‘We All Came Out To Montreux’ is temporary photographic print exhibition at the 2015 Montreux Jazz Festival, Montreux, Switzerland featuring the work of Neal Preston, primarily known for his photographs of rock musicians. This exhibition displays an extract of his work of about 32 mainly black and white prints.
For me rock photography is a complex subject because has to work combining many elements for it to be successful. Key are the subject, the context in which that subject is placed, and probably most important the element is the ‘unobtainable’. For the viewer it is like having a backstage pass. Somewhere we as a fan would never have the privilege of being.
Rock photography is taken for the here and now. To document what is. Yet what has happened and these photographs are excellent examples is they have now become historic social documents. We now look at these images and see how things have changed, how the musicians have aged, some have died so we remember and reminisce. Yes it can be argued this is the same for portraits of others, which is true, yet I would argue that there is something special within our hearts about musician images. With a film star they are seen on the screen and perhaps at film premiers but the reality is we actually see very little of them. Even in a film by the nature of what they do they are not themselves. However with musicians they are there to perform for us on stage, they make their music for us to buy, they feed from their fan base. We feel closer to them. We all want to meet our idols and through rock photography we get that chance.
Even when subject and context are sorted the skill of the rock photographer, much like a sports photographer, is all about timing. A second or so either way and the picture is lost especially so during a fast moving concert. For me Preston’s pictures reflect what I want to see as a fan.
I would break rock photography down into three key subsections with Preston’s work comfortably and successfully straddling all three; namely:
1) The Portrait
This is where the subject is aware the picture is being taken and my well be formally posed and lit. These may well be studio shots but many are done backstage.
Pete Townsend: A very well lit and close crop portrait that gives us the essence of Townsend. On the face of it a straight portrait but the more you look into his eyes you see some tired, perhaps on or having been on substances, yet still gives the feel of the Townsend we know as fans. Again this is one of those pictures that today we look back on and see how the person has (or has not) changed.
Marvin Gaye: Here this portrait is also a historical document in that it is the last formal portrait before Gaye’s killing about a year later. What is interesting here is the context in Gaye wanted to portray a vision of normality (which comes over well) for a man with big troubles at the time of huge back tax payments claims, heavy drug usage and paranoia.
2) The Off Guard Moment
This is what we want to see. It is the unobtainable for us. We see our stars for better or worse at a point in time. It is not rehearsed it just happens.
Freddie Mercury: An interesting picture in that we now look at this with a sense of poignancy. We now know the history that would eventually follow 13 years later and therefore I would argue we look at this image differently than when it was taken. We look at it how Freddie was and how we remember him but in fact it was originally an off guard moment caught by Preston of someone getting ready for a concert.
Jimmy Page: This sums up the rock and roll hedonistic lifestyle we expect of Led Zeppelin of swigging back the Jack Daniels. Perhaps today in a far more media savvy controlled music environment we would never see this type of picture but this was taken at a time when it did not really matter. The fans were the fans regardless. Was this picture posed in that it was a sham to perpetuate the rock and roll myth? We will never know but it does amuse me somewhat there is a basket of not quite so rock and roll fresh fruit on the table. Posed or not Preston captures that backstage moment.
3) On Stage – In Concert
These are the back stage pass pictures we want to see. Up front and close to the stars. We are on stage with them. We are at the seats we cannot get or afford. Preston says of his of stage work “Shooting live music is something photographers rarely do well. I just discovered one day I was good at it because it feels natural to me” . He also says “Access is the hard currency of my job. It is as essential as any camera of lens. Once you have access you must nurture it and treat it with utmost respect or you can kiss it […..] goodbye” .
Freddie Mercury at Wembley Stadium: This picture sums up Preston’s philosophy that live shooting is “one part photography, one part love of music, one part a love of theatre and theactrical lighting, one part hero worship, one part timing and 95 parts instinct” . With this picture I like the way one individual is isolated when in reality there are probably about 50,000 in the audience.
The Rolling Stones, Los Angles: Captures everything we have come to expect about the The Stones performing live. This is still rock and roll innocence. Today Preston admits that the whole process is far more controlled and he is one of the few photographers that has the freedom to take what he wants and how he acts.
My only criticism is that it is a somewhat tenuous link to the Montreux festival. Firstly in the write up accompanying the exhibition it states that all the artists in the photographs have all once played the Festival. In reality not every artist shown has played at Montreux (but I do need to triple check this). Secondly it would have been great if the photographs displayed were actually taken at the Festival rather than elsewhere. In reality these images are a subset from Preston’s book and previous exhibition In The Eye of the Rock and Roll Hurricane. However being a big sucker for all things rock photography, and all proceeds from book and prints sales going to charity, I can forgive both points (and yes I did buy the book).
The temporary exhibition runs from 3rd to 18th July 2015 at the Montreux Jazz Festival, Auditorium Stravinski, Grand Rue 95, Montreux, Switzerland.
Visited 13th July 2015
Copyright note explanation: A curious one here in that I was not given the right to use original image files however if I took the picture myself it would be perfectly acceptable.
   Preston, Neal (2015) In The Eye of the Rock and Roll Hurricane, UK, Reel Art Press