While roll ’n’ roll is certainly about the music, a rock star’s image can be solidified by the right photograph. A new exhibit at the Currier Museum of Art gives viewers an intimate behind-the-scenes look at some of the legends that defined American pop culture for years.
“Backstage Pass: Rock & Roll Photography” opens on Oct. 7 and will showcase some of the most familiar subjects the Currier has ever had on display. The exhibit features intimate shots of rock royalty including Elvis, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Janis Joplin, Grace Jones and Kurt Cobain, to name but a few. But the exhibit is a double whammy of famous names both in front of and behind the lens. The photographs, taken by more than 50 photographers like Kate Simon, Laura Levine and Bob Gruen, simply by their composition and quality, would be art themselves, according to Nina Bozicnik, the curator of the exhibit.
The photos come from the personal collection of one anonymous collector who has professional and personal ties to the music industry, according to Bozicnik. A larger collection of the photos was previously on display at the Portland Museum of Art in Maine.
“The exhibit is exciting because of the familiarity of the subjects,” Bozicnik said. “The photos are the work of world-renowned music journalists and fine artists and the compositions are incredible by themselves. But with the photos being of these rock legends, there is a level of accessibility. And that was one of our goals — to create a personal connection.”
Bozicnik said there is an integral relationship between photographs and rock ’n’ roll as the images project an attitude the artist is trying to get across.
“The photos are visual representations of what the musicians live,” Bozicnik said. “Photos are as important as the music. They create authenticity.”
To exhibit these works, Bozicnik has created a fun and relaxed atmosphere. The images will be hung somewhat in chronological order with a network of relationships that interconnect them. For example, there may be an earlier blues section, a British invasion section and an ’80s New York scene section.
There will be an iPad on which viewers can select music that will play throughout the museum. Finding the right tunes was almost another curated project, according to Bozicnik. Susan Leidy of the Currier selected songs connected to the musicians at the time the photos that are in the collection were taken. So for example, for the photo of Chuck Berry taken in 1964, Leidy found music by Berry from that year.
“The exhibition brings rarely seen, candid outtakes of some of the most famous musicians in the world,” Bozicnik said. “These aren’t glamour shots. These aren’t the ones that made the magazine. These are stolen moments that offer personal access other images don’t provide.”
They also may be the last of their kind. The world of media is changing very rapidly. Music journalists (not to mention just about all other journalists) do not get the type of access they used to. Artists are far more guarded about their personal lives and have more avenues (think social media) to create a public image for themselves. Fewer and fewer music journalists are spending months on the road with artists. Sure, an artist may tweet a personal picture, so we get a behind-the-scenes look, but those photos don’t have the same artistry as the work of a professional music journalist, according to Bozicnik.
Adding to the experience at the Currier is an audio tour, which has a variety of voices, including music historians and some of the photographers themselves, connecting time and place with the images. All of this helps paint the time line of the cultural history of rock ’n’ roll through images.