10 Rock Photographers You Should Know


Music fans are deluged on a daily basis with new images of their favorite performers. Along with magazine spreads, we see pictures of the bands we love (and hate) in an endless barrage of live photos on both professional and amateur blogs, while our friends are constantly tweeting and posting to Facebook their grainy, iPhone concerts shots. Scanning Dangerous Minds’ post on Brad Elterman’s fantastic photos from the ’70s and ’80s, it struck us that rock photography has become largely anonymous in the 21st century. In an attempt to separate the pros from the folks getting in your face at shows with crappy point-and-shoot, we’ve put together a list of ten rock photographers you should know — not the most famous names in the field, but a very subjective group of those whose work we’ve noticed and loved.

Brad Elterman, Joan Jett And Sandy West Santa Monica Pier, 1977 [via]

Brad Elterman

As Dangerous Minds points out, Elterman’s pictures are “strikingly candid.” The Los Angeles-based photographer captures the debaucherous fun of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, gaining intimate access and coming away with images that include Joan Jett stuffing her face, the Dead Boys’ Stiv Bators with his pants down, and Leif Garrett in bed with Nicolette Sheridan (yes, this was a thing). Elterman approaches rock photography with a sense of humor, and through the eyes of a fan who was so intent on covering David Bowie that, when denied access to him in 1975, he hid outside Bowie’s recording studio and ambushed him, paparazzi-style.

Last year, Elterman published Like It Was Yesterday , a limited-edition book of photos from the ’70s and ’80s. You can see more of his work at his website (where you can also inquire about buying prints) or by following him on Tumblr.

Jenny Lens, Dee Dee Rocks Out. Courtesy La Luz de Jesus, Jenny Lens, and John Cafiero [via]

Jenny Lens

Like Elterman, Jenny Lens did her most famous rock photography in late-’70s LA. Famously anointed “the girl with the camera eye” by none other than Patti Smith, she captured punk — and especially the West Coast scene — from the inside. From the Go-Gos partying it up pre-fame to Darby Crash’s feral performances to a possessed-looking Dee Dee Ramone dripping with sweat, her photos are among the definitive images of the bands she captured.

In 2008, Lens published Punk Pioneers , a collection of her most iconic photos. You can see more of her work and buy prints are her website. We also recommend this great interview the Bags frontwoman Alice Bag did with Lens about her work and LA punk history.

Bowie & Ronson Lunch, 1973. © Mick Rock

Mick Rock

Mick Rock has had a long and incredibly fruitful career in rock photography. Perhaps his most iconic images are of early-’70s glam rock. Chances are, if you’ve seen a fantastic photo of David Bowie, Queen, Lou Reed, or Iggy Pop from that era, Rock is responsible. But it’s not like he stopped snapping when Ziggy Stardust hung up his glittery platforms. In the past few decades, he’s photographed such acts as Daft Punk, Janelle Monáe, and Lady Gaga. Check out a range of his photos from the ’70s through the present here.

Since the turn of the millennium, Rock has published an armload of books, including many on single bands (Blondie, Queen, Iggy and the Stooges). If you’re looking for a good survey of his classic work, Blood and Glitter is a great place to start. His website is currently under construction, but you can buy prints here.

Charles Peterson, Kurt Cobain at Raji’s nightclub in Hollywood, 1990 [via]

Charles Peterson

The work of Pacific Northwest native Charles Peterson is inextricably linked with Seattle’s late-’80s, early-’90s grunge scene and specifically the label that catalyzed it, Sub Pop. He is responsible for the most famous early images of Nirvana, as well as a slew of fantastic snapshots of Mudhoney, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, and many other bands from the scene. Since that time, Peterson has expanded his subject matter considerably, shooting everything from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs to Istanbul to guys who play war games.

Peterson has put out a handful of books, including an entire volume on Pearl Jam, if you’re into that kind of thing. Those who want to know more about his grunge-era output will want to get their hands on Touch Me I’m Sick, a chronicle of the era that includes plenty of previously unpublished photos. A diverse collection of Peterson’s pictures are also on display at his website.

