Rock & Roll Unites All Segments of the Nation

By Exhibition Curator, Gail Buckland

Who Shot Rock and Roll opened at the Brooklyn Museum late in October 2009. Thousands turned out for the opening with live music by Blondie.  We were all ready for a rock & roll party after the economic downturn and other depressing news.  It is amazing how great photographs of one of the most significant social revolutions of all time can make spirits soar.

The Annenberg Space for Photography's hosting of the exhibition may be the last venue on a nine-museum tour across America.  There is always something special about the East Coast/West Coast - the country’s bookends - connection.  But, rock & roll is a powerful thread that unites all segments of the nation. 

At almost every venue, people who never crossed the threshold of an art museum, entered and were entranced.  Regular visitors discovered, or rediscovered, that great photography - no matter what the subject - is also great art.  And, people asked me, over and over again, “why hasn’t there been an exhibition like this before?”

The answer lies, in part, because I chose the photographs on their merit, not simply because of who was in them.  My approach to curating Who Shot Rock and Roll is exactly the same as any other art exhibition I have organized - do the research; visit the artists; go through their archives; ask questions that have not been asked before; select photographs that are worthy of hanging on museum walls and inclusion in the larger histories of photography, art and culture; write a catalogue and wall labels that illuminate the subject and provide new information and insight into the pictures.  Music photographers have been treated as outsiders.  My mission is to acknowledge the enormous contribution of the men and women who photographed rock and gave it its image.

Who Shot Rock & Roll opens at the Annenberg Space for Photography on June 23, 2012.

Bob Gruen on Debbie Harry

Max’s Kansas City was opened by Mickey Ruskin on Park Avenue in New York City in the 1960’s.  It soon became a hangout for artists, including Andy Warhol, whose studio was nearby, and Debbie Harry, who worked as a waitress at the club. In the early 1970's Mickey left and Tommy Dean reopened Max’s as a hangout for rock & roll bands and their followers. Blondie played there - often opening for the New York Dolls and later as headliners. 

This photo of mine shows Debbie Harry, lead singer of Blondie, at Max’s in July 1976.  Debbie recently told me she made the dress herself from a pillow case she found on the street. The somewhat military-like hat she’s wearing in this photo was meant to dramatize a song with some German lyrics that she sang in a Marlene Dietrich-like style.

See this image and more in Who Shot Rock & Roll: The Film, part of the Who Shot Rock & Roll photography exhibit running at the Annenberg Space for Photography now through October 7, 2012.

Photo: © Bob Gruen. Debbie Harry at Max's Kansas City in New York, NY, 1976.

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