Graham Nash says in his introduction, “You really have to make yourself a part of the music to take great music shots.” Feeling you’re a part of the music helps, sure, but I think you only really have to have a good eye or be present at auspicious moments. These are celebrities, after all, and they carry cultural auras, onstage anyway. A dressing-room shot of Alice Cooper besieged by makeup, costuming, and other illusion-crafting junk reminds us that while rock pushes feeling to an almost unbearable pitch, it’s still and always what was once called “the show business.” Some of the finest moments in Taking Aim are the quieter ones.
I once saw a National Enquirer headline: “Boy Sees with His Ears.” Some truth there, I thought, looking at a composed portrait of bat-eared Joe Cocker. Rock is so much a world of stress and wailing that the image of a happy, loose, grinning B.B. King really stands out. Other intimate moments tend toward those like Janis Joplin backstage, blotto, clutching a pint of Southern Comfort as if she’s trying to warm her heart with it. And the corny maxim about rock stars’ living fast and dying young is revivified by the lovely shot of a solitary Nick Cave, whose shadow on a wall is already running ahead of him.
Taking Aim: Unforgettable Rock ’n’ Roll Photographs Selected by Graham Nash
Museum of Photographic Arts, 1649 El Prado, Balboa Park
Through September 26. For additional information, call 619-238-7559.