Seeing Music in a New Light : Chris Cuffaro's photographic exhibit portrays a broad spectrum of pop faces

Steve Appleford writes regularly about music for Westside/Valley Calendar.

He may claim sadly to be a frustrated musician, but photographer Chris Cuffaro understands where his priorities really are. After all, he recently sold his guitar collection (along with some of his furniture) to help finance his sudden foray into music video directing.

Cuffaro did it to collaborate with Pearl Jam on their upcoming video of the single "Jeremy," the 32-year-old photographer's first attempt at moving images.

"I love musicals," Cuffaro said. His mother hooked him on the film genre, occasionally even making offers such as: "You want to stay home from school and watch 'Singing in the Rain'?"

But even if Cuffaro already has finished his second video directing job, Medicine's song "Aruca," he insisted that he isn't about to abandon the profession that has landed his portraits of rock, pop and jazz artists in a long line of magazines, album covers and advertisements. To that end, Cuffaro is trying out his first photography exhibition, which continues through Aug. 22 at the Ministry cafe.

The 31 photographs, curated by Cuffaro and his agent, Laura Hinds, offer a broad spectrum of pop music faces from the last decade, the length of Cuffaro's professional career thus far. Through assignments from such music magazines as Musician, Spin and others, the Bay Area-born photographer has documented the contemporary expressions of such artists as Elvis Costello, Bobby Womack, Nirvana, Henry Rollins, George Michael, Robbie Robertson, Social Distortion and George Harrison. His personal favorite, the recently defunct local act Jane's Addiction, is represented in the show by 10 images.

Cuffaro's first assignment, he said proudly, was of musician Joe Zawinul, leader of the jazz fusion act Weather Report. So in spite of his certain fondness for aggressive modern rock, he insisted that all types of music interest him as potential subject matter. "This was a way I could meet all these people," he said.

"I want to do other things photography-wise down the line," he added. "But I want to do music right now. I want to keep going. I have a kind of sadistic goal of shooting everyone that I admire. And that list keeps growing."

His aesthetic inspirations include such glamorous image-makers as Irving Penn and Richard Avedon, he said. And yet it was still another old musical that has inspired him the most through his career. The vision of Fred Astaire dancing and singing with a camera around ingenue Audrey Hepburn in "Funny Face" remains with him still.

"It was the whole idea of doing the photo session," Cuffaro reminisced. "It just struck a nerve."

But it wasn't until recently that the photographer felt ready to showcase his pop music photography in a gallery exhibition, he said. "I look at myself as somewhat of a rookie," Cuffaro explained. "I'm proud of what I've done, but I feel I've just begun."

FREE SYMPHONIC SOUND: Classical pianist Adam Mekler will be the featured performer with the Topanga Symphony, conducted by Jerome Kessler, for its Aug. 9 performance at the Topanga Community House.

Performed at the 7:30 p.m. concert will be works by Beethoven, Rossini and Camille Saint-Saens. The Topanga Community House is at 1440 Topanga Canyon Blvd. Admission is free. For information, call (818) 794-1864.

Also, the "Sundays at Four" chamber music series at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's Bing Theater begins its August concerts with music by Corigliano, Brahms and Gershwin. Performed by violinist Stephanie Arado and pianist Laura Melton, the Aug. 2 concert begins at 4 p.m. and will be broadcast live on KUSC (91.5 FM).

On Aug. 9, Russian songs by Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, Stravinsky and Shostakovich will be performed by the Euterpe Opera, accompanied by pianist Jane Peckham. Music from Mexico is to be performed Aug. 16, and "The Art of Classical Accordion" is offered by musician Nick Ariondo Aug. 23.

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