One of the most experienced hands in the music archiving business, Dave Brolan, has hobnobbed with the greatest music legends and their equally legendary photographers. Having curated the exhibition, Gibson Through The Lens, for the very first time in India, he talks to Divya J Shekhar about archiving and photography in the digital age, and the stuff legends are made of.
“Music and photography are universal,” says Dave Brolan, whose profession requires both disciplines to go hand-in-hand. Being an archivist for the past 20 years, Dave considers himself fortunate to have seen many rare music photographs and to have worked with the legends in the business. “Many years ago, I started working for a music publisher in London, who produced photo books. This was before the internet, so I would visit photographers and look through prints and negatives, and choose pictures. Eventually, I started producing exhibitions to accompany books,” he reminisces.
Finding pictures that have not been seen before and presenting them to an audience who appreciate it is the real thrill in Dave’s job. For instance, Gibson Through The Lens, produced by Dave over one year along with inputs from contributing photographers and the Gibson staff in the UK and USA, has resulted in bringing together the best photographs from all genres of music—rock, jazz, blues, metal and pop—with various styles of photography— reportage, portraiture and live. “The photographers we chose were all the very best in the business, trusted with unrestricted access, who were able to capture very intimate and relaxed moments of the artists with their guitars, something that is no longer possible today.”
So here, we get to see Jack White and Jimmy Page holding each other’s guitars; rare visuals of Emmy Lou Harris next to Jimmy Hendrix and John Lee Hooker next to Nirvana;
Bob Marley at his legendary concert at Lyceum in London (the show that produced his famous recording No Woman No Cry); The Beatles on the set of their film for Paperback Writer; a rare 1957 picture of Johnny Cash with his custom acoustic, and the like.
The exhibition also brought the works of many great photographers under one roof—be it the Grammy award-winning Jim Marshall, Baron Wolman—the first chief photographer of Rolling Stone magazine, Neal Preston—the official photographer for Led Zeppelin, Robert Whitaker— The Beatles’ personal photographer at the height of Beatle-mania and Ross Halfin—who has worked with Metallica since the beginning of their career. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. “The exhibition is unique in the sense that it covers the history of popular music and the significant part that Gibson Guitars have in it. Every major artist and all genres of music are included. We worked with almost all of the most famous music photographers in the world, so that as a collection, this is the finest group of photographs available.”
Dave agrees that the connect and the importance photographs had in the lives of people in the ’60s and ’70s (it was the only way people could experience a Jimi Hendrix concert without being physically present at the do) has changed over the years. “We have lost touch with the visual connection between music and images, because we have no escape from the internet and social media. We are overloaded with images and there is no mystery or anything we cannot have access to.”
He however adds that his job of curating and exhibiting the rarest of rare photographs can bring a smile to the face of any music enthusiast, even with the constant over- exposure to social media. “When you stand in front of a large printed photograph in a gallery, it brings to mind memories of a certain time in your life, maybe when you first heard the music, or saw a performance. I had no apprehensions going into this project, because I see the reaction that seeing real photos—hand printed, signed and framed on the wall—has on people. This is a different way to appreciate musicians and photography. It places everything in a gallery environment.”
Dave is happy that the exhibition was a booming success across Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai, Bengaluru and Gurgaon, and hopes that he would return to India soon. He states that while the nature of photography has changed in the digital age, so has archiving, “It has become a possibility for more people but that does not make it better. The most difficult thing is to have freedom and access to take photos.” But then, he concludes, things can only go uphill with music, technology and photography working hand-in-hand.