Bob Lefsetz

Earlier this week, Bob Lefsetz had a post concerning a photo show that had just opened in Los Angeles:   Search back for -Who shot Rock and Roll. It was an interesting post, and in a luke warm way, kind of gave photographers a little credit for helping bands with their photography. I sent him a response. He probably won’t post it- so here it is!

Hey Bob,

I have been a reader for quite a while, and am in agreement with most of what you say. I must comment on your most recent post. I am a music photographer entering my 37th year in the business. Although I was not asked to participate in the exhibit you mentioned, I think the exhibit is fabulous. Unfortunately, this show will never happen in the future, as the art of music photography is pretty much dead. Under the banner of “controlling their artist’s image” manager and publicists have controlled their clients to the point that no really good photographs are being taken in this century, and if they are, the photographer has no ownership or control over their own art. They are being relegated to only shooting the first 15 minutes of the show, many times from the back of the hall, and asked to sign away all the rights to their work to the artist they are photographing. They are also told that they can only license their photographs to one publication (most likely a publication that does not pay, or pays very little). In most cases, they will be hard pressed to pay back the cost of parking for the event!

Case in point: Yesterday I was hired to photograph some sound guys working on a major tour (Aerosmith and Cheap Trick). My deal was to photograph the sound guys late afternoon, and then photograph the concert, showing the artists using the equipment made by the company I was working for. In the past I have photographed these two bands a total of 24 times. I consider them friends. I had a great conversation with Robin Zander, shot my pictures, and started to negotiate access to shoot the shows. At 6:30, I gave up, went home and was sitting on my couch at home when the show started.

The opposite situation: A few weeks ago, the Beach Boys were in town. Through my friendship with the band their management, I was allowed total access to both shows. A journalist clued me in that the band would gather around Brian’s piano for one song (of course when all the accredited photographers were safely out of the building). I photographed that moment both nights, and it is not surprising that my photographs of that moment appeared in Rolling Stone and Newsweek shortly after. This was a moment that would have been captured by all the photographers you mentioned from the exhibit (none of them, as far as I know, are still actively photographing!) but is now being captured by almost nobody as the band tours the world.

In closing: You say “The photographers were hangers-on, but they were much closer to the musicians than us.” I disagree with that statement. We were an important part of the process of marketing and publicizing the artists, and worked together with management and publicity to further the careers of the artists we worked with. We were also documenting an art form, so that future generations could see what we were part of. Unfortunately, that doesn’t exist anymore. I would love to hear a conversation between a curator and a museum 20 years from now concerning mounting a show of photography of the 21st century. It would consist of boring pictures taken when the bands are warming up!


Paul Natkin

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