David Gahr: Capturing The Faces of Rock

You may not know his name, but you most definitely know his work. David Gahr is considered one of the pre-eminent photographers of our time, capturing iconic images of everyone from Miles Davis, Emmylou Harris, and Dolly Parton, to Patti Smith, The Band, Janis Joplin and hundreds more legends across every genre. For fifty years, his work appeared on album covers, in Time magazine and other leading publications. His portraits are included in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art. Rock photographers like Annie Leibovitz cite him as a major influence on their own work.

So, who was this guy? David Gahr was born in 1922 in Wisconsin. He served in WWII and after it ended, he studied economics, getting a doctorate from Columbia. But his “eye” for great photos soon became apparent. In 1958, Folkways Records hired him to create album covers for their artists including Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie. He captured Bob Dylan in his Greenwich Village days and at his Newport Folk Festival debut in 1963. Gahr shot memorable images of a feathered, smiling Janis Joplin at New York’s Chelsea Hotel, and a (very) young Bruce Springsteen right before he broke onto the scene. Joni Mitchell, Andy Warhol, Aretha, Howlin’ Wolf…they (and soooo many more) all fell under the lens of Gahr.

What made his shots so appealing? Fellow photographers note that Gahr always chose authenticity over slick commercialism, which proved especially appealing in the 1960s. That ethos also played a role in shaping the way the new generation of artists was perceived in the 60s and 70s.

One of David Gahr’s frequent subjects was John Lennon after he’d taken up residence in New York City in the 70s. Gahr’s shots of the ex-Beatle are among the most recognized among Lennon fans. CultureSonar is thrilled to be able to offer prints of these shots from one of music’s leading photographers in our collection. We hope you’ll check them out!

-The CS Team

Photo: John Lennon (the estate of David Gahr, courtesy Jeff Hochberg Archives)


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