By Pat Prince
NEW YORK CITY — If you've ever wondered what 50 years of rock and roll might look like, The Morrison Hotel gallery's latest exhibition is a great place to start.
"Rolling Stones 50 Years in Photography," which runs through May 31, showcases career-spanning photographs of The World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band. But it also offers an opportunity for collectors seeking a solid investment in fine art music photography.
Simply put, to purchase a photographic print from the Morrison Hotel gallery is like owning a piece of rock history. A framed, limited-edition 30-by-40-inch print of, say, an Ethan Russell photograph of Keith Richards on the 1972 U.S. tour (see photo, above), can range from $4,000 to 6,000. All photographs are taken from the original negative or color slide and are hand-signed and titled by the living photographer. And, limited-edition photographs are hand-signed and numbered by the photographer (or stamped by the photographer's estate).
Entering the Morrison Hotel gallery on Prince Street in Manhattan's trendy SoHo district, viewers are struck by the iconic Rolling Stones images everywhere that capture everything from Mick Jagger's electric persona to Keith Richards' rebellious image. The framed images continue upstairs in the loft, too, where scheduled slideshows are given by the photographers who took the shots; their one-of-a-kind stories behind each moment captured are shared in rich detail.
Photographers like Russell, who took the photos for the Stones compilation album, “Through the Past, Darkly,” (outtake at right) traveled extensively with the band. Others, like Terry O'Neill, were part of the London scene during the 1960s, always on assignment, who caught the band members in the right mood at the right time. But every image from every photographer in this exhibition has a distinct story. Most of the photographers didn't even realize the historical relevance of their photographs until after the fact.
"Back in the mid-'60s, if you anticipated a career in popular music lasting for more than two or three years, you would have been considered ridiculously over-optimistic," said Gered Mankowitz, who took the famously psychedelic Primrose Hill shot on the cover of “Between the Buttons." "The photographs had a very short shelf life at the time they were taken. I kept hold of as many of them as I could and carried them around with me from studio to studio for about 20 years before anybody showed any interest in them."
Many photographers have now grown to embrace their images as music history.
"It was necessary for them to, because they documented it," says Peter Blachley, a co-owner who founded the Morrison Hotel gallery in 2001 with former independent record store owner Richard Horowitz and music photographer Henry Diltz. "The credibility of someone telling you a story about The Rolling Stones is the fact that they were there and they were shooting them. There was only one degree of separation between you and the artist. And I find in this business that people purchase the photos because obviously they love the band, but secondly, the stories. When they hear the stories surrounding them, they love that. And that's why we bring them into the loft. We tell them, 'We've got Ethan Russell coming in,’ or any of our photographers, and we'll have a slide show for them. Our photographers go through their slides and tell the stories behind all the photos, and, man, that's like a rock concert."
And nearly 50 years later, no matter how well-worn or wrinkled they may appear to the casual observer, The Rolling Stones remain as exciting and photogenic of a band as ever.
"It's easy to work with them, because they know who they are and are not afraid to show it," said Lynn Goldmith, whose photographs of The Rolling Stones in the late 1970s and early 1980s defined that era for the band. "You don't have to make them look like what other people want to believe is 'rock and roll.' They are rock and roll."
While you have to make it to the gallery to enjoy the photographers' narrated slideshows, you can still enjoy the exhibit from a distance. You can sample (and buy, if you are so inclined) many of these historical Rolling Stones images at the Morrison Hotel gallery's Web site at www.morrisonhotelgallery.com.