’s shoot of U2 for their Joshua Tree album cover. The exhibition will also feature photographs by Diane Arbus, Annie Leibovitz, Woodstock photographer Barry Feinstein, Jim Marshall, Ryan McGinley, Linda McCartney, Mark Seliger, and Albert Watson.

Most of the photographs in the exhibition were uncovered in the photographers’ own files. Rarely if ever exhibited pictures include a 1963 photograph by Philip Townsend of the Rolling Stones; an image of James Brown surrounded by female fans shot by actor Dennis Hopper; the working photographs and album cover by Jean-Paul Goude of Grace Jones for Island Life; the contact sheet from Bob Gruen’s famous 1974 rooftop shoot of John Lennon; the full sequence of never-before-exhibited photographs by Ed Caraeff of Jimi Hendrix at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967; the 1976 photograph by Roberta Bayley used on the Ramones first album; Amy Winehouse on her wedding day by Max Vadukul; the four classic 1967 Beatles portraits by Richard Avedon; Ike and Tina Turner at Club Paradise in Memphis in 1962 by African American photographer Ernest Withers; and an approximately nine-by-seven-foot tour-de-force by German photographer Andrea Gursky of Madonna performing in 2001.

The exhibition will also include music videos by artists featured in the exhibition, an eighty-image slide show by Henry Diltz, and a rock-and-roll chronology using actual album covers.

About the curator

Gail Buckland is an author, lecturer, curator, and authority on photography. She is the former Olympus Visiting Professor of the History of Photography at the Cooper Union, New York City, where she has taught since 1979. At Sarah Lawrence College she held the Nobel Chair in Art and Cultural History. Ms. Buckland is the former Curator of the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain and has curated numerous exhibitions, including Fox Talbot and the Invention of Photography at the Pierpont Morgan Library, Visions of Liberty at the New-York Historical Society, and From Today Painting is Dead: The Beginnings of Photography at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. She is the author of the exhibition’s companion publication, a fully illustrated book titled Who Shot Rock & Roll: A Photographic History, 1955 to the Present, published by Alfred A. Knopf, with support from the Universal Music Group.