Photographer Michael Weintrob has been working in the music industry for twenty-plus years. Since his early days, shooting bands at the Aggie Theatre in Fort Collins while attending Colorado State University, he has allowed his creative juices flow, and back in 2000, while he taking photos of The Derek Trucks Band, the earliest beginnings of his beloved InstrumentHead project was born.
The photographer, a staple of New Orleans Jazz Fest, will once again deliver a pop-up exhibit at Jacques Imo’s gallery space from April 27th to May 6th (info here), featuring his collection of works—including images of Bootsy Collins, Mickey Hart, Junior Brown, Scott Avett of the Avett Brothers, Anders Osborne, and more—and live music from some of his longtime musician friends from NOLA and outside the Crescent City.
The exhibit will open on April 27th with live performances from Papa Mali and Bobby Vega, which will begin at 9 p.m. and benefit the New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic & Assistance Foundation, an organization that “offers occupational and comprehensive health services for musicians, performers, cultural workers and tradition bearers of New Orleans.” Following the opening-night ceremonies, on Saturday, April 28th, Weintrob’s InstrumentHead exhibit will host a trio of performances, including a solo set from Eric McFadden, a Billy Iuso & Eddie Christmas duo set, and a performance by Will Bernard.
Right around Jazz Fest time last year, Weintrob released the official InstrumentHead book, a collection of portraits published by Magnet Bound Press and that includes images of 369 musicians and their instruments. The 11” x 15” full-color book comes with the choice of three different cover options. The book will be on-sale at the exhibit, with Michael Weintrob on hand for a special book signing session as well.
We had an opportunity to discuss the InstrumentHead project, the NOLA exhibit, and more with the legendary photographer. Check out what he had to say below!
Live For Live Music: How did the concept for this long-time project take form?
Michael Weintrob: I was a house photographer at the Aggie Theatre in Fort Collins, Colorado, in the late 90s and early 2000s. The Derek Trucks Band performed there one night in 2000, and I was taking a portrait of the band backstage after their show. Todd Smallie, the bassist, came a little late and had his bass. I said, “Do something crazy. I don’t know put your bass down your shirt.” So he did. From then on out, it became part of my creative process when doing portrait shoots with bands. It wasn’t like I was hit by a bolt of lighting and the InstrumentHead project was born. It was just something I did in photo shoots. It was one of my licks as a photographer.
I moved to Brooklyn in 2003 seeking a new life experience, and to learn more about the pro photography world. I met with editors at Spin, Vibe, Rolling Stone, Time, and others. They all basically told me the same thing: that was that my live music photography was excellent, but if I wanted to be a portrait photographer in NYC, I needed to do some studying and find my voice. Over the next five years, I learned about lighting and shooting in the studio. I started shooting these faceless portraits in a controlled lighting situation. The images ended up on album covers, such as George Porter Jr.’s It’s Life and Karl Denson’s Lunar Orbit, and were used for promotional images.
In 2008, I wandered into a bookstore on Bedford Avenue and saw a coffee table book with a beautiful cover featuring all of these awesome bands logos on it. I opened it up, and it was a fine art book made by photographer James Mollison called The Disciples. Mollison had photographed fans of bands, and the idea was to be able to tell which bands they were fans of by their appearance. All of the images were shot with the same lighting, look, and background. I thought it was brilliant. I wondered how I could create a guessing game with musicians and photography. I realized that I had been shooting these faceless portraits the whole time.
That is the moment I decided to start focusing on this as an ongoing art project. I started contacting musicians I had relationships with from shooting bands for so many years. Eventually, I met their friends and then their friends. I would say to them, “How are we going to tell your story? What is it about you that makes you special?” The musicians would show up with their instruments, clothes, and props that would help to tell the story of who they are.
I eventually started traveling around the country using music venues as my studio because they were big open rooms that were empty during the day. In most of the cities I would travel to, I knew a couple of musicians who lived there, and I put a call out looking for musicians who were known for their instrument, look, and style. In 2014, I traveled to Nashville and shot over 35 local musicians who lived in the area for a big exhibit I was going to do at OZ Arts Nashville. My goal was always to do a book of this work. I had met with many book publishers who really did not get it. In 2015, I decided to launch a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to produce the book. In 45 days, I raised the funds to make my own book with my own publishing company I formed called Magnet Bound Press.
What Is InstrumentHead?
L4LM: What are a few of the most memorable photo sessions you have had with the InstrumentHead project?
Michael Weintrob: There are so many memorable shoots. I like them all for different reasons. The best part about doing this work is the personal connection that I have made with the musicians while shooting these portraits—breaking down walls to get to the real person is what I love. Some of the shoots that stick out in my mind are shooting Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead at his home studio, Bootsy Collins in Cincinnati, Uncle Lionel Batiste and Big Chief Monk Boudreaux at Preservation Hall, Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth of the Tom Tom Club and Talking Heads in my studio in Brooklyn, Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi at my Brooklyn Studio, the great South African bass player Bakithi Kumalo backstage at the Capetown Jazz Festival, Bill Summers of the Headhunters, Big Chief Donald Harrison in Bill’s home studio in New Orleans, and Johnny Winter at the Carriage House Studios in Stamford when he was recording his final record.
L4LM: It seems like New Orleans, especially during Jazz Fest, is the perfect atmosphere for such an exhibit to return back to. How has the city influenced your own art and life over the years?
MW: This will be my twentieth year going to New Orleans during Jazz Fest time. For many years, I would shoot the festival during the day and stay out all night shooting the late-night concerts. I still do the daytime shoots on the fairgrounds and some night shows. I have formed so many relationships with people in the music scene in New Orleans. The sites and sounds of the city are infectious. I have had the great honor of working with some of the cities most influential musicians.
In 2013, I showed a large-scale exhibit of my InstrumentHead work for the first time on Frenchman Street in the warehouse behind the Frenchman Street Art Market. It was the perfect storm in the perfect location. Over seven-thousand people saw my work that year. I have had so much support from the musicians of New Orleans and the fans of their music. Jazz Fest time is my favorite time of the year to be in the city.
L4LM: New Orleans is all about community, and this exhibit will help benefit the New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic & Assistance Foundation. How important is it to you to help a local cause such as this?
MW: I have been working with the New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic for over a decade. I believe that all of us in the music scene, from photographers to musicians to the production crew, all eat from the same table. NOMC helps musicians with healthcare when they can not afford it. They are a charity that does good work for the community with the funds that they raise. I have a great relationship with Bethany Bultman and Erica Dudas who run the clinic. We have been helping each other for years.
L4LM: An opening night celebration featuring Papa Mali & Bobby Vega will kick your upcoming InstrumentHead exhibit during Jazz Fest off, followed by an equally special event on Saturday, April 28th, with a solo set from Eric McFadden, a Billy Iuso & Eddie Christmas duo set, and a performance byWill Bernard. Sounds like a solid group of musician friends to have!
MW: I am really looking forward to it! I have known all of these guys for many years. Throughout my career as a photographer in the music scene, I have developed relationships with many great musicians. I am so excited to be able to create this hang on Oak Street and that all these musicians are open to coming and playing their music in my gallery space. Over the full two week exhibit, there will be musicians popping in to perform.
L4LM: Thank you so much for the in-depth responses, Michael. We wish you the best of luck down in NOLA with the InstrumentHead exhibit this year!
Check out Weintrob’s InstrumentHead website for more information on the photographer. For more information about his upcoming InstrumentHead exhibit at Jacques Imo’s gallery in New Orleans during Jazz Fest, join the Facebook Event page. Order the InstrumentHead book here.