REVIEW: ETHAN RUSSELL'S BEST SEAT IN THE HOUSE
Photograph generously provided by Andy Caulfield © 2013
I have had the honor of working with, and for, many amazing photographers at Analogue Gallery. Everyday I’m surrounded by incredible images of my music idols. A recent memory of turning down drinks with Stevie Nicks was unfortunately not a bad dream I had one night.
This past weekend was another ode to my storybook life as Manager of Analogue. Famed music photographer, Ethan Russell, was our next featured exhibition. Russell’s images are nothing short of iconic in every sense of the word. Each composition, a perfect peek into private lives of rock geniuses; each pigment, a powerful note in a rock opera that makes up Russell’s life.
Ethan Russell: Best Seat in the House
Oakville Place, Nov 2nd 2013
Ethan Russell’s “Best Seat in the House,” is a surprising show in many ways. You may ask yourself, how riveting can a slideshow be?
(Memories of my Aunt & Uncle’s 5 hour documentary on their hotel room in Athens comes flooding back all too quickly…So, I must quickly say, this is not your typical vacation slideshow)
Russell, a talented photographer, was in the right place at the right time - during multiple moments. His curiosity and never-say-no attitude eventually landed him exclusive and intimate sessions with both Mick Jagger & John Lennon. His work on the Stones '69 & '72 tours are truly epic. His portraits of The Beatles through to the end of their career are powerfully exposing, and his contribution to The Who’s Quadrophenia is quite simply put: art.
The thing about being a good writer, artist or photographer is that you need just enough ego to confidently tell the world that your work is worth paying attention to. If you have too much ego, it gets old and your audience will mentally check out by the 10th or 11th name-drop.
With Russell, he has found the perfect balance between these two extremes. Russell recognizes his good fortune and seems genuinely committed to sharing it with his audience.
The crowd around me is buzzing with excitement as we all head into the theatre. Some are re-living their own memories connected to some of the photos on display, and all of us are in anticipation of hearing the true stories behing these images we've grown to identify with.
His performance (Russell doesn't just stand there rambling. He's truly performing a show) begins as most beginnings do, humbly. He’s a fresh-faced Californian, in the sixties, with the world ahead of him, and a talent for composition – both with image and words.
With a push from his father, Russell tells us, he heads to the UK to pursue a new life. A passion for writing with a camera in hand, he documents the world around him. In a fated visit, a writer-friend requests his camera to be present at an interview. Well, why turn down a job now? He goes for it. Who is Russell’s first subject? Oh, it’s none other than Mick Jagger.
Without giving too much away, Ethan Russell’s life unfolds before our eyes and ears. Slides of rarely seen photos and video clips play while music guides us through Russell’s narrative. Each story effortlessly moves into the next, with the only jarring moments being the simple shock of this young man’s luck, such as when he’s called for his second interview session - with John Lennon.
His journey continues with his ascent to being a backstage mainstay. At this point, who else would capture the 1969 Stones tour except Ethan? He’s already proved him self a worthy addition to his subjects. John Lennon has taken the photos of Yoko from their first session and put them on his walls. His presence is delicate and reclusive when needed. The result: images that are both impossibly private and perfectly powerful.
Documentaries and biographies are always a great way to look closer into the lives of the people we admire, but a live presentation like Russell’s hold an authenticity (the man is, after all, right in front of you) that is a simple and honest recount of an incredible life journey.
Lucky for us, his amazing images accompany his words. The audience gets a full circle “BANG” moment with each anecdote, which evokes strong emotions unsuspectingly. I found myself glaring through tears at moments, my heart in my neck, just in awe of these musicians and their most human of moments caught in time. Then like any good story, you're back to laughter with Russell's dry-humor take on some of the highlights of his career.
I’m sure like most photographers today, I’m struggling with the notion that “honest” music photography is dead. It will never be the same. It’s important however, to remind ourselves that with this loss that our digital generation has suffered, we can respect the small sliver in time that existed for both Russell and his comrades in the 60’s and 70’s. To be able to sit in a live audience and hear it in his company first hand? Truly an event not to be missed.