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'Who Shot Rock & Roll' exhibition shows the visual side of rockers

Bob Dylan in Liverpool and a shirtless Tupac Shakur are among the images at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Century City.

June 10, 2012|By Steve Appleford, Special to the Los Angeles Times | This post has been corrected. Please see note below.
  • Flip Shot, Pasadena, Calif., 1981
Flip Shot, Pasadena, Calif., 1981 (Edward Colver, Annenberg…)

Rock 'n' roll was never just about music. It was also about the way Jimi Hendrix held a guitar and the look in his eyes when he set it ablaze onstage in 1967. Its essence could be found in the swirl of a mosh pit, in the epic pompadour of James Brown, in the provocative finery of Madonna and KISS.

For this, fans have depended on the permanent record captured by generations of rock photography, from the gorgeous black-and-white reportage by Alfred Wertheimer of a young Elvis Presley on the road in 1956 to the vivid portraits of Kurt Cobain and Katy Perry by Mark Seliger for the cover of Rolling Stone.

That legacy is celebrated in "Who Shot Rock & Roll: A Photographic History, 1955 to the Present," an exhibition opening June 23 and running through Oct. 7 at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Century City. The show will feature 166 prints gathered from the last half-century of rock, soul and hip-hop, illustrating an essential partnership between the musical and the visual.

"Like any revolution, it had to be recorded to be believed," says photography curator Gail Buckland, who created "Who Shot Rock" for the Brooklyn Museum in 2009 and wrote the accompanying book. "Many photographers speak about being on the forefront, reporting back about what was happened in the world — it was revolutionary, and it was brilliant, and it was unifying."

At the Annenberg, the walls and digital screens will be crowded with scenes from those front lines: Barry Feinstein's images of a young Bob Dylan strolling the cobblestones of Liverpool, Danny Clinch's Polaroid of a bare-chested Tupac Shakur, Storm Thorgerson's surreal album covers for Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and the Mars Volta.

"With a musician there's definitely a level of collaboration," says Seliger, who has photographed a variety of subjects, including President Obama and actress Megan Fox. "There are very few out there that would let you change who they are, nor would you want to. It's really about celebrating who they are."

In the late 1960s, Lynn Goldsmith began shooting musicians and has captured classic images of Van Halen, Bob Marley and the Beastie Boys while expanding into other genres. "I used to bristle when people called me a rock 'n' roll photographer: 'Excuse me, I shoot for National Geographic, I've done covers for Sports Illustrated, I've done movie posters,'" she recalls, then adds with a laugh, "It wasn't until I was 50 that I embraced it, because it seemed to be so youthful!"

At the Annenberg, a new documentary about the photographers and their subjects will be screened throughout each day, and KCRW-FM (89.9) will host a series of free concerts in the courtyard: Moby (acoustic) and DJ Jason Bentley on July 14; a tribute to T. Rex's "Slider" album July 21; and a tribute to Bob Dylan with Raphael Saadiq and Band of Skulls on Aug. 4.

Henry Diltz was a singer in the Modern Folk Quartet in the mid-'60s before picking up his first camera. He began sharing his results during slide shows with his friends in the Laurel Canyon folk-rock scene, and the pictures soon appeared in magazines and on album covers.

He still gets called to photograph young unknown acts that have yet to even record an album. "I go like I always did, because I love music, I want to see what they're doing," Diltz says. "I'm curious."

[For the record, 11:03 a.m. June 10: An earlier version of this article stated that rock band Portugal. The Man would be performing T. Rex album "The Slider" on July 21. While the evening will serve as a tribute to glam rockers T. Rex, as the day coincides with the 40th anniversary of the release of "The Slider," Portugal. The Man will not be performing the album.]

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