If you watch as much VH1 as I do, then you are probably familiar with the story involving the members of Led Zeppelin, a red snapper and a groupie.
After performing at the 1969 Seattle Pop Festival, John Bonham, Led Zeppelin’s drummer, and Richard Cole, the band’s road manager, caught a red snapper while fishing out the window of their room at the Edgewater Inn. When the day’s fishing was done, a groupie joined the two in their hotel room – and the rest is rock and roll history.
Photographer James Fortune could probably tell you similar tales himself, but he’s not talking. Having spent the better part of the ’60s and ’70s shooting the likes of Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney, Fortune amassed quite an impressive catalog of shots, a few of which are now on display at the Alla Rogers Gallery in Georgetown.
The exhibit, “Rock and Roll Icons,” features 30 photos of musicians at their peaks. There are shots of Mick Jagger cavorting around the stage, mascara and all, while the perpetually strung-out Keith Richards strums away; Elton John decked out in sequins and rhinestones schmoozing with Diana Ross at an awards show; Iggy Pop, smattered in blood, staring down the audience at the Whiskey a Go Go. The list goes on and includes the likes of Jim Morrison, Gene Simmons, Cher and Alice Cooper. For those seeking the traditional classic rock mythology, it’s all here.
Unfortunately, there are few candid shots in the bunch. Most are posed, and often you get the hint that there is much Fortune is hiding. One photo in particular, featuring the Who’s Keith Moon, the Monkees’ Micky Dolenz and infamous porn star Linda Lovelace, screams for some sort of explanation. Surely there is a great story behind it, but the viewer is left in the dark, leaving the so-called icons to lie static in the frame.
What Fortune’s shots often lack is storytelling. There is neither journalistic nor artistic intention, but a more passive attitude toward the subjects. The viewer is witness to the fa?ade of celebrity but not the inside scoop.
For those with a healthy interest in classic rock, the exhibit is worth a look. Those looking for art will be disappointed – these photos are good because of the subject, rather than the style. Whether it’s Jimmy Page letting loose a thundering solo or Stevie Nicks and her scarves, you can be sure to see the images that made the icons, but you won’t get their stories. n
“Rock and Roll Icons” will be at the Alla Rogers Gallery, 1054 31st St. N.W. until Nov. 16. Admission is free.