Photosynthesis festival at Annenberg focuses on music, photography

Photosynthesis festival at Annenberg focuses on music, photography
Photographer Jim Marshall, here in a 1971 portrait taken while on tour with Credence Clearwater Revival, will be the subject of a lecture at Photosynthesis. (© Jim Marshall Photography)

It was Jakob Dylan who came up with a name for the genre of music that photographer Mark Seliger now plays with his band Rusty Truck: "Lonesome."

Seliger himself calls it "simple melancholic singer-songwriter" alt-country, which he'll perform this Saturday at a daylong festival of music and photography called Photosynthesis, hosted by the Annenberg Space for Photography.


There aren't many successful magazine photographers who could maintain a serious side-occupation as leader of a band, but one end of his creative life feeds the other, he says.

"It's very similar. It's the same kind of high," he says of the satisfaction of creating music and pictures. "It's the same curiosity: 'If I move this around a little bit, I can make it better.'"

At Photosynthesis, Seliger will deliver an afternoon talk about his portrait work, with subjects that range from American presidents to rock stars, followed in the evening by a multimedia performance by Rusty Truck.

"I always felt it made things a lot better when you step a little bit outside your comfort zone," says Seliger, 55, who first dabbled in music with friends during high school in Houston, years before building a career of vivid magazine portraiture for Rolling Stone, GQ and elsewhere.

"He's at the top of his game," says Patricia Lanza, director of talent and content at the Annenberg, where a crowd of at least 2,000 is expected for the outdoor festival. Seliger is one of three music photographers spotlighted at Photosynthesis, which includes a talk by veteran rock photographer Ethan Russell.

There will also be a slide presentation by photographers from the Los Angeles Times, a portfolio review for aspiring and professional photographers, exhibits and a digital photo booth connected to the event's Jumbotron screens.

"It's a really nice way of these mediums intersecting," Seliger says. "The audience has a chance to think about the creative process from a different point of view."

Photosynthesis was created by photographer Jeff Dunas, founder and director of the Palm Springs Photo Festival, and is timed to coincide with the Annenberg exhibition "Country: Portraits of an American Sound" through Sept. 28. It also follows 2012's "Who Shot Rock & Roll."

One photographer whose work was in both collections was the late Jim Marshall, the subject of a Photosynthesis lecture by Amelia Davis, his former assistant and now the owner of his archive.

Marshall never started a family but left behind a lot of "children" when he died in 2010.

"His photos were his children that he really cared for while he was alive," says Davis, who is preserving and sharing Marshall's half-century of work, including iconic images of Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and the Beatles.

Davis says she is still discovering striking and previously unseen images as the photographer's work is digitized. "It's like being an archaeologist in a way. He's got over a million images in 35-millimeter black-and-white alone. We find these things and it's like, 'My God, Jim, how could you not have printed this?'"

Davis is publishing a new Marshall book, "The Haight: Love, Rock and Revolution," in October. "I want it to be accessible to future generations. There's nothing as great as someone 18 who's just discovered who Jimi Hendrix is."

For Seliger, photographing musicians is often a special event, working with subjects of intensity and a strong sense of their own style and personality. One of his most famous images is a simple, brooding picture of Nirvana's Kurt Cobain near the end of his life, in which Seliger aimed to "capture this duality in him, which was very intense, but with a seemingly newfound happiness too."

"A musician tends to have a particular point of view in terms of their image. I try to understand what their focus is visually, who they are. I'm always trying to relate what I understand about them."


Where: Century Park, adjacent to the Annenberg Space for Photography, 2000 Avenue of the Stars, Los Angeles

When: 2 p.m. Saturday

Admission: Free. (Registration is required for portfolio reviews.)