Brad Elterman: Rock ‘n’ roll shutterbug
It’s one of the most enduring rock ‘n’ roll clichés: Fame slips away from an aging band, so its members go abroad and discover a whole new fan base, becoming “big in Japan.” Photographer Brad Elterman is very familiar with the way this works, having shot rock bands back in the 1970s and ‘80s. But then he went to Japan, and it happened to him too.
The L.A.-based shutterbug, whose early life loosely mirrors that of the main character in Cameron Crowe’s “Almost Famous,” just returned from an exhibition of his work in a group show at Tokyo’s trendy Tabloid gallery, where 300 or so fans, many of whom follow the Sherman Oaks-born artist’s work via his Tumblr page, turned up last week.
“It was incredible,” a jet-lagged yet still exuberant Elterman gushed Sunday night upon his return. “The Japanese really get my work, and they liked the fact my pictures were raw.”
Elterman was in Japan promoting his latest book, “Like It Was Yesterday,” a limited-edition, self-published collection of photographs he took as a teen and twentysomething during the golden age of the Sunset Strip. Elterman is introducing the book and displaying the famous photos Thursday night at the LeadApron gallery in Los Angeles.
“It was a magical time,” Elterman, now 54, said over coffee earlier this month at Little Next Door on 3rd Street. In his younger years, he found success taking portraits and candid, paparazzi-style shots of artists he admired, such as Bob Dylan, Debbie Harry and Joan Jett in Los Angeles and West Hollywood — working in a vein that made Bob Gruen, Mick Rock and other photographers into proverbial rock stars. “You could feel it in the air. You could smell it. But we never knew how cosmic it really was.”
“Everybody loved Brad,” said Rodney Bingenheimer, a deejay at KROQ-FM (106.7) who remains friends with the photographer and helped get him work in the 1970s.
“They trusted him more than the other photographers,” he said of the bands, record industry publicists and managers who were hot 30 years ago, recalling a memorable trip the two made to Las Vegas aboard a chartered jet to see the rock act Queen at the band’s request.
Elterman stopped shooting several years ago after experiencing what he calls “crippling anxiety,” taking a hiatus to focus on his well-known paparazzo website, Buzz Foto (“Paparazzi as an Art Form!” reads the website’s tagline), which he co-owns with still-working paparazzo Henry Flores. He started Buzz Foto about five years ago after selling his former photo agency, OnlineUSA, to Getty Images. With the success of Buzz and his Tumblr page, Elterman is finding renewed fame, as more than 7,000 young fans have encouraged him to take pictures again.
“My fans give me energy,” says Elterman, claiming “there’s no money in photography today.”
“These kids keep me going. They love the imagery, and I’ve never had one bad comment on my blog … they all just ask me questions,” he said of his community on Tumblr. “It’s been just great for me.”
Elterman’s online supporters helped him shake his self-doubt; as a result, he just shot Japanese model-musician Esie in Tokyo and will photograph up-and-coming singer Sky Ferreira next month.
“[Elterman’s photos] are raw and fun,” said the buzzing 18-year-old Ferreira, a fan of Elterman’s who is known for her style, based in part on her reverence for artists who were hot well before her time, such as David Bowie (her debut full length drops in early 2011 on Capitol Records).
“He’s shot some of the best artists ever,” she added in an e-mail earlier this week.
And while Elterman is far from being in demand, signs point to work coming for the veteran, who is happy to compete with younger commercial photographers for jobs.
The former paparazzo (who says he “made a fortune” from photos of ‘70s teen idol David Cassidy) says he used his “paparazzo powers” in the past only for shots “so incredibly iconic” that he couldn’t resist an unauthorized picture. Many of those shots, such as a candid snap of a shirtless Rod Stewart chatting up a girl while holding a pint of beer in a Coldwater Canyon park circa 1976, found their way into “Like It Was Yesterday.”
The book is Elterman’s chance to share his take on the late ‘70s L.A. rock scene with younger kids who can only imagine what it must have been like to hang out with the Runaways, let alone shoot the band in its heyday.
For the photographer, however, the past isn’t half as much fun as the present.
“I’m having more fun now than I did in 1977,” he says with a laugh.
Brad Elterman book release party
Where: LeadApron, 8445 Melrose Place, L.A.
When: 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday
Info: (323) 782-1888; https://www.leadapron.net
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