Since the late 1970s, photographic snapshots into the Grateful Dead world have been synonymous with one name: Jay Blakesberg. The live music scene fixture recently released the book Hippie Chick: A Tale of Love, Devotion & Surrender, and our own Rex Thomson sat down with him to talk about the exciting piece. Blakesberg remains as prolific as ever, talking about all of his ongoing projects throughout the Dead’s 50th anniversary and more.
Read on to hear all about everything Jay Blakesberg!
L4LM: Photographer, author, director…are you trying to take all the jobs?
Jay Blakesberg: (Laughs) Yeah, I love to be creative, and there’s so many ways to be creative, visually. Yes, I am a photographer, I am a film maker and I am a book publisher…and author I guess if you count taking photos for a photography book being an author. (Chuckles)
L4LM: You wrote some little blurbs and such right? Close enough for me.
JB: Yeah, I write, I write. That’s my big project for next year, there are some writing projects I wanna work on. I won’t stop being a photographer, but I just don’t wanna get involved in any other big, big projects like a book next year. For me, 2015 was insane in the book world. I put out my “Guitars That Jam” book, I did a “Lock’n” coffee table book that was given away to VIP ticket holders, this week I’m releasing “Hippie Chicks” which is what we’re talking about then I’ve got the “Fare Thee Well” book that commemorates the five Dead shows last June and July coming out December 1st. Those are four big projects that I’ve done all in one year.
L4LM: You say you want to start writing…but it isn’t headed for a book. Are we talking articles or…?
JB: Well…I’ve been writing a lot of short stories that are all based on things that happened to me, and my life, just to try and write things down in an autobiographical kind of way. I guess my grand idea is to write a screen play. Not necessarily based on about me, but loosely based on me. It goes all the way back to high school. It’s all about becoming an adult from a teenager in the 1970’s. So for now it’s just really writing notes, and stories and ideas.
I don’t have any grand illusions that this is gonna be the next Hollywood blockbuster, but I wanna do it in that format just as a creative exercise. I wanna write dialog. I wanna write stories that are dialog based and see if I can actually do it. I like to write, but I’ve never really put my head to it in a really intense way. Like I said…I’m not gonna stop being a photographer, I’m not gonna stop being a film maker, I’m not gonna stop coming up with ideas. I just wanna dedicate some time to a slightly different creative pursuit, which will be writing.
L4LM: Following your progression of book topics from “Concerts>Musicians>Instruments>Girls” I can only assume your next book will be called “Sweaty Guys In Band Shirts.” (Chuckles)
JB: (Laughs) Yeah, I think I am gonna skip that book…that’s why I gotta do the writing project. I grew up in the late seventies and that was certainly a time of sex, drugs and rock and roll, and how those times formed us to become the people that we are. So that’s what I am gonna try and tap into…so I’m gonna try and avoid the “Sweaty Guys In T-Shirts” thing for now and just try and go into the zeitgeist that formed it all…the craziness late 1970’s. And how I was introduced to the Grateful Dead, and how that affected me and changed my life.
L4LM: Well, if you end up doing the “Sweaty Guys In T-Shirts” book, remember, I’m gonna want a cut!
JB: (Laughs) Sounds fair! If I end up doing it, I’ll definitely give you a cut.
L4LM: Your newest book is fascinating. And I gotta say…brilliant and brave in its choice of subject matter. Here’s the stupidest question I’ll ask you today…What made you think a book full of pictures of beautiful women would sell?
JB: (Laughs) You know, it’s actually interesting because the Internet is a great place to figure out what people like. I started posting pictures of Dead Heads from shows 6 or 7 years ago on Facebook. I got on Facebook in 2008…early 2008. I had a book coming out called “Travelling On A High Frequency” which was a 30 year retrospective of my photography, and I joined Facebook to help market that book. When that book came out in 2008, I think I had 7 or 800 Facebook friends. Today, on my Jay Blakesberg Photography page, I’ve got 45,000 Facebook fans, followers…likes…whatever you wanna call it.
