Photographer Jay Blakesberg’s latest book originated with an Instagram account created by his daughter at the start of the pandemic. In April of 2020, Ricki Blakesberg created @RetroBlakesberg to curate her father’s work exclusively shot on film. Ricki also served as a curator on an ensuing book project that spans an era that begins during Jay’s high school years in the late 1970s and extends until the moment that he moved to digital full time in 2008.
Ricki explains, “I started @RetroBlakesberg to allow people of my generation to experience photographs that are so influential to today’s pop culture in music, art and fashion. I wanted these images to hit a new demographic, different than the people that have typically followed my dad’s work on social media. You can see the fashion trends of the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s displayed on these pages creeping back into our current lives at every turn.”
RetroBlakesberg – Volume One: The Film Archives features a foreword by The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne, an introduction by Michael Franti and shots of the Grateful Dead, The Rolling Stones, Nirvana, Green Day, Joni Mitchell, Radiohead and Alanis Morissette, along with fans and friends. The book is currently available in stores, and signed copies can be purchased at blakesberg.com. In addition, Jay’s solo museum retrospective, RetroBlakesberg Captured on Film: 1978-2008, is open until Feb. 3, 2023, at the Morris Museum in Morristown, N.J. Here, Jay looks back on some of the classic images included in the new book.
Pete Townshend, The Who—Capitol Theatre, Passaic, N.J., September 1979. These were small shows at this 3,000-seat venue (followed by numerous shows at Madison Square Garden immediately after). You had to mail away a postcard to the Capitol to request tickets and, if you were chosen, you got a letter letting you purchase tickets. I had just started a photography program at a community college in New Jersey. You were still allowed to bring a camera into a concert back then— no pass required—and I just shot from my seat.
Anthony Kiedis, Red Hot Chili Peppers—Lollapalooza, July 18, 1992, Shoreline Amphitheatre, Mountain View, Calif.
B.B. King, James Cotton, Muddy Waters and Johnny Winter—As teenagers, we were blues nuts! We listened to the new Muddy Waters album “Hard Again”” a million times. This photo of these absolute legends was taken at Radio City Music Hall a few weeks after I graduated from high school in June 1979.
Sugarcube—I had a dear Deadhead friend who worked at Elektra Records in the late ‘80s, and he turned me on to the Sugarcubes—Bjork’s first band to come to the U.S. We were mesmerized by her voice and stage presence. This was shot in June 1996 in Golden Gate Park at the Tibetan Freedom Concert.
Bob Dylan—Madison Square Garden, Sept. 29, 1978. The night before this show, I saw (and photographed) Neil Young at Madison Square Garden. This was the third week of my senior year of high school. I was still 16 years old. I’m still not sure how we convinced my mother to let me go to New York City on two consecutive school nights.
Lowell George—June 26, 1979. This was shot three days before he passed away. There was this odd nightclub called Alexanders, about an hour away from where I lived—I was underage, and needed a ride to get there. (I didn’t start driving for six more months.) The owner somehow liked me, and let me in the back door to shoot shows. I found out, decades later, from Fred Tackett that Alexanders was a strip club during the day, and when there were not live shows [happening] at night. I was clueless.
Johnny and June Cash—September 1995, Cleveland. I shot this backstage as they were entering the stadium to perform for the grand opening of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.
Soundgarden and Pearl Jam—Lollapalooza, July 18, 1992. I was on assignment for Rolling Stone and my photo editor Jodi Peckman asked me to try and get a photo of any band members from Pearl Jam and Soundgarden together. Pearl Jam was still a baby band. The publicists asked which band members wanted to do the photo and they all wanted to be in it. It really captures a special time when grunge was just starting to explode.
Bob Weir and Jerry Garcia—Frost Amphitheatre, October, 1982. After these two shows—where the Dead debuted “Touch of Grey” and “Throwing Stones” on the West Coast—I hitchhiked back to Olympia, Wash., to discover that I had lost my appeal on my drug conviction case and would have to start my prison sentence in early 1983.
Led Zeppelin—May 14, 1988. I mailed a homemade postcard to local San Francisco radio station KFOG for a chance to win a trip to New York City to go to the 40th anniversary of Atlantic Records. And my postcard was chosen. I owned one weird backstage laminate from an Olympic marathon trial that I covered in college. I wore it around my neck, and it got me backstage in the press area— as well as right on the rail for this Led Zeppelin reunion with Plant, Page, Jones and Jason Bonham on drums. When I got home, I sent some photos to the radio station, and they published them in their newsletter. Shortly after, KFOG became my first regular client as a professional freelance photographer.
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