Last night I visited The British Music Experience museum at the O2 Bubble in Greenwich, to attend the opening night of ‘Gibson Through The Lens’ an exhibition of 60 or so prints of some of the great artists of rock music, all using of course, their Gibson guitars. The photos capture some great moments in the 50 year history of rock-and-roll and show the central place that Gibson instruments have occupied throughout. In addition Baron Wolman, one of the most accomplished American photographers of the genre, talked of his experiences as an early practitioners of the art, starting from his time as photographer for the legendary Rolling Stone magazine in the mid 1960s.
The O2 was buzzing, with gigs in both stadia, so it was good to step into the relatively relaxed atmosphere of the museum. I had barely started to look at the photographs when the visitor beside me asked: "Are you a Gibson guy, or a Fender guy?". "How do you know I play?" I replied, amused by his (correct) assumption. "I reckon half the people here are players, the other half are photographers, so I guessed!" He was probably right about the visitors and certainly right in his implication that between them Gibson and Fender continue to rule the world of guitar playing, with most guitarists being devoted to one or the other – like bitter or lager, Porsches or Ferraris. "To be honest, I prefer Fenders", I said in a hushed voice." "Yes but Gibsons sure are pretty!" he replied. And of course they are – very pretty indeed and they instantly bring detail and context to each photo in the collection.
|Dave Brolan, Gibson Through The Lens Curator, with US Rolling Stone Magazine photographer Baron Wolman. Photo by Lauren Keogh - www.laurenkeogh.com
Most of the exhibition is monochrome and shot long before the digital age. Some studio shots are carefully and skillfully constructed, but the ones with the real impact are those that capture a fleeting moment of live performance, of excitement and sheer adrenalin visible in the faces of Hendrix, the Stones, even Chuck Berry and others. Taken in conditions of almost impossible light and angle, they nevertheless tell you what the artist was feeling or saying - and therein lies these photographers’ great achievements – to capture the spirit of the moment rather than to reach technical perfection. My favourites really were Baron Wolman's- and there were too many great examples for me to pick out one - but there were others too, particularly by Jim Marshall and Neal Preston.
Baron's talk was really enjoyable and nostalgic, covering a period that those of us who were there remember with great affection. His accompanying slide show included many of his greatest pictures and he conjured up a lost world of pioneering music and ‘alternative’ lifestyle, in the days when middle-class Amercians drove for hundreds of miles to San Francisco, just to see the hippies. Some of his shots are stunning, indeed one after the other would score as that one elusive, fabulous shot that we all strive for and maybe never quite achieve. His book , ‘The Rolling Stone Years’ belongs on the shelf of everyone who loves the genre.
So, is it worth the trek to south-east London? Yes, if you truly love rock music and the photography that has preserved it. Perhaps not if you are simply a lover of photography, or excited more by technical expertise than by this specialist subject. Baron really was the star of the show, but sadly he was there for one night only. There will be other photographers speaking on some future nights and details will be posted on the museum’s website: British Music Experience
The Gibson Through The Lens exhibition runs from November 2011 until January 31st 2012.