Janette Beckman, Run-DMC and posse, Hollis, Queens, 1984

Janette Beckman

New York’s own Janette Beckman had the good fortune of kicking off her photography career at one of the most fertile moments for the city’s music scene — in the late ’70s and early ’80s, when punk was at its peak and hip hop was on the verge of becoming the most important musical movement to follow it. As a result, she snapped everyone from Run-DMC and Slick Rick to Blondie and Joe Strummer. (These images and more appear in our gallery of photos by Beckman and her contemporary, David Corio.) Beckman is still at it in the 21st century; recent subjects include M.I.A., Missy Elliott, and Thurston Moore.

If you’re a punk fan, you’ll definitely want to take a look at Beckman’s Made in the UK: The Music of Attitude 1977-1983 . Hip-hop heads, meanwhile, would do well to check out The Breaks: Stylin’ and Profilin’ 1982-1990 . You can also find a treasure trove of her new and old work at her website. Prints of her work are available via the Morrison Hotel Gallery.

Pennie Smith, London Calling

Pennie Smith

Even if you don’t know Pennie Smith by name, we can pretty much guarantee you’ve appreciated her work. Yes, she’s responsible for the image above, taken at New York’s Palladium in 1979, which graces the cover of The Clash’s London Calling. Smith got into music photography in the early ’70s and spent several years as an NME staffer and has covered just about every important British act since, from Led Zeppelin to Siouxsie and the Banshees to Radiohead. Her black-and-white photos lend a mythical quality to the musicians she captures, both on stage and in posed portraits.

Although the only book she’s published, 1981’s The Clash Before & After , seems to be out of print and we couldn’t find a homepage for her, either, a few of her prints are available for purchase here.

Tom Waits California, 2004. © Anton Corbijn. Courtesy of Stellan Holm Gallery [via]

Anton Corbijn

Perhaps the most famous name on this list, Dutch artist Anton Corbijn is best known these days as a director. His music videos (including Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box” and U2’s “One”) have earned him a Director’s Label DVD, and his feature film debut was 2007’s appropriately stark Joy Division biopic Control . But Corbijn started out as a music photographer in the mid-’70s, documenting everyone from Ian Curtis to Tom Waits to David Byrne. Although he has used color, he is famous for his atmospheric, somewhat detached-feeling black-and-white portraits.

Corbijn has published a number of books, including a collection of U2 photos spanning over 20 years, and Anton Corbijn: Star Trak , a compilation of his celebrity portraits. You can see more of his work at his website.

Kerstin Rodgers, Sweaty Tina

Kerstin Rodgers

You’d think being a rock photographer would be a cool enough job, but no — Kerstin Rodgers has had two careers that make us jealous. Not only has she snapped everyone from early Cocteau Twins to latter-day Leonard Cohen, capturing the gorgeously composed Tina Turner photo above, but she’s also behind a joint called The Underground Restaurant in London that’s so popular she recently published a book of recipes from it. We love her pictures for the same reason we’d probably enjoy her supper club — they feel intimate, even when their subjects (a young Henry Rollins, say) normally seem incapable of vulnerability.

Peruse Rodgers’s music photos — along with a portrait of French and Saunders, a shot of Peruvian witches, tons of food, and a whole lot more — at her website.

Jonathan Mannion

Beginning with his art for Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt in 1996, Jonathan Mannion has helped to create the look of contemporary hip hop. His portraits of Hova, 50 Cent, Aaliyah, Diddy, Dr. Dre, and countless others have shaped the way the public sees these artists, shrouding them in mystery and casting them as 21st-century royalty. Although his subjects couldn’t be more current, his influences are canonical; after finishing art school, he spent a year studying with Richard Avedon, whose aesthetics clearly made an impression on Mannion’s work.

A huge amount of Mannion’s photography is on view at his website. We especially love the collection of keepsake Polaroids, with messages from Eminem, Young Jeezy, and many more.

Kevin Cummins, Joy Division, Rizzoli New York, 2010

Kevin Cummins

British photographer Kevin Cummins has a knack for capturing unexpected images of familiar faces: he’s caught Nick Cave looking sweet and sincere, Courtney Love radiating quiet strength, and Björk sticking out her tongue in playful, somewhat juvenile pose. Last year, we fell in love with his book of Joy Division photos, which show the band — and their home city — as only a fellow Manchester native could.

Good companion to Cummins’s Joy Division book are his collection of hometown pictures, Manchester: Looking for the Light through the Pouring Rain and Smiths and Beyond . You can view more of his work at his website, where you’ll also find some links for purchasing his work.