Where you share stuff with a group of people that large, you get some pretty good feedback. If I was to post of say, I don’t know, Jerry Garcia, it would get 5 or 10 thousand “Views,” “Likes,” “People reached”…all the different analytics. And then I would post a picture of a beautiful woman dancing like at Summer Camp, or moe.down or Mountain Jam or whatever…and I’d get 35,000 views on that photo in 24 hours. All of a sudden you get this light bulb that goes off over your head and you think, “Hmmm… People really like these pictures.” (Laughs)
Of course people have been after me for years to do a book of my Dead Head shots…”You gotta do a book of your Deadheads!” I didn’t feel like I had a book of Deadheads that would really be compelling, but I did have a book of compelling music fans, some of them being Deadheads, but some of them being from the music festivals that I have been shooting. As I started to put it together, I thought, “I should call this Hippie Chick.”
As I dug into it, I decided I wanted to subtitle it “A Tale Of Love, Devotion and Surrender.” Then I got rid of “Love, Devotion and Surrender,” then I brought “Love, Devotion and Surrender” back, because I decided that I wanted to do three essays that are in the book, entitled “Love,'” “Devotion,” and “Surrender.” I’m assuming you read those?
L4LM: Yes sir, I did my homework.
JB: They’re pretty amazing, they were written by a woman named Edith Johnson, and Edith goes by “The Festival Girl” on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and whatnot. She blogs about being a woman, her festival experiences and fashion and passion. We met after Lock’n, year one I believe it was, and formed a friendship. She was polite, and asked me if she could repost a photo I took of her at Lock’n and I said yes. I was starting to formulate the “Hippie Chick” idea, and I reached out to her and I said “I’m gonna be in New York City and I know you’re there, and I’d like to meet with you because I have this idea for a book and I need someone do some writing for it.”
I didn’t know what that was yet…the creative process takes a while to formulate. I knew I needed text in the book, but I didn’t know what the text was. The initial idea was to do these quotes from these women, which are in there. We interviewed 81 women via email, and got these amazing quotes that are sprinkled throughout the whole book. But I knew it needed more text than that. Originally my idea was to get Grace Slick to write the foreword and get Grace Potter to write the after word. That’ll be a real fantasy, to get the Graces to book end it. (Chuckles) To get the original hippie chick and the modern hippie chick in the music space. I ran into Grace Potter, year two and I believe it was, and I told her about the idea and she was like “I’m in! I’m in whether Grace writes the foreword or not!”
So I reached out to Grace Slick through some mutual friends who spoke on my behalf and she “Graciously” agreed to do it and wrote this incredible foreword. And Grace doesn’t use computers, so she hand-wrote it out over five or six pages and sent it to me in the mail. (Chuckles) It was amazing. So it winds up with these two great pieces, but I still felt like it needed some more text so I reached out to Edith and said “Maybe you could write an introduction and that introduction could talk about your festival experiences of love, devotion and surrender.” And then this giant light bulb went off over my head again and I said “No, we are gonna subtitle the Book “A Tale Of Love, Devotion and Surrender” and you’re gonna write three essays and one is is gonna be called “Love,” one is gonna be called “Devotion,” and one is gonna be called “Surrender.”
“Love” is about how you fall in love with a band, a community or a scene and how you can pass that love to your life and how you live that life. “Devotion” is about devoting yourself to that band, whether you’re travelling hours and hours to go see them, or going on tour or collecting their live recordings, or their posters or their ticket stubs, set lists…whatever it might be. You’re devoted to this band, you’re devoted to waiting online all day so you can get a spot on the rail in front of your favorite musician.
And then of course the “Surrender” part of it is that you’re surrendering to the flow, you’re surrendering to the experience…you’re turning everything off. Y’know “Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream…” You’re surrendering to that experience and you’re not thinking about whether you can pay your rent, or your mortgage or your car payment, or even your kids for the moment because they’re at home with your husband or your boyfriend or your parents…whoever it is. That you’re just letting it all go and you’re experiencing this live music thing…you’re surrendering to it. So that’s where those three essays came and Edith absolutely just killed it. The women who have read this already said, “This is absolutely what I think and I feel about my life, and my live music experience that I’ve never been able to put into words.”
