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The Amazing Rockstar Photo Exhibit at CJM

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SF CJM.   This mediocre photo was taken by the author, all other photos in this article will be of far greater quality.

On a warm night at the CJM, a crowd of Deadheads, hippies, music lovers, and photography fans gathered to hear a legend speak about a lifetime of documenting popular culture.  Rockstar photographer Jay Blakesberg held a talk about capturing musicians in San Francisco since the late 70s, from Jerry Garcia & Joni Mitchell to David Byrne, David Bowie, Bono, Bjork, E40, Prince, and hundreds more.

Jerry Garcia photographed in San Rafael, CA January 31, 1991 © Jay Blakesberg

Prince photographed at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco, CA on April 11th, 1993 ©Jay Blakesberg

Tom Waits photographed in Cotati, CA on August 13th, 1992 ©Jay Blakesberg

The event was brimming with Blakesberg’s old friends and confidants, he gave a tour through his new exhibit accompanied by Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir, and the Marin heavy crowd smiled and rubbed elbows as if it were just another solstice gathering on Mt. Tam. I combed the gallery with photojournalist Vita Hewitt, who is a child of Marin, and who said things like, “Oh, Weir is here, when I was a kid, he dated my downstairs neighbor.”

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Carlos Santana photographed in San Rafael, CA on March 17th, 1999 ©Jay Blakesberg

‘Wavy Gravy’ By ©Jay Blakesberg

Blakesberg’s photo exhibit at the CJM is like walking through a hall of music history, beginning with Grateful Dead concertgoers whom Blakesberg described as being in “full-on psychedelic swirls”, to gritty punk shows on Haight street, to shooting massive stadium tours and arenas.

David Bowie photographed at Shoreline Ampitheatre in Mountain View, CA on May 28th, 1990 ©Jay Blakesberg

Hole photographed at Lollapalooza held at Gorge Amphitheatre in Spokane, WA on July 04, 1995 © Jay Blakesberg

Dr. Dre photographed in Los Angeles, CA on May 8th, 1996 ©Jay Blakesberg

Blakesberg’s first photo in Rolling Stone Magazine was of Bono spray-painting the fountain in Justin Herman Plaza, and from there he became one of the premiere photographers in the music industry, his documentation spans 4 decades of music history.

Beck photographed at Sharon Meadow of Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, Ca September 24, 2000 © Jay Blakesberg/Retna LTD.

Not only can you go and see all the incredible imagery, but along with many of the photos you can listen to the photographer’s story about how the photo came about, so make sure to bring your smartphone/earbuds.  (The easy-to-use audio tour is included with entry and hosted on SoundCloud).

You may just catch a tale about rock history, like the stories Jay recounted to us about how David Byrne was mistaken for a delivery driver, or how Jay was FedeX’d thousands of hits of Acid and was later imprisoned for selling it, or how to shoot timeless portraits with a 4×5 view camera & tungsten film…his portraiture is stunning, and at times haunting, not to mention incredibly innovative for it’s time.

It’s an amazing walk through music history, or what Blakesberg may refer to as, “adolescent stupidity turned into lifelong magic”.

RetroBlakesberg: The Music Never Stopped
The Contemporary Jewish Museum

On view August 31, 2023–January 28, 2024.

The exhibition explores the connection between music and cultural memory, showcasing photographs that evoke the sounds and stories that have shaped the Bay Area and beyond.

Find out more and reserve your ticket here.

Jay Blakesberg

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