National Geographic

How Photographers Created Rock And Roll

Johnny Cash gives the camera "the bird." John Lennon sports a New York City tank top on a high-rise rooftop. Kurt Cobain clutches his hair and weeps backstage. On the album cover of London Calling, Paul Simonon of the Clash famously raises his guitar on stage to smash it. These are the iconic photographs that have created our vision of rock 'n' roll. We know the rockers, but who took the photos?

  • Elton John, Sundown Theatre, Edmonton, North London, 1973. "Back when I was one of a small handful of photographers working in the music scene, access to artists and gigs was easy. I believe it's not quite the same these days to shoot as I did; there are so many restrictions imposed on photographers."
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    Elton John, Sundown Theatre, Edmonton, North London, 1973. "Back when I was one of a small handful of photographers working in the music scene, access to artists and gigs was easy. I believe it's not quite the same these days to shoot as I did; there are so many restrictions imposed on photographers."
    Barrie Wentzell
  • Alice Temple, New York City, 2008. "We met up in the afternoon, had a glass of lemonade and took some photos. ... I guess there is a romantic notion that rock and roll is wild, and sure it is under certain circumstances, but in the end it comes in waves."
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    Alice Temple, New York City, 2008. "We met up in the afternoon, had a glass of lemonade and took some photos. ... I guess there is a romantic notion that rock and roll is wild, and sure it is under certain circumstances, but in the end it comes in waves."
    Ari Marcopoulos
  • Kurt Cobain, Motor Sports International Garage, Seattle, Sept. 22, 1990. "The band did an awesome set where Kurt continuously smashed his guitar through his amp and speakers. ... Backstage he sat down and burst into tears, with an outpouring of pent-up emotion that just had to go somewhere. ... I had my camera but I was very unsure about taking his photo while he was so vulnerable. I did one...
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    Kurt Cobain, Motor Sports International Garage, Seattle, Sept. 22, 1990. "The band did an awesome set where Kurt continuously smashed his guitar through his amp and speakers. ... Backstage he sat down and burst into tears, with an outpouring of pent-up emotion that just had to go somewhere. ... I had my camera but I was very unsure about taking his photo while he was so vulnerable. I did one photo and he didn't stop me so I took two more ... and he was cool about it, said nothing, just accepted me. Looking back he showed great trust. ... His trust resulted in one of the most famous images of a rock icon ever."
    Ian Tilton
  • Frank Zappa, "Himself," New York City, 1967. "I had photographed the Rolling Stones in drag. Zappa must have liked the photograph. Zappa called me and said he would like to do a photo combining the idea of the Stones in drag and The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's."
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    Frank Zappa, "Himself," New York City, 1967. "I had photographed the Rolling Stones in drag. Zappa must have liked the photograph. Zappa called me and said he would like to do a photo combining the idea of the Stones in drag and The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's."
    Jerry Schatzberg
  • Patti Smith outside CBGB, Bowery and Bleecker Street, New York City, 1976. "In between sets at CBGB, everyone stood out on the Bowery to get fresh air. It was so picturesque, and it was there that I took many of my photographs. It was like my own photo studio."
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    Patti Smith outside CBGB, Bowery and Bleecker Street, New York City, 1976. "In between sets at CBGB, everyone stood out on the Bowery to get fresh air. It was so picturesque, and it was there that I took many of my photographs. It was like my own photo studio."
    Godlis
  • Mosh pit at a Mudhoney concert at Endfest, Kitsap County, Washington, 1991. "I've probably changed more than the rock scene has! I don't make it out much anymore being 45 and with a new baby. I do think that the photography has changed, and not for the better. Less access, more controlled by labels and publicists, too much emphasis on the staged portrait. I find it all pretty boring." (C...
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    Mosh pit at a Mudhoney concert at Endfest, Kitsap County, Washington, 1991. "I've probably changed more than the rock scene has! I don't make it out much anymore being 45 and with a new baby. I do think that the photography has changed, and not for the better. Less access, more controlled by labels and publicists, too much emphasis on the staged portrait. I find it all pretty boring."
    Charles Peterson
  • Bob Dylan, Blonde on Blonde, New York City, 1966. "We started photographing in the studio and got some very nice photographs but nothing that I thought would be a cover. ... I have always liked the Meatpacking District so we went there. It was cold and neither one of us was dressed warm enough, and because the photograph is blurred and has movement, people were trying to analyze it as some s...
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    Bob Dylan, Blonde on Blonde, New York City, 1966. "We started photographing in the studio and got some very nice photographs but nothing that I thought would be a cover. ... I have always liked the Meatpacking District so we went there. It was cold and neither one of us was dressed warm enough, and because the photograph is blurred and has movement, people were trying to analyze it as some sort of drug trip. Not so! The two of us were shivering and moving and two or three frames came out that way. ... [Dylan] had the final say and chose that. I was extremely pleased."
    Jerry Schatzberg
  • REM, Walter's BBQ, Athens, Ga., 1984
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    REM, Walter's BBQ, Athens, Ga., 1984
    Laura Levine
  • Blondie band members (from left) Chris Stein and Debbie Harry, with roadie Michael Sticca, CBGB, New York City, 1977
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    Blondie band members (from left) Chris Stein and Debbie Harry, with roadie Michael Sticca, CBGB, New York City, 1977
    Godlis
  • The Ramones (from left): Johnny Ramone, Tommy Ramone, Joey Ramone and Dee Dee Ramone, New York City, 1976
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    The Ramones (from left): Johnny Ramone, Tommy Ramone, Joey Ramone and Dee Dee Ramone, New York City, 1976
    Roberta Bayley
  • Michael Jackson, New York City, 1999
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    Michael Jackson, New York City, 1999
    Albert Watson
  • Wu-Tang Clan's Method Man with Huckleberry Mahoney, West Fourth Street, New York City, 1996
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    Wu-Tang Clan's Method Man with Huckleberry Mahoney, West Fourth Street, New York City, 1996
    Ricky Powell
  • Pavement, Reading Festival, Reading, England, 1995
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    Pavement, Reading Festival, Reading, England, 1995
    Danny Clinch
  • The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (outtake), Jones Street, New York City, 1963
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    The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (outtake), Jones Street, New York City, 1963
    Don Hunstein/Courtesy of Sony Music Entertainment
  • Madonna, Danceteria, New York City, 1983
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    Madonna, Danceteria, New York City, 1983
    Maripol