L4LM: It wasn’t just a fast read. Your work really captivates the eye and demands the viewer to really study the shots. Just gotta give you props.
JB: Thank you. I try and take interesting photographs. I appreciate those props and I am grateful that people like to look at my photography, that people like to enjoy my photography. I’m grateful that artists still like to work with me and like my photography…and I’m grateful to be part of this jam band community, this hippie chick community. I think it’s a special place that creates a lot of magic and incredible experiences for anybody that is part of it.
L4LM: Over the years your work has become a part of the fabric of the consciousness of the music scene. Do you get a sense of what your work has meant to people?
JB: Yeah, I think I do. And again, a lot of that comes from social media, because you get a lot of direct feedback from people. I’ve always been a photographer and pre-social media, I strongly believed that I was not taking these photographs for them to sit in a box…they need to be seen. I’ve had people that I’ve met at concerts, young kids, older people who’ve talked to me and been “Who are you? What do you do?” And I tell them. In those days the only place you could see my photographs was in magazines, so you either had to subscribe to that magazine, or read that magazine. And of course CD packages and all of that so you know…but you’d have to read the photo credits to know that was mine.
I remember being at a concert and talking about a story I did…I think it was about the band “Love And Rockets” and some kid, like 25, said “I remember that! I had those pages and pictures posted on my walls for like two years when I was 18 years old!” The world is changing, in terms of that immediate feedback where people can “Like” your photo, they can comment on your photo, they can express what that photo means to them. So I do get a lot of messages, when I go to festivals I do get a lot of “Thank You’s” from people who know who I am. Twenty years ago, fifteen years ago…ten years ago people didn’t know who I was visually, because I wasn’t on Facebook right…nobody was. Social media has changed that, taking my work and allowing it to be shared with a large group of people over a large distance. And my photo is on Facebook…not pictures that I take, but pictures of me.
Now, everybody has a camera. Back in the day, you would never take pictures of your fellow photographers, but now everybody takes pictures of the photographer at work. An everybody sends them to me, and tags me in them. I’m always so happy to see them. It’s great! it documents my life and what I’m doing. But people give me direct feedback in the form of emails, and “Thank you’s” and hugs in person and notes and I appreciate that. So I do have a sense of the fact that people are seeing my work, enjoying my work and it is resonating with them. That really makes me happy and that’s really important to me…to see people react to my photography.
L4LM: You’ve done so many of these books…are you aiming for your own shelf at the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame?
JB: You know, “Hippie Chick” was my tenth coffee table book and my “Fare Thee Well” book that comes out in two more months, December 1st, my birthday, will be my 11th coffee table book. People joke that they need a whole coffee table for me now, which is kinda funny. When I did my first coffee table book, which was on the Grateful Dead, in 2002, thirteen years ago, I thought “This is my one shot in the whole world to do a book!” A book to document what I have created as a photographer. And little did I know that that opportunity would come around numerous times.
It is an honor and a privilege that I can do these books. And the only way I can do these books is with the support of the people who buy these books, because they’re very, very expensive to do. I self-publish most of these books. “Hippie Chicks” was self-published. “Fare Thee Well” will be self-published. “Travelling At A High Frequency” was be self published. “Jam” was self published, and it takes an enormous amount of time, energy and money to create a book like this. So I appreciate that people will go out and spend 40 or 50 dollars on a book instead of five lattes at Starbucks that they’ll never remember…but hopefully they’ll get “Hippie Chicks” or “Jam” or “Guitars That Jam” and put them on the coffee table and pick them up every couple of months after they give it their first big read through and look at every picture and read every word.
I hope that they come back and look at it every three months or so…. to remind themselves of the life they’ve been living, the music they’ve been seeing and the photos that help capture it all. I never thought that I would be on book number eleven. It’s pretty mind blowing! (Chuckles)
L4LM: I read you first moved to San Francisco because of a girl. Was she a Hippie Chick?
JB: Absolutely! (Laughs) Yeah, I moved to the Bay area with a girlfriend from the Pacific-Northwest and we moved to the Bay area 30 years ago.
L4LM: Do you know where she is now?
