The Worcester Art Museum is currently showing a spectacular photography exhibit called Who Shot Rock and Roll: A Photographic History, 1955 to the Present. It’s gotten the attention of folks all over town, and I got my chance to see it the other day.
The WAM (as I like to call it) is kind of a hidden gem for the city, the kind of place that you always seem to forget about when you try to come up with cool things to do. Thankfully, they will bring in this type of show and people flock from far and wide. I was excited about it because it was combining two of my favorite things in the world: music and photography. When you think about rock and roll, the first thing that comes to mind after the music is the imagery. This exhibit focuses on the way photography can help to transform an artist into an icon.
For one, WSR&R is like a quick history lesson in rock. You start with Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly, work your way up to Elvis and the Beatles, then the Stones, Zeppelin, and so on. Along the way, you see how photographers develop a love for their subjects over the years, the way portraits grow into serious studies on the character of the pop idol. I spent so much time with a big smile on my face, thinking, “This makes these people legitimate. This makes them immortal.” It’s not just the music, if MTV ever taught us anything, right? Okay, so it’s art for the masses… but there’s a ton of good stuff.
My favorite finds: a larger and more detailed print of Anton Corbijn’s portrait of U2 that served as the cover for The Joshua Tree, a huge six-panel holographic Andy Warhol study of Jimi Hendrix, and learning that the most famous headshot of The Police featured Sting’s calculator wristwatch. I might have been most moved, though, by the juxtaposition of these images:
There’s Ian Curtis of Joy Division, the incredibly influential post-punk/pre-New Wave band of the late 70’s. Curtis committed suicide at the age of 23, driven there by depression and a terrible case of epilepsy. His lyrics were haunting and the music was moody and danceable. I’ve always been struck by this photo of him, his sad eyes wandering off in the distance. Also, his right hand looks freaking huge. But having read and watched plenty of material on his short life and the band’s endurance as New Order, Curtis is my own personal Jim Morrison. I got sucked into seeing this picture in person and I would have probably been brought down by it had this not been the one placed right beneath it:
This is probably my favorite picture of my favorite band. Here’s R.E.M. in the mid 80’s, sitting at the counter of Walter’s BBQ, a popular joint in their hometown of Athens, GA. They loved the place so much, they wrote a theme song for it. Michael Stipe’s silly mug is such a contrast to Curtis’s melancholy stare; never mind the fact that I love both these bands’ work, it was just great planning by the exhibitors.
Other great selections included a nice big portrait of Jack and Meg White, a very cool morphed image of Mick Jagger and a leopard, and a neat panoramic collage of Oasis in the studio with Johnny Marr. Could have seen more of The Who and maybe some representation of the colorful Flaming Lips, but you can’t have everything. Still, this is a thorough study of rock. The show is still at the WAM until May, so go and see it while you can.