Photo credit: Mirgun Akyavas
Veteran photographer Bob Gruen is responsible for some of the most iconic images in all of rock and roll history. His instantly recognizable shots of the Sex Pistols, New York Dolls, and John Lennon (to name just three of his subjects) are permanent parts of the pop culture oversoul.
Over his five decade career, Bob Gruen has captured the likes of Madonna, Elvis, Eric Clapton, The Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin, Ike and Tina Turner, The Clash, and The Who. His first concert as a “pro” came when he used his camera to talk himself into the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, the concert when Bob Dylan infamously “went electric.”
Gruen was a close friend of Yoko Ono and John Lennon, serving more or less as Lennon’s personal photographer throughout the Seventies. His shot of John Lennon wearing the New York City t-shirt is probably his single most famous image, and the “Mona Lisa” of Big Apple tourist trap tee-shirts, according to the New York Times. Then there’s the one of Sid Vicious with the mustard covered hot dog, Blondie crawling out from under a car wreck, John Lennon in front of the Statue of Liberty. We could go on and on…
A new documentary about Bob Gruen’s life and work, Rock ‘N’ Roll Exposed: The Photography Of Bob Gruen, directed by another of the rock era’s most energetic chroniclers, Grammy award-winning filmmaker/musician/DJ Don Letts, recently premiered at the SXSW Film Festival.
Rock ‘N’ Roll Exposed is an illuminating document full of fascinating historic moments revolving around the time, people and places memorialized in Bob Gruen’s photographs. With his unprecedented access to John Lennon and Yoko Ono he was able to capture their lives on film with a familial intimacy and Zen-like immediacy. Gruen’s photographs tell stories and in the case of John and Yoko those stories get closer to the subjects than most of the dozen or more wordy volumes written about the couple.
With witty and insightful commentary from Gruen, Iggy Pop, Debbie Harry, Legs McNeil, Tommy Ramone, Alice Cooper and more, Rock ‘N’ Roll Exposed is more than a nostalgic look at over several decades of pop music history. It is a testimony to the power of art to not only immortalize the past but to bring it immediately into the moment. Gruen’s photos are vital because they are so alive.
Below, our exclusive interview with Bob Gruen.