JB: Absolutely! She lives in Bend, Oregon. She is married to a guy named Steve, they have two kids…I’m in touch with her and still very close friends. Her name is Lizzie.
L4LM: It’s well documented that you got your start in the concert photography business by bringing your camera to Dead shows. Were they less strict about cameras back then, or did you have to sneak your gear in?
JB: First of all, at Dead shows you never needed a photo pass to bring in a camera. Everybody could bring a camera into any show. Now, you weren’t allowed to shoot in the (Photo) pit without a pass, but you were allowed to bring a camera into any show. But also, in the late seventies, you were just allowed to bring your camera in and just shoot. It was early eighties I believe that the corporate machine clamped down and all of a sudden there weren’t cameras allowed to be freely brought into concerts. And that changed over the years…some artists cared, some didn’t.
Now we’re back to a spot again where most places you can bring a camera and, again, if you have a photo pass you can shoot from the pit. It’s fairly easy to get a photo pass these days…because you can have an assignment shooting for an online publication, as well as a print publication…and sometimes even just your blog. And everybody’s got a camera these days, everybody’s a photographer. So, the bar has been lowered and there’s a lot more cameras being taken into concerts. But you can say I got my start shooting the Grateful Dead, and continued it on to other concert and music type things. If you look at my book “Travelling At A High Frequency” you can see some pictures that were taken in 1978 and 1979 when I was still in high school, not of the Grateful Dead…Muddy Waters, Edgar Winter, Eric Clapton…Willie Nelson…different people that I photographed while I was still in high school.
L4LM: Basically, 70% of the population has a camera in their pocket right now. As a society, we’re basically taking enough pictures to make real time flip book of reality as it happens. Did you ever think there would come a day when seeing pictures of people’s breakfasts would be a regular thing?
JB: I never really think about it in those terms, but yes, you’re absolutely right. Our lives ARE overly documented, and I think the problem with so many people believing they’re photographers and having that technology in there hands is that obviously we are over-cluttered with a large quantity of really mediocre photography. Sometimes it makes it hard for people to tell the difference between a brilliant photograph and a mediocre photograph. You see it all the time. You go on Facebook and you see somebody post a picture that they took with their cell phone of a famous musician onstage singing and it’s not even a great picture and people are gonna comment “Amazing! Incredible!” No, it’s not. It’s a terrible picture of a famous person with a microphone in front of their nose.
So, on a professional level, there are so many people out there that are hiring photographers and buying photography that are not qualified to do so because they don’t have the background in the creative field. They might be a salesperson or a marketing person… and some might be good at it and know great photography. But there are a lot of people out there hiring and engaging photographers that don’t know the difference between really amazing photography and really mediocre photography. So therefore there’s a lot of mediocre photography out there and we’ve become desensitized to it and people can’t tell the difference between the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s a little sad for me, because I pride myself on taking photos that are in the top ten percent of of what I consider amazing photographs. Even though I took pictures of Jerry Garcia 20 years ago, but I’m still judged by the photos I took last week at whatever show, or whatever artist I was working with, whatever ad campaign I was shooting or marketing project, etc.
So I need to stay relevant, I need to stay on top of the technology because it’s a technology based art. I have very high standards for myself. I’m very, very picky. If I don’t pull through, and shoot what I consider to be my best, I don’t put it out there. I really only wanna do really great photography. I don’t wanna settle for anything less. That’s why I push myself so hard. I’m not out there drinking beer, smoking pot by the side of the stage, I’m waiting for that magical musical moment to happen to capture that. It only happens in a split second, and if you’re not ready for it, it’s gone.
L4LM: Photography is about being in the right place at the right time. I’m sure you’ve had thousands of moments like this in your career…but do any stick out in your mind in particular?
JB: We’re talking about live concert photography yes, but I’d have to point them out in photographs. Being on the side of the stage, just waiting, just looking for a shot. At Mountain Jam as the Avett Brothers were playing Seth Avett walked over to stage right while his brother was singing a solo acoustic song and just sat next to the piano facing the side of the stage… and closed his eyes. I just happened to be standing 5 feet away… right place at that right time. And moe., over and over again. You need to anticipate the play…then you can often be in that right place.We’re talking about live concert photography, yes, but I’d have to point them out in photographs. Being on the side of the stage, just looking for a shot.
