Music and musicians have always been powerful magnets for photographers and artists. The narrow outlook of the past would tend towards the cliched images of the performer on stage or posing theatrically, but thankfully times have moved on. The Photographers Gallery has delved in to the new relationship between the photographer and musician and takes us beyond the conventional.
Spurred by swift developments in digital technologies, both photography and music have seen significant changes to the channels for ownership and distribution. Traditional frameworks that once upheld a distance between photographers, fans, stars and their labels have collapsed allowing a myriad of new routes of production and consumption.
This fascinating exhibition provides us with a wide range of imagery that both supports the music industry as well as undercutting its cliches, one floor of the gallery being dedicated to the musician, whilst downstairs the fans are allowed in backstage.
The changing relationship is quickly and clearly highlighted – music photographers formerly worked to limited briefs for specific publications, but now are much more in control whilst musicians themselves play a more active role in their own image creation and distribution. The audience too is involved, as they capture and share their own versions of gigs, and interact with the wider fan base.
A big change has been the dramatic power shift from industry to both image-makers and the musicians. Stars now eschew traditional shoots, and create their own artistic egos with high concept imagery from top name photographers. Ryan Enn Hughes’ images of Katy Perry present the singer in five comical disguises, whilst Lady Gaga is depicted in portraits ranging from angelic to gruesome in shots from Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin.
Performers reach out to collaborate with photographers who they feel provide the right visual context for their music – don’t miss Jason Evans’ hugely inventive publicity images of Radiohead or Roger Ballen’s photographs of the South African rap-rave group Die Antwoord.
Despite the rise in images taken by fans, backstage and behind the scenes, access still provides photographers with an element of exclusivity. Daniel Cohen depicts singers and bands during moments of rest between the gig and the encore.
Deirdre O’Callaghan’s excellent project The Drum Thing documents assorted drummers lost in the music during practice sessions whilst – taking a different angle both physically and metaphorically – Pep Bonet’s images of Motorhead are shot from the stage.
Downstairs the fans get their own coverage. Ewen Spencer catches the crowds at UK garage nights whilst William Coutts’ images document the violent, visceral experience of the mosh pit and its sweaty or burnt out aftermath.
The biggest name on show is Ryan McGinley who very effectively turns his lens from hedonistic models to present close-ups of festival goers. Gareth McConnell similarly focuses on the fans – this time for dance music in Ibiza.
The exhibition would not be complete without featuring those fans for which dressing up as their idol is an essential part of the experience. James Mollison features Lady Gaga fans from The Disciples whilst Lorena Turner lines up a rather spooky selection of Michael Jackson wannabes.
There is lots of welcome variation. We have high production studio shots alongside low tech or grainy black and white ones. Formats range from big to small, and from film to print publications. We have vitrines, frames and screens. This is a delightful exhibition that will keep any music – or photography – fan amused for hours.
The exhibition runs until 20 September 2015. For more information visit www.thephotographersgallery.org.uk