Classic rock images to show at Annenberg Space for Photography
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Photographer Alfred Wertheimer’s image resonates like a classic Elvis song — a burst of emotion that leaves a dent long after the first impression has faded. The intimate 1956 photo captures a strikingly beautiful Presley snuggling with a woman backstage, lost within her face, his hair perfectly coiffed. In it, an entire emotional landscape reveals itself.
This image of Presley is one of more than 175 that will arrive at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Century City in June, when “Who Shot Rock & Roll: A Photographic History, 1955 to the Present” arrives in its West Coast premiere. The show, which originated at the Brooklyn Museum in 2009, features 100 photographers and some of the most vital and important images of the rock ’n’ roll era — including classic work by Diane Arbus, Jim Marshall, Annie Leibovitz, Pennie Smith and Ryan McGinley.
“Who Shot Rock” was curated by author Gail Buckland and arrives in L.A. for a four-month run after showing in a number of art museums the last two years. It’s the most comprehensive traveling show of rock photography ever assembled, and it reinforces the notion that image is as important as music when conveying the message of rock ’n’ roll.
Barry Feinstein’s stark black and white shots of Bob Dylan in England, 1966, show the skinny songwriter in his prime, bush of brown hair, standing in a cobblestone street confronting three children; another shows him inside a limousine, fans’ faces pressed against the windows like tourists at a zoo.
A series of portraits of Sonic Youth circa 1984 by Richard Kern has the band members made up to be murder victims, bloodied and beaten. A photo by Max Vadukul of Amy Winehouse relaxing in a hotel bed in her bra, her hand casually slid into the front of her short-shorts, offers an intimacy far removed from the drama of her public life.
Image is what also distinguished a magnetic presence like Tupac Shakur from equally talented, but less charismatic, rappers whose names we’ve long forgotten. In Danny Clinch’s shot of Shakur from 1993, the late Los Angeles rapper is captured shirtless, washboard abs, tattoos scattered across his torso, his eyes lost in thought.
Without this striking presence, Tupac is an impressive voice; with it, he’s a man who embodies the fury of South Los Angeles in the 1990s. Another photo of a statuesque Grace Jones posing on stairs sees her bending an accordion, head cocked sideways, lost in song while carving out her presence into history.
In addition to the exhibit, which runs from June 23 through Oct. 7, radio station KCRW is planning three Saturday night performances in June, with a lineup to be announced, to accompany the show. A documentary created for the Los Angeles opening will feature Los Angeles-relevant extras that highlight the city’s contribution to rock ’n’ roll photography.
The depth of “Who Shot Rock” is the show’s main draw. Other exhibits have presented vital rock ’n’ roll photos, and countless art books offer vast archival work by Marshall, Leibovitz, Kern and others. But few exhibits have a scope that includes Jerry Schatzberg’s portrait of a pig-tailed Frank Zappa staring directly into the camera, Ed Colver’s classic documents of Black Flag and this city’s punk scene, or the priceless image of Wilson Pickett screaming into the microphone as a young Jimi Hendrix plays along in the background.
If every picture tells a story, then this collection speaks volumes.
-- Randall Roberts
Top photo: Amy Winehouse shot in a Miami hotel, 2007. Credit: Max Vadukul.