I was actually just editing my pictures from their Chicago shows earlier this year and there was this great moment where Chuck (Garvey) was playing this solo and Rob (Derhak) came over and sorta leaned, almost at the waist, turned upside down looking under his guitar. And it’s just a great, great photo. And I think Rob was partially playing with me, but I got that shot because I was there shooting Chuck. But if I was somewhere else and I wasn’t ready for that it would have disappeared. Same thing with Al (Schnier, from moe.). They can be great to photograph because they can be so animated, so over the top. But again those moments come and go in the blink of an eye.
A lot of music photography, for me, is about body language. Especially the way the lighting is these days. You’re not always getting perfect lighting on peoples faces…but you’re getting a lot of back light, a lot of side light so you can capture the body language then you can capture the intensity of what’s going on in that moment. And again, that body language happens at these peak moments for very, very brief moments in time. If you’re not ready for them with the right gear, the right lens, the right exposure, the right setting, at the right time…they’re gone. I am trying my best to wait for those moments and to capture those moments.
L4LM: I generally don’t trust any artist who doesn’t think that their most recent work doesn’t have some flaw and isn’t ready to try and do better next time.
JB: Absolutely. I think there’s a lot of photographers that shoot concerts that are resting on their laurels. They’ve been doing it for 10 or 15 years and they have great access and great relationships with bands, but I don’t think they’re pushing themselves to take it to the next level. I think a lot of that comes from inside. Like I said, I’m very hard on myself in terms of what I want my photographs to look like, and I have a certain level that I want to achieve. You have to understand the basics, the fundamentals.
I’m a portrait photographer as well as a live music photographer. I’ve shot hundreds of CD covers and magazine packages, band publicity photos and portraits of famous people. Artists, writers and musicians. And that’s an art that takes a long time to develop. You have to practice, right? And so I would look at photos that I liked, and say “What is it about this photo that I like? What is it that I could bring to what I am trying to do?” I’m not trying to copy it, I’m trying to learn from it. And so my standards were high, and I knew when I was taking mediocre photos, I thought “What is it I need to do to get it to the next level? And the next level? And the next level?” I’m always like that.
A lot of it is education. A lot of it is learning the history of photography. Like I’ll talk to young photographers and I’ll be like “Do you know who Irving Penn is? Do you know who Richard Avedon is? Do you know who David Baily is or do you know who Albert Watson is?” And they look at me with these blank faces, y’know? Cartier-Bresson. All these people have no reference to the history of photography. I think if you don’t have that reference you really can’t…you don’t know how to get from Point A to Point Z. Point Z is the ultimate photograph. Whether it’s a documentary photograph, a portrait, a live shot…You need to know about Jim Marshall, you need to know about Herbie Green and all the people who came before and did this incredible art work using cameras in order to push yourself and say “Oh! I want my photographs to look like that! I think if I get this lens then I might be able to do that.” Okay. Then they go get that lens. Then they go “Oh yeah, but if I try this or this or this…”
In the eighties or the early nineties I was the king of the fish eye lens. I haven’t picked up a fish eye lens in like 15 or 20 years, at least. I had people comment on it…”Too many fish eye photos!” But it was something that I liked. I always wanted to be able to distort reality in my photos, and what better way to distort them than with a lens that distorts photos? (Chuckles) I did it for a long time, and then I just stopped and I’ve never gone back. I see a lot of people out there with a fish eye lens these days, and putting their cameras on monopods and holding it ten feet in the air to get that angle…and there’s a lot of people coming in with very cool photographs like that.
Personally, I believe in looking through the viewfinder to create your photograph. I don’t believe in putting your camera on a monopod and putting it up in the air and trying to create a photograph like that. That’s just my personal opinion. Some people do it really well, it’s just not something I wanna do. I haven’t done it yet…I might change my mind. I’ve been seeing it for years, but I haven’t done it yet. I have a hard enough time just picking my camera up above my head and getting a shot like that…I think that’s almost cheating. I like to look through the view finder, and I like to compose and create my art through the view finder. That’s how many of the masters did it before, and I’m gonna keep going down that road.
