When I was invited to visit the Annenberg Space for Photography (2000 Avenue of the Stars, Century City, 213-403-3000, with discounted self-parking with validation in the garage under the building, enter off Constellation Blvd.), the offer became irresistible when I was told that I would personally be escorted by Gail Buckland, the woman who had curated the new exhibit, WHO SHOT ROCK & ROLL, A Photographic History, 1955 to the Present, and author of the book of the same title. My personal roots are in the jazz world, but I have spent enough time around that other music to be somewhat familiar with it. This was a whole new ballgame, however. Gail met me in the lobby of the self-standing photography building on the plaza behind the CAA structure and we began to walk through the exhibit, while the 30-minute film interview of the photographers blared in the background. She began by telling me that this was the first major museum exhibit to spotlight the creative and collaborative role that photographers played in the history of rock and roll music.
"I spent many years putting together this group show featuring 166 prints from over 100 photographers," she said. "I organized it with the Brooklyn Museum, where it first showed, and then to seven other museums before coming to Los Angeles." Visitors like me (and you, I hope) will enjoy these rare images that catch the energy, intoxication, rebellion and magic of rock and roll. Imagine a shot of a musicians leaning into a crowd desperate to touch their idol. Or a mosh pit. The moment before a guitar is smashed. A stolen kiss backstage. A star-on-the-rise standing contemplatively outside the venue. This exhibit will give you a glimpse of the people behind the music... their vulnerability and, yes, their passion (and sometimes madness), demonstrating the collective talents of the photographers -- some of whom I knew -- who capture these moments.
We discussed my memory of how a Cleveland disc jockey, Alan Freed, playing rhythm and blues music, had renamed it 'rock and roll,' and it took hold when he did his first live show in 1955 at the Brooklyn Paramount Theatre. (Coincidentally, his son is being honored at the Concern Cancer Benefit at Paramount Studios later this month.) Gail told me that the exhibits are presented in eight sections... from 'behind the scenes' to 'artists at the start of their careers'... to live performances, fans and crowds, conceptual collaborations between photographers and musicians.... to portraits of musical stars. Imagine my excitement at viewing the spotlighted images of Presley at 21 and Bob Dylan, whom I consider the great American poet of our time.
After I left Gail, I went into the theater to watch the short documentary film which had been produced exclusively for the Annenberg Space for Photography. It was shown in 4K resolution, and she told me it presented additional photographs, interviews and behind-the-scenes footage with some of the exhibit photographers. She said the film contained a special segment on the photography of Linda McCartney, featuring images hand-picked by Paul McCartney and their daughters Mary and Stella, and a rare on-camera interview with Mary about her mother's work. (I knew Linda's father, Lee Eastman, a prominent attorney in New York.) Gail had walked with me through a slideshow of 80 images by Henry Ditz taken between 1966 and 1990 set to a sound track. I was stunned by some of the music videos for artists like Björk (so beautiful when she was young and not wearing tutus and feathers), Grace Jones, and U2. I stood motionless in front of the video of young Elvis Presley performing "Heartbreak Hotel" on the TV program, Stage Show.
To my Huffington readers, I can only urge you to visit this exhibit while it is here until October 7th. View the hundred+ spectacular photographs -- some sensual, some luminous, many frenzied. Gail's efforts have captured the energy, intoxication, rebellion and yes, magic of the rock and roll world. You will see Elvis in 1956, still young and vulnerable (and handsome), captured by Alfred Wertheimer. I loved seeing Bob Dylan and his girlfriend on a snowy Village street, shot by Don Hunstein, and told Gail of the day when I first saw Bob Dylan and Joan Baez shoeless playing and singing on a street corner at the Newport folk festival where I was the publicist. John Lennon is here in a sleeveless NYC tee shirt, by Bob Gruen, and yes, here is Jimi Hendrix by Gered Mankowitz as a poster which hung on my bedroom wall years ago. Gail told me that she had visited almost every one of the hundred+ photographers in person, often digging into their archives and finding pictures which they didn't even remember.
I have met Wallis Annenberg several times, and she is a remarkable woman. The Annenberg Foundation has done so much good work, most of it unpublicized in several fields of non-profit endeavor since 1989 -- education and youth development, arts, culture and humanities, civic and community life. The photography museum is dedicated to exhibiting compelling photography to our L.A. community, and I can reveal here that the next exhibit, opening in November, will be one of its most exciting -- touching upon African village life and people. I saw some of the photos that will be exhibited and they are astonishing and breathtaking. The museum is open on Wednesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturdays 11 am to 9 p.m., and Sundays 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is free. There is an IRIS Nights lecture series on Thursdays from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., and the next few weeks will feature many of the photographers seen in this exhibition.
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