The Beginning of Rock and Roll Pictures

When you think of the history of rock and roll, arguably the most dynamic and influential genre of music and way of life, what comes to mind first? Is it the sounds or the images? Photography has always played a major role in rock and roll culture, and rock and roll pictures not only document the history of the genre, but have also become an art in their own right. So where did it all begin? What were some of the first truly iconic rock and roll pictures? Well, many would say the honors go to the many famous photos of Elvis Presley, mid-gyration, standing in front of his name in lights, or staring broodingly at the camera. Or perhaps it’s one of the many portraits of Buddy Holly, portraits that made his image just as famous as his music, thanks to his thick, black, horn-rimmed glasses that remain a treasured piece of music history to this day.

If you fast forward a bit, you’ll hit the generation that really defined rock and roll pictures: the swinging sixties. Everybody is familiar with the shot of the Beatles descending their airplane on their first trip to the United States of America. Equally famous are the shots of screaming, hysterical, young women, anxious to greet them. You need not have experienced Beatlemania first hand to truly understand the hysteria! Magazines like Rolling Stone helped to increase the relevance of rock and roll pictures. Who can forget a naked John Lennon wrapped around a fully clothed Yoko Ono? Who isn’t familiar with Mick Jagger’s pouty black and white cover portrait, or Pink Floyd standing against a flaming background? In fact, Rolling Stone is largely responsible for carrying on the tradition of rock and roll pictures into later years. In the 1990s, we saw the members of Nirvana dressed ironically in corporate-looking business suits. We were also introduced to the image of Janet Jackson, wearing nothing more than a man’s hands over her breasts, and, more recently, Lady Gaga in a leather bikini, complete with guns protruding from the top. All of these images tell us a bit about the artists involved, the themes of popular music at the time, and the overall cultural zeitgeist of various generations. When you think of these images, you think of everything going on at that time – art, fashion, politics, social issues – and how musical artists dealt with these issues and froze them in time, by means of their music and their images.

Rock and roll pictures might not be audible in way, but they reveal a lot about the music at the time they were taken and the artists and audiences featured in them. Music is often credited for defining generations and encapsulating the belief systems, conflicts, and social movements of its time. This is true: a song or a sound is an effective way to tell stories, both personal and general, but music on its own isn’t always enough. If a picture is truly worth a thousand words, then it is worth far more melodies. Rock an roll pictures keep music alive, even generations after the artists have gone.

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