L4LM: You touch on some interesting stuff. I’m not sure I agree with you about needing to know the history of the artists in a field you’re trying to create art in. I do believe that can add depth and respect to the final product. A painter might not know some of the great masters, but I don’t know how that stops them from making their stuff.
JB: I think painting is different than photography is different in that regards, okay? Yes, if you’re painting, you’re painting from what’s in your heart, from what’s within, from what’s within, from what you see. You’re not trying to copy Matisse‘ or Picasso. You might be influenced by them somehow, because you’ve seen their work…y’know…but I don’t agree that translates to photography. I think that, with photography, context and perception are really super important. Right? So putting your photography in the context of what’s come before and how you’re perceiving, how you’re seeing what’s being seen, especially now that you have 35 mm digital. When I shot film I shot 35 mm, I shot two and a quarter split, I shot 4 X 5 film, I shot half frame, I shot panoramic. I had all these different cameras and all these different tools that you could work with. You had all these different film emulsions that you could work with to create different looks and feels and styles and effects.
Now we all have the same camera with the same view finder and Lightroom and Photoshop. Six, seven eight years ago, before you could just slide a couple of levers in Lightroom to give your photos over sharpening, charge your colors and stuff like that, I spent six months with my digital tech retoucher coming up with a custom filter package that was sorta “My Look.” Now, that look is three levers in Lightroom, and you can slide them and get a similar look. But if you look at my books, like “Jam” and “Hippie Chick”…those photos aren’t processed in Lightroom. Those photos are all processed in Photoshop. Those photos are all played around with and that look and feel created in Photoshop.
It’s not an off the shelf plug in…click click…these are all hand touched, hand worked on to give them that look, that feel, that texture. My original goal in doing that was to, a) not have my photos look like everyone else’s because we all have the same lenses and brands of cameras but also, b) because I wanted my digital photos to look like they were shot on film. I added noise, and grain and texture to them to create a different kind of look and feel. So I had to process all my stuff in Photoshop. So, all my stuff from five or six years ago that was on social media was heavily processed in Photoshop. As time went on… Lightroom has all those things now. There’s plug ins and it’s all automated. There’s no hand of creativity in it anymore. So again, I’m out there looking, trying to figure out how I’m gonna reinvent myself the next time.
I feel like I was one of the earlier people in the jam world to sorta create that look and that style, and now everybody’s doing it. I’m not claiming I invented that or anything like that, but I am one of the first people in our scene who started doing it and a lot of people copied it, especially after Lightroom and they just kept doing it and doing it and I think people are starting to move away from that also. I don’t think I’m the only one that is starting to move away from it also. It’s an over saturated look that is just kinda played out. So, we change, and we adapt with the times. We be creative. We come up with different ways to make our photographs look interesting because we’re all starting with the basic raw materials.
But, going back to the thing about knowing who your peers are and your predecessors are, I think it’s important. I think it helps educate you to not only context and perception, but also form and shape and color. Design, sense of proportion. All of those things that are actually critical when you look through a view finder as opposed to holding it up on a tripod or a monopod…those things are all very important to develop your look and your style. There are so many photographers in the photo pit at a festival. Do you think that all those people out there are making a living at doing photography? I would say that 97.9 of them are not. Yeah, some people are making money, and yes, some yes, you can make money doing concert photography, but can you make a living? Can you buy a house and pay a mortgage and put kids through college just doing concert photography? I think there’s a handful of people that are doing it. So how do all those other people get to the point, if that’s their goal, to make a living as a photographer, if there’s the past, the present and the future and you wanna put yourself in the future where your pictures look different than everybody else’s. ‘Cause if your pictures look the same as everybody else’s, no one is gonna pay attention. At least in the art buying community, in the art world. You have to be different, you have to be unique. You have to have a vision. And that can’t be a vision that you’re copying from somebody else. Whether it’s a software program, or holding your camera up on a monopod, whatever. You need to create, you need to have a vision. You need to have a point of view. If you don’t have your own point of view, then you will never be successful as an artist.
