Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Morrison Hotel Gallery

                                                                                                 (photo by Katarina Benzova)

Two Morrison Hotel Galleries exist in New York — at 124 Prince SoHo and at 313 Bowery, next to the site of punk's most sacred dump, CBGB.
 The company's other attempts to sustain galleries in the last decade, in San Diego and L.A., foundered.
"There just isn't the street traffic there," Diltz explains. 
"One hundred people walk by a minute in the summer in New York. They see these photos and they're drawn in."

It's no wonder why. The galleries , which now represent some 80 photographers , lure us in with images that tug at our memories by framing candid expressions of stars we've long fantasized about.
At their most routine, they're objects of nostalgia — no more artistic than a poster. But at their best, they're works of insight. Through their light, composition and the star's preserved expression, they crystal lize an icon's central allure.

Morrison Hotel's images range from Herman Leonard's muscular shots of jazz stars in the '40s and '50s (a young Miles Davis, a sensual Lena Horne) to Diltz and Joel Bernstein's woodsy portraits of the seminal '60s singer-songwriters, Mick Rock's in-your-face shots of glam rockers from the '70s, Janette Beckman's animated take on hip-hop artists of the '80s and Merri Cyr's rapturous shots of Jeff Buckley in the '90s.

The idea that birthed the galleries began in a place that has inspired many a musical notion — the road. In the '90s, Diltz began traveling the country selling prints of his photos in make shift spaces — with some success. Together with Blachley, a former record executive, and Rich Horowitz, an independent record store owner, he hit on the notion of finding a permanent space — preferably in New York, and ideally in SoHo.
The spot they found, on Spring St ., came with a rent of $35,000 a month, an impossible levy for the trio at the time. So they proposed a reduced fee to lease it on a short-term basis. In time, they bounced to another SoHo space, on Greene St., before building up enough business to sign their current long term lease at Prince. (The Bowery outlet opened in 2006.)
Before Morrison Hotel took over the Prince space, the previous renters hosted a widely covered show of 9/11 photography. Once the rockers occupied the space, "American Photography magazine said we were taking on the spirit of 9/11," says Diltz. "We weren't leaving downtown no matter what. Also, we were bringing back the spirit of So Ho, before the artists left."
As a marketing hook, Diltz says, the gallery started hawking its pieces as fine art music photography, " as opposed to other web sites and galleries which went for fistpumping tags like ‘photos of the legends of rock,' " which he felt "cheapened it."
Blachley says the galleries' location in New York made it inevitable that their most popular subject would be Bruce Springsteen (particularly Danny Clinch and Frank Stefanko's images from the "Darkness on the Edge of Town" period). Also big have been shots of Keith Richards, Jim Morrisonand Bob Dylan.
To Diltz, the central allure of these works lies in their casual intimacy. The Joni Mitchell shot came spontaneously during a long afternoon's rambling conversation.
"They're ‘hang out' photos," Diltz says. "They weren't at all set up."

That contrasts with most of today's musician photos, which have the formality and self-consciousness of fashion shoots.
The documentary quality of the vintage pieces has earned increasing respect of late. In 2009, theBrooklyn Museum featured its first show presenting music photography as art, mimicking similar events at London's National Portrait Gallery and the Tate. Blachley says the Smithsonian has approached his company to help with a music -theme d show of its own in 2014.
Meanwhile, the value of these photos has been appreciating, aided by the glow of history and the widening wallets of baby boomers. Shots by Jim Marshall (the great lensman of '60s San Francisco fl ower power) "gained an extra zero" in their prices after his death in 2010, according to Diltz.
Still, Blachley says most people purchase these shots "not because of their monetary value but because of their memories. When they see these images, it reminds them of a time in their lives that they still want to be a part of. Every morning, they want to get up and see that beauty."

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