Photographer Deborah Feingold got her start as a confidante of the New York City jazz scene of the early 70s. She went from taking pictures of jazz luminaries such as Chet Baker to doing shoots with some of the biggest names in rock n roll. In her new collection “Music,” Feingold offers a pictoral retrospective of the popular music scene spanning the past 40 years, with an emphasis on figures of the ‘70s and ‘80s.
Feingold does an excellent job of displaying the warmth to be found in subjects both expected and unexpected. A recent-era photo of Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards shows the legendary rock n roll outlaw barefoot on a tattered chair, head leaning against a massive hand with his many wrinkles on full display. Yet Richards’ face is beaming with a resigned smile, showing the softer side of this hard-living hero.
Warmth is also evident in the wide smiles of more personable stars, such as Tina Turner and the late James Brown. B.B. King grins like a proud papa as he cradles his guitar Lucille, displaying the amiability and love for his instrument anyone who has seen him perform knows well.
Feingold also does a good job of capturing the confidence and magnetism of performers who have become known as sex symbols. A 1980s photo of Madonna finds her in a sultry and slightly bored pose, hand on hip while she provocatively licks a lollipop and looks directly into the camera with a glazed stare. Madonna knows what she has and in a true demonstration of her personal power, doesn’t seem to care much.
Similarly, an early ‘80s shot of Prince coyly reclining and smirking on a sofa sums up his whole image, which would devolve into self-parody with almost any other performer. But Prince’s raw confidence, evident in his body language, allows him to pull it off.
Of course, not all popular musicians are known for exuding confidence and cheer, and Feingold captures the emotions of these performers as well. Chrissie Hynde and Paul Simon display similar gloomy, downcast facial expressions and hunched posture, while Mark Knopfler pensively stares down at his guitar backstage. The same love for his instrument displayed by B.B. King is in full display, but without the carefree sense of fun.
Feingold is also capable of translating real sadness. A harrowing early 1970s portrait of Chet Baker, looking ragged and dismayed sitting on a windowsill, eerily foreshadows his fatal fall from a window (likely suicide) 10 years later. And a side-angle portrait of Yoko Ono sitting beneath a huge illustration of John Lennon speaks volumes without words.
Many other luminaries are included – a young, mulletted Bono mugs for the camera in four sequential black and white shots, mock heavy metal band Spinal Tap camp it up, Elvis Costello pretends to cry, and LL Cool J chills out with a portable fan held next to his head. David Byrne makes an appearance in his legendary oversized “Stop Making Sense” suit, and a late 1970s photo of a gaunt Joe Perry and Steven Tyler displays the Aerosmith leading men leaning against each other like brothers, but with no affection or closeness on their glum faces.
As a whole, “Music” is a worthy visual travelogue through the last 40 years of popular culture. The final two pictures in the book end things on a satisfying and prescient note. A mid-1980s photo of the Beastie Boys shows Mike D and Ad Rock hamming it up in tough guy poses while the late MCA stands back, foreshadowing the more serious leadership role he would take as the Beasties evolved from jokey, obnoxious frat rappers into a culturally and musically progressive force. And the final picture is of the late Frank Zappa playfully scowling, his fingers bent in the Italian “use your head” symbol, reminding the reader that ultimately, rock n roll is just another form of show business.