It's Always Rock & Roll
The Work of Photojournalist Janet Macoska
Photographer Janet Macoska has been capturing rock's greatest on film since 1974. With 40 years in photography, she has produced an unrivaled archive. Walk through some of her most striking images of stars including Blondie, Michael Jackson, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC and more in her curated show.
Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: What drew you to focusing on rock musicians in photography?
When I was ten years old in 1964, I discovered rock and roll when the Beatles came to America. At the same time I discovered my parent's camera in the front closet. My Mom subscribed to LIFE Magazine, and I loved the pictorial stories, the behind-the-scenes look at life and celebrity via photography. It didn’t take me long to connect the dots and decide that I could get close to the music that I loved with photography.
I called up a couple of my local disc jockey heroes, Jerry G and Big Jack Armstrong, on WKYC Radio (Top 40). They were both very "big brother" kind to me, and I started coming down to the station with my camera. I answered fan mail for them. I ran Big Jack’s fan club. I took photos of the musicians who came by the station to promote their record or concert. My first published photo was a shot of Sonny and Cher I took in 1966 as they answered listener calls on the Big Jack show. I was 12 years old.Teen Screen Magazine published the photo. I was paid $2.00. A career was born!
RH: Do you have a musical background?
I can’t play any instrument. I tried, in my teens, with an acoustic guitar. I was horrible. My instrument is my camera.
RH: What do you appreciate most about rock? Favorite eras/genres/bands/artists?
I grew up in the 60s and I lived with a transistor radio attached to my ear. I loved Motown, surf music, British Rock (The Beatles, The Kinks,The Who, DC5….all favorites of mine). Psychedelic Flower Power Rock. I loved Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, Cream.
I was still too young to actually be a photographer amongst them, so I looked VERY CLOSELY at the photographs and photographers of the time. Henry Diltz, Jim Marshall and Baron Wolman were all heroes of mine. I loved the intimacy of their photography. It was an era where photographers were pretty much just hanging with the musicians. It was casual, real and organic.
In 1974, when I started writing and shooting for my college newspaper, WMMS Radio and concert promoters Belkin Productions gave me loads of access to their shows. Being covered in a college newspaper helped them reach exactly the audience they wanted; the young people who would buy the records and the concert tickets. There wasn’t a genre of music I didn’t cover, because I was young and learning and I wanted to soak up everything.
It was a great time to be a photographer too. The musicians wanted to be interviewed and photographed and featured in a college newspaper or a local rag or a national rock magazine. I worked for them all. I was being employed by record labels to hang and photograph musicians that they brought to Cleveland for the day to promote a new record. So, it was a day of hanging with Blondie or Lou Reed or Average White Band as we travelled from radio station to label to TV around Cleveland. That relaxed kind of day lends itself to breaking down barriers and getting cool photos.
RH: What defines your photographic style?
My offstage portraits of my subjects are not staged or directed. They are candid, in the moment, using mostly natural light. No fear. Even when Lou Reed is flipping you off.
Performance shots are my favorite because I am invisible. I approach shooting a performer as a fan would see them and feel them and hear them; because I truly love the music and the honor of visually recording the moment. I just get quiet and open my heart and wait for the dance of the subject, the music and the lights. Whenever possible, I wait for backlight so that there is depth and drama to the image. In these digital days, the lights truly become another element onstage for the photography. What you see, you can record in the moment. You had to be more precise, obviously, in the days of film.
A one line answer to your question is I want my photos of my subjects to make them look like the stars they are. That’s how people want to remember them. Whether you are a rock star or any other subject I am shooting, I will make you look like a rock star. Because that is how I see you.
Cleveland, Ohio 44114