Making the scene: The rock photographers that defined an era

Posted on July 23, 2020 by Sonoma Valley Sun
Emmy winning reporter Joe Rosato of Nbc Bay Area interviews Margie Maynard at the SVMA.

By Jackie Lee | Sun Fine Arts

Many Sonoma residents have memories of the 1960s and ‘70s. Vivid recollections of war giving birth to the peace movement and sit-ins. Sights, sounds, and aromas of wild and crazy days were inhaled and peace and love exhaled. Woodstock. Dylan. Creedence. The Grateful Dead. Hendrix. Personal expression exploded. Boys grew their hair long, girls wore miniskirts, and boots, Cleopatra eyeliner. Drove parents mad. All recorded by inventive photographers, sidestepping staid portraits to capture the reality of heady times.

The Sonoma Valley Museum of Art exhibition California Rocks! Photographers Who Made the Scene, 1960-1980, celebrates the role photographers played in rock and roll culture. It begins July 1.

The show is curated by Joel Selvin, former San Francisco Chronicle music critic with extensive knowledge of the era. A special photo homage will honor Bruce Cohn, who before his winery days was deeply involved in the music industry.

Twenty-two photographers are represented in the display of over 60 photographs; following are a few of them.

Pop star Marianne Faithful, photographed by Andee Nathanson in 1968.

Andee Nathanson

Andee Nathanson toured with legendary music stars of the era, capturing intimate moments of their lives in a vast cache of photos made possible through her personal connections. Her close friends included Donovan, Dennis Hopper, Ringo Starr, Papa John Phillips, and many more.

Nathanson documented Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers for their debut album, Alice Cooper’s stay at the iconic Landmark Hotel, the covers of the legendary Frank Zappa album Hot Rats, and her journey through the back roads of a lost America. A model, muse, and artist herself, Nathanson’s lens explores locations from Rome to London, Los Angeles to Morocco. The result is a grand adventure amid the wide expanse of the California High Desert, the upper-class enclaves of British society, and along the palm-lined curves of Mulholland Drive.

“I am delighted to be a part of ‘California Rocks,’” she told The Sun. “When I think of photography and California and what sets it apart, it has to be, at least for me, the quality of the light. And no place could better show that than Sonoma.”

Michael Zagaris’ photo of Jimmy Page

Michael Zagaris

Working for a time as Robert Kennedy’s speechwriter, Zagaris had a life-changing moment upon the senator’s assassination, dropped out of law school, and eventually began covering the rock and roll scene in San Francisco. He documented seminal acts including The Clash, Grateful Dead, Blondie, Sex Pistols, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, Patti Smith, Led Zeppelin, and many more.

His photographs are some of the best portraits of their kind, the vast majority of his archive remaining unseen until now. His book Total Access is a visual feast replete with photos and compelling stories from the tumultuous time that epitomized both music and culture of the day. He continues to shoot music, sports, fashion, and culture.

Baron Wolfman, Rolling Stone’s first chief photographer, is “grateful to have been in California with my cameras during the 1960’s upheaval, which gave us political and social changes that the bands noticed, and wrote and sang about.”

Baron Wolman

Baron Wolman met freelance writer Jann Wenner, in 1967. Wolman had been photographing rock bands, and Wenner had plans to form a new music periodical with San Francisco Chronicle’s music writer, Ralph Gleason. Wolman joined the new periodical, Rolling Stone, and worked for free while retaining ownership of all the photos.

With virtually unlimited access to his subjects, his photographs of Janis Joplin, the Rolling Stones, Frank Zappa, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Joan Baez, Iggy Pop, Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead, Jim Morrison, Ike & Tina Turner, and other musicians were the graphic centerpieces of the magazine’s layout. Wolman never used on-camera strobes, preferring informal portraiture, a style appropriate to both the musicians he was documenting and the audience for his photographs.


Vintage Bruce Springsteen, by Joel Bernstein

Joel Bernstein

Joel Bernstein is an acclaimed photographer whose work, spanning more than three decades, chronicled the inner lives and public moments of luminaries like Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, Prince, Jackson Browne, Laura Nyro, Tom Petty, and many others.

He has been part of their intimate circle since age 16, when Joni Mitchell, then at the beginning of her exceptional recording career, asked him to be her photographer. Bernstein also became a close friend and musical collaborator with many of his other subjects, playing and singing on their albums and concert tours, but his most important work remains his up-close-and-personal photographs of these singular artists. His preferred method has been to spend as much time as possible with his subjects until the right instant – the perfect moment of intimacy – reveals ­­­­itself.


SVMA is located at 551 Broadway, Sonoma. 707.939.7862. The SVMA will comply with all safety guidelines and explore options to present the full exhibition online.




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