L4LM: That’s it for my questions, but I have some from your fans. Do you mind a few of those?
L4LM: The most prevalent, by a wide margin, was “Is he hiring?”
JB: Sometimes. It depends on the festival. You know, at Lock’n, I pretty much put the photography crew together and this year we brought in one new photographer, we brought in a guy named Patrick Hughes. He does a blog called “Faces Of Festivals.”
L4LM; We know Patrick here at Live For Live Music, he does stuff for us from time to time. He’s a great guy!
JB: Yeah, Patrick’s a great guy. A great shooter. And I needed somebody to really just capture the fans. I had enough people shooting the stages, but I needed somebody that was out there digging deep. And I loved Patrick’s blog and so I hired him to come be on my team at Lock’n.
At “Fare Thee Well” in Chicago, I hired Chad Smith and Jason Kaczorowski to be part of the team. In Santa Clara I hired John Margaretten to be on my team, he’s a photographer. We also hired Josh Timmermans for one day in Santa Clara. So yes, I do hire photographers occasionally, but I am also a lone wolf in a lot of cases. It just depends on what my job is and if I’m required to hire photographers. I do keep my eyes on other people’s work and there are people’s work that I really like and enjoy, and I have the opportunity where I need a photographer I know the pool I am gonna choose from.
L4LM: “It gets pretty loud up front…what brand of ear plugs do you use?”
JB: I use custom fitted ones. I go to the local hearing aid place and have them make molds from my ears. I have the fully blocked ones, and I just got a new pair. I was at the Mountain Jam Festival and there was a hearing organization there, a non profit that was doing custom earplugs for anyone backstage. So I sat down and had some earplugs made for me…I think they cut out 25db. The funny thing is, I was cleaning out my office the other day and I found a pair of custom ear plugs that I lost about a year and a half ago under a pile of camera bag straps. I’ve since had new ones made, but they look like they’re in pretty good shape, so they’re gonna go back into rotation. I’ve been wearing custom plugs for decades now, because, as you now, up on stage and in the pit it can get pretty loud, and I wanna protect my hearing as best I can.
L4LM: You covered this a little already, but there’ seems to be more in this area so here’s another. “We know your concert work, but do you shoot much of anything else?”
JB: Absolutely. When I first started shooting music, I just shot live concerts, but I knew right away that if I wanted to be successful I needed to start shooting portraits. I needed to be able to do magazine features, and covers and CD packages so I taught myself how to do studio lighting and I bought myself a Hasselblad which is a what you need to shoot a magazine cover, a medium format camera. Then I started showing my rock and roll work to non music clients. Then I got a rep. And that rep made it to the advertising community, and I started doing ad campaigns, marketing stuff. Mid to late nineties I started shooting a lot of dot.com kinda stuff that was happening in the Bay area, a lot of corporate work. I still do the occasional corporate job.
L4LM: Last one. “I understand you’re a bit of a pack rat. Is it true you keep all your ticket stubs and such?
JB: Absolutely! I keep all my laminates, all my backstage passes, all my photo passes and ticket stubs and posters…I’m definitely a pack rat. I have a lot of that kinda stuff. I think that it helps tell my story along with my photos. I would love to do an exhibit somehow in a gallery or the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame or something like that. I’d like to see that from another photographer honestly. Not just their photographs but their journals, who their clients were, other memorabilia, ephemera, is that the right word? That surrounds what they’ve done in their lives. I have thousands of tear sheets, pages torn from magazines and books of my photographs. I’ve been published in print probably upwards of say, 3000 times, 400 times, 5000 times. Magazines, books, documentaries, films. All of those things make up the history of who I am…the sum of our experiences.
L4LM: Well, thanks for taking the time to chat with us. Good luck with the new book, and have fun making more memories for the people!
JB: Thanks you! I appreciate it. And one other thing. You can buy signed copies of “Hippie Chick” directly from me, at www.rockoutbooks.com, and from Amazon and Barnes and Noble online…and anywhere fine books are sold.