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Jim Marshall, Bob Gruen, Ian Tilton and Pennie Smith are their names, respectively. They are four of more than a hundred photographers featured in a new book: Who Shot Rock & Roll: A Photographic History 1955-Present. From a gyrating Elvis in 1955 right up to the big-haired Amy Winehouse — f—m early pop rock to the British Invasion, from punk to New Wave — t— book covers not only some of the most iconic rock moments, but also the stories behind them.

The musical genre has evolved dramatically since Elvis, and so has the photographic genre. In the beginning, there were very few "rock photographers." And the few that existed had no problem getting into shows and photographing throughout the entire performance. Nowadays, a photographer is lucky to get in, and even luckier to be able to shoot during more than one song. Tilton explained in an e-mail:

When I was taking live pictures at big gigs in the '80s and early '90s, we were able to photograph the whole set. Then in the mid-90s, someone said, "You can do the first 3 songs only." ... Now the first 3 songs are useless — the band hasn't gotten into their stride; they aren't even sweating! And that's what great live rock 'n' roll photography is all about: atmosphere and sweat and the band getting "lost in music." That's never gonna be at the beginning of a set. It's always near the end! Do you think I would have gotten those classic photos of Kurt Cobain smashing his guitar in the first 3 numbers?

Written by photographic historian Gail Buckland, the book is one of the first to tell the story of rock 'n' roll with an emphasis on those who fashioned its image. What would rock be without that photo of the Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, or of Elton John doing a handstand on his piano? Photography didn't create rock, but it certainly helped create our vision of it.

The photos will be on display at the Brooklyn Museum in New York from Oct. 30 through Jan. 31.

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