The slide shows had always been a party, presented by photographer Henry Diltz for a casual gathering of some musician friends. Projected onto a bare wall would be the candid images of such notable pop music figures as Neil Young, Jackson Browne, James Taylor or whomever else Diltz had happened to be hanging around with in recent weeks.
Of course, many of these same pictures documenting rock figures since the late 1960s would ultimately appear on any number of album covers or in national music magazines. And yet there was something definitely different for Diltz over the years in seeing his work blown up to the size of a painting.
"People sure liked that, and it was real gratifying to see my photos that way," Diltz says now.
A collection of photographs by Diltz and several other photographers of rock musicians will soon get similar treatment at a group exhibition titled "The Legends of Rock 'n' Roll," opening May 17 at the Legends Galleries in Brentwood. The exhibit, spanning four decades, captures in more than 60 photographs rock stars from Elvis Presley to Prince.
The show follows the success of the gallery's 1988 debut exhibition, pictures of the Beatles by the late Dezo Hoffman. That exhibit subsequently toured about a dozen cities, most recently San Francisco, and attracted the interest of a large number of other rock photographers looking to have their work presented in a gallery setting.
"We sifted through it all and came to the conclusion that there was a lot of material that had never been published, never seen anywhere," gallery director Larry Richard said. "And we wanted to show it to the public."
Much of the work initially submitted was unexceptional by gallery standards, Richard said, but he was ultimately impressed enough to compile a show, largely with the pictures of longtime rock photographers Diltz, Richard E. Aaron and Robert Knight. Rarely seen photographs of the Rolling Stones by Hoffman were added to the mix. Some photographers who had only dabbled in rock photography round out the presentation.
In that last category is a dynamic image by Roger Marshutz of a young and still-emerging Presley, reaching down to ecstatic fans during a 1956 concert in Tupelo, Miss. And a set of prints by Michael McCartney, younger brother of Paul McCartney, offers candid moments from the Beatles' earliest days in Liverpool.
All of the pictures, mostly 16- by 20-inch archival-quality prints, were made from the original negatives, Richard said. At least 90% of the show will consist of black-and-white photography.
That emphasis has prompted Diltz to collect his own black-and-white work, much of which he shot almost as an afterthought to his color photography.
Diltz, who in the mid-1960s was a musician with the Modern Folk Quartet before transforming himself into a photographer, has spent much time in relaxed situations with his subjects, taking pains not to interrupt the scene in front of him.
"Some photographers kind of want to direct, try to make a picture," said Diltz, 52, who lives in North Hollywood. "But I'm just looking for the picture, and I just want to do it very quietly so that I don't disturb what's going on.
"I never thought of myself as a professional photographer, in capital letters. For me, it was always the experience of hanging out. Like that day with James Taylor, I had a great time hanging out, listening to him play. I could listen to him play for hours, watch people and take a few pictures. I have great patience in that regard because that's where I want to be anyway.
"I kind of looked at it as a passport to being there and watching it all happen."
Diltz sees this month's opening as a long-awaited opportunity to present his two decades of photography in a gallery setting, something he has rarely done since the short-lived Museum of Rock Art in the early 1980s. The group exhibition is also scheduled to tour, beginning on the East Coast.
"He's not looking for fame, necessarily, but for recognition of a body of work that is artistic and of fine quality," Richard said as Beatles music played faintly in the gallery. "Most of them are looking for that."
Still, Richard said, several of the photographers were initially looking to have their own solo gallery shows, not unlike the successful Hoffman exhibition that attracted them. The gallery owner instead opted for a group show--promising solo shows for any photographers whose work sold especially well--rather than dilute the collective impact.
"The interest is going to wane if in the same gallery I do one rock 'n' roll show after another," Richard said.
He added that the gallery's aim was not to specialize in entertainment or celebrity photography, although he hopes to have a "Legends of Jazz" show next year. Other exhibits at the gallery have been devoted to the more surreal imagery of such artists as Jim Farber, French-based photographer Richard D'Amore and, opening there in July, Judith Diana Winston.
But Richard is likely to regularly return to the rock documentary genre as long as photographers present him with work that he finds interesting and marketable.
Said Diltz: "I still work for a lot of the same old friends I've had: Crosby, Stills & Nash, Dan Fogelberg. It's the same people, years later. They're still making the music; I'm still taking the pictures."
"The Legends of Rock 'n' Roll," an exhibition of rock photography, opens May 17 and continues through June 23 at the Legends Galleries, 11682 San Vicente Blvd., Brentwood. Open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays. No admission charge. For information, call (213) 826-4255.