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A Behind-the-Lens Look at Our Rock & Roll Icons

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Rock & Roll Icons: Photographs by Patrick Harbron, an exhibition on display at the Albany Institute of History and Art through February 12, indulges and enhances our collective rock & roll fantasy by dramatically capturing legends like Blondie, David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, and countless others in their exalted roles as superstars. 

This collection is very dear to the Columbia County-based Harbron, who explains that music, like all cultural phenomena, is constantly evolving, so its preservation in various forms is crucial. The work provides a look at the prevailing musical personality of the era from the 1970s to the 1990s — one of the last eras to be captured primarily on film rather than digital medium. Harbron has added physical relics to the exhibit — like Cream drummer Ginger Baker’s drumsticks, while the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Ohio lent the Who’s Pete Townshend’s decidedly unpreserved, i.e. smashed, guitar. 

Harbron’s fascination with rock began when he started listening to the radio at a young age, and was later propelled by his own drumming for a Toronto-area rock band, Grundy. His early drumming influences included Keith Moon, Ginger Baker and others whom he would go on to photograph beginning in his 20s. While Harbron’s current work takes him to the sets of TV series such as Boardwalk Empire and VEEP, for the last 20 years he has called the Hudson Valley home. The exhibition is the largest showing of Harbron’s rock and roll material to date.

Here the photographer shares some photographs featured in the exhibit, as well as his memories of working with rock royalty.

 

Gene Simmons rocks out next to an imitating fan backstage at the Toronto stop of the “Creatures of the Night” tour in January 1983. According to Harbron, Gene Simmons would often ask to see his negatives after the show and would mark the ones he approved with a dollar sign in grease pencil.

 

Brad Whitford, Joe Perry, Tom Hamilton, Steven Tyler, and Joey Kramer during Aerosmith’s 2001 “Just Push Play” tour. This shot was an outtake from a cover shoot of an issue of Boston Magazine. “The band really wanted to do it for their hometown and bent over backwards to make it happen,” shares Harbron. “The only problem was finding a stop on their tour to accommodate the time for the shoot.” They decided on Toronto, where Harbron was based. “The issue was the second biggest seller in the magazine’s history.“

 

A powerful close-up of Tina Turner pouring her soul out to a small crowd in an intimate Toronto club during a preview concert for her 1985 “Private Dancer” tour. Harbron described these years as the second, and far more successful, phase of her career — post-Ike Turner. Harbron notes that she was a “sweetheart to work with.”

 

John Deacon, Roger Taylor, Freddie Mercury, and Brian May. Taken in 1982 during a video session for the song “Body Language.” In preparation for what was to be an abbreviated photo session, Harbron “pulled out all the stops and set up an elaborate array of lights in a dark corner of the film studio.” Time for a portrait was scarce; as he gave it more thought, Harbron decided to make the set simple and stark. “The result was less gear, more photo,” he says. According to the photographer, Queen’s “Body Language” became the first video banned by MTV. 

 

Bowie is glowing here in one of his androgynously delicate crooning poses. Harbron remarks that Bowie was absolutely conscious of everything to do with presentation and style. Taken only a year into Harbron’s career, it is “one of my favorite images.”

 

Bruce Springsteen enjoys the support of the crowd at Maple Leaf Gardens during “The River” tour, in 1981.  “I photographed him many times over the years and if there is a harder working band on the road, I never saw them,” says Harbron. “Springsteen loves to go down into the audience, who anticipate and savor the moment.”

Harbron has published a limited-edition box set of images from one night of Springsteen’s 1978, “Darkness on the Edge of Town” tour, which is for sale on his website. 

 

A rollicking John Cougar Mellencamp during his 1985 “Scarecrow” tour. “Mellencamp’s musical output was infused with sturdy and relatable Midwestern maturity that lent realism to how people lived and worked,” says Harbron. “His shows were examples of his hard work and ability to connect to an audience that knew he was singing to them.”

 

Deborah Harry in full hair whip. This is one of Harbron’s most popular works. It shows her at her prime, during the 1978 “Parallel Lines” club tour. “Blondie was one of the bands at the lead of the New Wave movement, and Harry was the face,” remarks Harbron. “Seeing a performer in a club is an intimate experience. It was great to catch bands in small venues before they vanished or were discovered by a wider audience and spent the rest of their careers in arenas and larger halls.” 

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