Musicapolis: ďAll Iíve got is a photograph...Ē
Wednesday 27 July @ 16:47:45
by Steve McPherson
At their root, music and photography share the need for creativity and impeccable timing. This commonality becomes even stronger when our attention focuses on live music and rock photography, each of which often relies on the artistís ability to, in a split second, create something to make a lasting impression. This might be an improvised solo, the spontaneous tossing of an instrument, or just the right angle on the interaction between performer and crowd. For the audience and musicans, the performances will fade into memory, but the photographers get to go back and relive, again and again, a casual moment between Gary Louris and Mark Olson before they went their separate ways, or the sight of a young Prince Rogers Nelson, kneeling into the splits, guitar upright, Afro fully blown out. The Minnesota Center for Photography and curator Colleen Sheehy have put on Musicapolis so we can all share in this nostalgia.
a project of this nature, there have to be exclusions. Jazz and classical performers
are not featured in the exhibit, blues musicians are peppered here and there,
but most of the photos are of full-on rock and rollers.
The 40th anniversary of the Beatlesí Minnesota debut at Met Stadium falls
in the middle of the exhibition, so Bill Carlsonís photos of the Fab Four
from 1965 made for a convenient starting point. And forty years is no small
amount of time, given that photos from the Ď90s could have composed the
whole exhibition. With these 230 photos, Sheehy and her co-curators have endeavored
not to create a comprehensive overview, but rather a sampling. There are posed
shots, casual backstage shots, live performance shots from small clubs, large
clubs and arenas. Many of the photographers represented have never had a gallery
show before, and that in itself is exciting.
From Greg Helgesonís massive collection of 50 unframed shots on a red
wall to the line of large format, high-gloss shots by Target Center photographer
David Sherman, there are a variety of approaches. Helgesonís shots are
arresting, greeting you as you enter the gallery, and covering a wide range
of subjects from James Brown to the Suburbs. Tom Berthiaumeís photo of
a young Bonnie Raitt performing at the Guthrie Theater in 1971, looking up into
the lightsóbefore she was the world-wise elder statewoman of blues-rockóis
archetypal rock photography. There
are a fair share of photos of the late Karl Mueller, whose life brought many
memorable moments to this scene, and Steve Cohenís shot of him looking
off to the side, a stage light bursting around him, pulls unexpected heartstrings
at a show mostly devoted to sex, drugs and rock and roll.
Cohen, whose work is being displayed in a gallery for the first time, recounts
the experience of having to ďgo stealthĒ and sneak cameras into
venues. Even photographers with press passes are under tremendous pressure to
deliver the goods, usually within the first three songs of a set, and under
terrible lighting conditions. Sheehy opined that while war photography has to
be the most dangerous, rock photography has to come in second in terms of stress.
The reception itself featured some of the musicians who appear in the exhibit,
and at least on this occasion, it seemed like a stress-free show. Lori Barbero
hung out after her band Koala finished their old school (circa 1993) rock set,
Marc Perlman chatted with friends, and Slim Dunlap, Grant Hart and Dan Israel
all circulated through the backstage area. In many ways, it felt like a mini-Grand
Old Day: there were brats, people sitting on curbs, and it all happened on asphalt.
And then again, it felt a little like a high school reunion.
Sheehy lamented the difficulty of including the work of the photographers documenting
the current scene. Itís understandableóthe amount of research involved
in just finding the right people to talk to would be tremendousóbut unfortunate.
There are shots of Atmosphereís seven-night stand at the 7th Street Entry
and youth phenom Melodious Owl by Tony Nelson, but by and large, itís
more like the class of 1995, and less the class of 2005. This isnít a
criticism of the current show, which does just what it sets out to do, but hereís
hoping that Musicapolis II comes to fruition.
passage of time was brought home forcefully during a set by the X-boys. When
they took the stage, I didnít know what to expect. They were all clearly
veterans of the music business, but not ones I was familiar with, so when they
launched into some rocking enough if fairly mainstream blues, I listened for
a bit and then wandered back into the gallery. There on the door was the list
of musicians, and much to my surprise, the X-boys consisted of members of the
Suburbs and the Suicide Commandos. The very same people you can see opening
for the Ramones and the Talking Heads in Ď77 were up there playing some
good old fahioned, family-friendly R&B, including an Al Green cover.
Time rolls on and the things that were once held dear arenít as important
anymore. The fire and passion of youth give way to responsibility and stability.
AOR gives way to AARP. Itís a good thing there were people like Bonnie
Butler Brown and Daniel Kramer around to capture the former. Rockers might age,
but rock photographers will make sure we can always remember these musicians
when they inspired us to pick up guitars and start bands, when they made backstage
the place you most wanted to be, and when all they cared about was rock and