ON 23 July, the year 2011 became the year that Amy Winehouse left us to join the string of musical legends whose talents and fame bore into their youth and eventually took their lives. The Day the Music Died is a photographic memorial dedicated to some of the twentieth and twenty-first century’s most iconic musical superstars, in a humbling reminder that they gave their lives, in so many ways, in order to give us the music we still cherish today. It is incredibly fitting that Amy Winehouse’s album, Lioness: Hidden Treasures, rocketed to the number one spot in the UK album chart a couple of week’s back.
The image serves as another reminder that though photography enables the transformation of a performer into an iconic figure, it can also unveil what lies beneath that mythical image.
The exhibition posed as a wonderful microcosm of the power of these musicians – the power to unite the culturally diverse, the power to reach out to the individual, whoever that individual might be. One room, a huge collection of black and white images, and a mish-mash of people with absolutely nothing in common except their appreciation of real music, real photography, real life, real art. Not a hint of pretentiousness arose, merely gratitude and an aching sense of lowliness.
The most prominent photograph, amongst the exhibition’s display, is by far Bill Francis’s image of Buddy Holiday at London’s Trocadero Theatre in 1958. His smile and pose are genuinely vulnerable, and yet solid. Charisma seeps out, the kind that emits from a person’s character, rather than their looks, and enough so that the picture becomes a beautiful product of the human face in the midst of self-conscious happiness.
The fabulous assortment of photographs range from performance shots of Michael Jackson, Jimi Hendrix and Amy Winehouse to posed motifs from Johnny Cash. The trio of mock natural shots of Sid Vicious capture a playful sense of realism. He drinks from a bottle of vodka, rubs his eyes and stares intently, reminding us of how he is, as well as how we expect him to be. Peter Gravelle captured the images in London 1967.
Whereas we’re used to feasting our eyes on the energetic, vibrant images of Queen and Bob Marley mid performance, The Day the Music Died showcases an alternative side to the performers behind the music. Bob Marley is captured reclining in a wooden chair with a newspaper. His crossed feet and bare chest speak of indulgent relaxation; something a global entertainer might struggle to manage.
Similarly, Peter Hince’s photograph of Freddie Mercury reveals an unspeakable degree of melancholy. The image is incredibly powerful. His head tilted down, eyes lowered, hands clutching at a bottle of beer and the buckle of his belt. His face is so very calm and yet he is poised as if preparing to take on the world. The photograph manages to capture the tension between fame and reality, what’s worth holding on to and what’s impossible to grasp.
Photographer Paul Harries captured an emotional moment between Slipknot’s Corey Taylor and the late Paul Gray. The two performers embrace at what looks like the end of a gig. Their sinister trademark Slipknot attire juxtaposes brilliantly with the tender nature of the photograph. The image serves as another reminder that though photography enables the transformation of a performer into an iconic figure, it can also unveil what lies beneath that mythical image. It is only now that we cherish the icons and legends that we are able to appreciate their history and incorporate it into our own.
14 December 2011 – 4 March 2012
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