Photographing acts like Joan Jett, Debbie Harry, Bob Dylan, and The Ramones in the 1970s, Brad Elterman’s photography gives us an intimate glimpse into the glamour, drama, and magic of rock n’ roll on the Sunset Strip and beyond. Even as the music and the people on the scene change, Elterman continues to act as a rock anthropologist by finding new inspiration by photographing new artists like The Garden and Mac Demarco. His photographs are prolific and iconic, but the stories behind each picture are even more outstanding.
At age 16, most of us were hanging out in our friends’ basements or going through phases where we thought Dark Side of the Moon was the best album of all time. Brad Elterman, however, tells a much different story. “When I was about 16 or 17, I cut school to take a photo of David Bowie walking out of a recording studio in 1975. That photo changed my life. Using that approach to photograph a rock star was unheard of back then. This was not Garbo or Liz Taylor. Bowie controlled all of his imagery so this made the photo even more interesting. He looked so stylish with his cap, orange sweater and cigarette hanging from his lips.”
Capturing these off the cuff and intimate moments is Elterman’s specialty. These frank, candid photographs have a certain air about them that is unique to Elterman’s work. His photographs of Joan Jett are some of the best examples of that effortlessness. “She had style and spunk. She also had a lovely sense of humor and was rather shy. So there I was with one of the greatest muses of all time, and I had borrowed a camera from my brother. I took all sorts of photos of Joan and sent them to magazines all over the world.” Elterman captured her undeniable star quality, as well as her normal kid quality.
A certain glamour also comes with the honesty of Elterman’s photographs, through their imagery and the stories behind them as well. That glamour, whether it comes from the people, the place, or the time, captures the audience and tells a story that only Elterman can tell. “When there was a gig, everyone took hours to dress up. Boys looked like girls and girls looked like rock stars. The groupies were stunning and looked better than models. If you were part of the in-crowd scene, you were backstage with the band and suddenly a movie star would walk in. I mean a real movie star, none of this reality stuff. There was a sense in the air that something wonderful was happening. That’s why my dear friend Rodney Bingenheimer, The Mayor of The Sunset Strip would always say “It’s all happening”.” Stories straight from a movie and pictures straight from the heart of rock n’ roll are what make Elterman and his career such key parts of the music that never stops playing.
Through his work of capturing greats like Debbie Harry and Bob Dylan, Elterman has solidified himself as a part of rock n’ roll history by capturing some of the greatest moments. It’s hard for anyone to pick a “greatest moment”, but Elterman’s takes the cake. “My greatest moment was meeting and photographing Bob Dylan in 1976. Not only did I get to photograph Dylan, but he insisted that I take his photo with a young actor named Robert DeNiro.”
Even though he’ll forever be known for his prolific body of work in the 1970’s, Elterman will never frozen in time. Inspiration keeps coming and the music keeps playing in the form of modern groups like Sunflower Bean, DIIV, and The 1975. Even if the sound changes, his pictures still project the magic that comes with the music. Check out his website to see more of his past work, and the greatness he’ll capture next.
by Hayley Robertson
all images courtesy of Brad Elterman