It’s only rock and roll – but they shot it

EL60-01-Randolph-Hendrix-WilsonPicket_800_w616

One of the 173 photographs on display at Who Shot Rock & Roll: A straight-laced Jimi Hendrix plays back-up to Wilson Pickett back in 1966. Photo by William ‘Popsie’ Randolph.

 

Arlene is quite possibly the world’s biggest Leonard Cohen fan. Last August Arlene’s son, also named Leonard, told her of a rock and roll exhibition worth checking out. This was exciting news… until she realised there’d be nothing of her idol to see there.

Being Canadian, Arlene’s protest was a dignified affair where she silently wore her homemade “I love Leonard Cohen” badge. She enjoyed the exhibition but noted in the visitor book her disapproval at the curator’s glaring omission.

That curator is Professor Gail Buckland, and the exhibition is the excellent Who Shot Rock & Roll – on now, for the first time outside the United States, at the Auckland Art Gallery.

Gail Buckland Who Shot Rock & Roll

Professor Gail Buckland

 

Buckland, a leading authority on photography, is well acquainted with stories like that of Arlene’s.

“There would be no shortage of names of the musicians missing from my exhibition,” Buckland told me by email. “That is not the point. It could never include everyone. This is a show about the power of photography. I hope someone else comes along and expands on this, choosing a completely different set of images.  I love Leonard Cohen.  It is no reflection on my admiration for him.”

What this exhibition – and her 2009 book of the same name – does reflect is a frustration that the photographers who captured these defining moments have been ignored for too long.

“Many of the photographers,” Buckland says, “told me that they were treated like “hacks”. That their vision, their artistry, their contribution has been largely ignored. It had always been about the musicians.  My exhibition and book put them in the forefront.”

Who Shot Rock & Roll features 173 photographs dating back to 1955. With so many photos on display there is no shortage of history – but more to the point, there is an abundance of brilliant photos.

“Excellence in photography” was Buckland’s primary criteria when selecting exhibits, and she worked hard to track down and speak to as many featured photographers as possible to get their stories.

“The book and show”, she says, “is about the men and women who gave rock and roll its image – its photographic image. For almost the first time, it isn’t about who is in the picture but the quality of the photograph to express something real and powerful. I looked for photographs that can stand the scrutiny of time and be worthy of being on a museum wall.”

mick-jagger-by-albert-watson

For the 25th anniversary of Rolling Stone magazine, photographer Albert Watson double exposed Mick Jagger’s face with a leopard’s. The full story of this remarkable photo available at the Who Shot Rock & Roll exhibition.

 

So with record companies now seemingly more focused on packaging than talent, will any of today’s acts stand out in 50 years? This question carelessly strayed into ‘Arlene territory’; Buckland gently reminded me she was “not qualified to answer questions about the music or the musicians.”

She added, “I hope, sincerely hope, that my 40 years looking at and thinking about and writing about photography (not music) comes across.”

It most certainly does. Who Shot Rock & Roll is a fantastic photography exhibition that shines the spotlight, at last, on the stars behind the camera.

Music fans will love it too.

Who Shot Rock & Roll is on now and runs daily until 3 March at the Auckland Art Gallery. Tickets cost $15 each. Check out a dozen of the exhibition’s photos here.

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