Closer to the Stage: 50 Years of Music Photography by Bill Carner
Dates: September 24 – October 31, 2021
I started photographing seriously in 1966 and continued to use film before switching over to digital imaging around the year 2000. I have been primarily interested in street photography, what’s already there, photographing what I find interesting around me. I continued to photograph regularly up until 2020 when the pandemic and health issues took me off the streets.
Now I spend my time scanning and printing my 30 years’ worth of film negatives in my “digital darkroom.” I consider this to be mining my “legacy,” the hundreds of rolls of film I shot over the years. I’m digitizing the negatives I printed back then and I’m finding a lot of long-forgotten images to add to my legacy. Looking at my photographs I’m reminded of something Harry Callahan said, “I was as good as I ever was right from the start.” In my case, I’d have to finish that sentence by adding, “but not nearly as often.”
“Closer to Stage” is about music made by some of my favorite musicians that I have seen and have been lucky enough to photograph. Music has enriched my soul and drained my wallet for over 50 years and I wouldn’t have it any other way. A few of the photographs in the show have been exhibited before, the Velvet Underground, Charles Lloyd, AliceCooper. Others like John Hammond and Son House have never made it beyond my contact sheets until now. There’s even a print from a digital file among these film-based images, Richard Thompson.
In 1967 I was a photographer for Block Print, the school newspaper at the Rhode Island School of Design and we were getting ready to photograph the final event of the big winter weekend, the Charles Lloyd Quartet in concert. The editor, Mike Tylick, told us, “an important rule of photography is Get Closer and I don’t need any pictures shot from the back of the room.”
Not long after the concert started Mike stepped up the stage and walked into the middle of the band, photographing all the while. Now I was a shy kinda guy and I had never photographed musicians except from my seat in a theater. I was watching Mike walk around in between the musicians, snapping away all the time. Then he got to the other side of the stage and stepped off. This was my cue to step up. I stepped up and …my”stage fright” disappeared. Nobody threw a drumstick at me or even scowled, I felt like I could have been invisible. This has worked for me many times but not all of them, somebody in the J. Geils band tried to throw me off the stage at another RISD winter weekend a few years later.