Best Music Photo Books of the Last 20 Years
Photo: From Born in the Bronx, © Joe Conzo.
A picture says a thousand words in every language at the same time—without ever making a sound. It’s no small irony that a photograph can capture the energy and intensity of a musician at work, crafting songs of joy and pain that we can only hear in our mind’s ear.
The music photography book holds a special place, one that conveys the power of harmony, rhythm, and melody in complete silence. What makes the best ones stand apart from the crowd is their ability to envelope you in a wall of sound, to the point where you completely forget that it is merely ink on paper. In celebration, Crave has compiled a selection of the best music photo books of the last 20 years.
Let’s take it back to where Hip Hop began: on the streets of the Bronx in the 1970s. Can you imagine what it was like before corporate interests transformed art into a commodity? Joe Conzo was there, camera in hand, taking the very first photographs of the culture as it made its way from the high schools to the clubs, embracing the spirit of Do It Yourself. This is the true school, y’all—a must for any Hip Hop head who wants the inside scoop from the pioneers, the originators, and the innovators, rather than the Hollywood version of it.
Have you ever dreamed of spending a night at Studio 54, dancing under the Man in the moon and doing bumps in the bathroom, rubbing shoulders with everyone from Halston to Diana Ross, partying with Bianca Jagger and Raquel Welch? Ron Galella, the Godfather of the Paparazzi, was on the scene getting the very best shots, capturing disco at its most glorious.
Imagine yourself inside the grunge scene as it was taking shape, poised on the cutting-edge, surrounded by a new generation of kids who were sick of the BS. Charles Peterson was at the epicenter of it all, photographing for Sub-Pop. His gritty yet gorgeous photographs collected in Touch Me I’m Sick are as romantic as they are raw, a love letter to an era that has come and gone, but left an indelible imprint.
While Hip Hop was hitting the streets of the Boogie Down, punk was making itself known on the other side of town. By 1976 it found its home in a little spot called CBGB’s over on the Bowery. Here, a small coterie of musicians revolutionized rock & roll, abandoning the pretenses what had become a highly commercialized medium. Talents like Richard Hell, Patti Smith, Blondie, and the Ramonese embraced the essence of the form: rebellion. Photographer Godlis was on the scene creating a body of work that was as pure as the music. Forty years in the making, his book History in the Making was finally released last year—a Crave fave forever.
In 1959, photographer William Claxton received a call from Joachim-Ernst Berendt, a German musicologist headed to America to study jazz. Berendt invited Claxton on the trip, “because your pictures have soul,” and together the two set off on the ultimate road trip across the United States. From New Orleans, Memphis, and Chicago to St. Louis, Kansas City, and New York, Berendt and Claxton documented jazz in its many forms, creating a book that provides the perfect complement to the music. The book, which was first published in 1961, was long out of print until Taschen brought it back in 2013.
Miss Rosen is a journalist covering art, photography, culture, and books. Her byline has appeared in L’Uomo Vogue, Whitewall, The Undefeated, Dazed Digital, Jocks and Nerds, and L’Oeil de la Photographie. Follow her on Twitter @Miss_Rosen.