ROXBURY — The work of veteran photographer Allan Tannenbaum reveals the eye of an artist behind the lens that captured the many poignant portraits he has produced.
He is a master of a variety of fields of photography, and among them have been his images of various talented musicians, some of whom were still ascending in their careers and some who had already topped the charts when he shot them.
Back in the 1970s and early 1980s, Tannenbaum had access to the raucous New York City rock ‘n’ roll scene, and was there with backstage access when a variety of pop, punk and New Wave artists drew packed houses at such clubs as CBGB’s in Manhattan.
Along the way, he also had two shoots with rock legend John Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono. The first in 1975, just before Lennon went into seclusion, and again in late 1980, just days before the former Beatle would be killed by a disturbed fan outside the apartment building where he and Ono resided.
Selections of Tannenbaum’s work will make up a special exhibit that opens at 5 p.m. Saturday at the Orphic Gallery in Roxbury, which is also the home of the Eight Track Museum, now celebrating its first year in existence.
Tannenbaum has playfully dubbed the show “Except The Dolls,” because a critic once whined that one of the photography books he issued had no shots of the New York Dolls, a seminal band of the 1970s. Tannenbaum explained in an interview that he simply never had the chance to shoot the Dolls in those days when he was a photographer for the SoHo News.
A part-time resident of Roxbury Run, Tannenbaum said he believes his work is a good match for the Orphic Gallery.
“There is an interesting nexus of photography and music,” he said. “People always enjoy seeing pictures of their favorite musicians, and I was lucky enough to have really good access at concerts, backstage to get unique images. Hopefully, they evoke something about the musicians and that time in the city. For people who were there, it really means a lot to be able to reconnect with that through the photographs.”
Following the demise of the SoHo News, Tannenbaum went on to have a lengthy career with Sygma Photo News. He has been to many of the world’s trouble spots as a news photographer. His work has graced the cover of Time magazine three times and Newsweek magazine five times.
His music scene photography has been exhibited in Paris, London and Manhattan, among other places. He has also been honored for his photographs of first responders dealing with the destruction and carnage at the World Trade Center on 9/11.
Tannenbaum said he is excited to have his work featured at the Orphic, a venue that he said blends in well with the growing arts scene in Roxbury. “We were really happy to discover this part of the Catskills,” he said. “What’s happening with the arts in Roxbury is fantastic.”
He recalled that he was working at his home darkroom, producing prints for Lennon, when he got the news that a gunman had taken the life of the musician he had photographed just 10 days earlier. He had been planning to meet with Lennon and Ono that evening to show them the prints. “I went from the highest of the highest to the lowest of the lowest,” he recalled of that grim time.
The show will include some of the work he produced from his time with Lennon and Ono, as well as portraits of Iggy Pop, Lou Reed and many other musicians he has encountered.
“The quality of Allan’s work is really world class,” said Phil Lenihan, the gallery’s proprietor. In terms of New York in the 1970s, it provides a very fine window into the city’s culture at that time. His work is of the highest caliber.”
The opening reception for the exhibit, Lenihan said, will also be a celebration of the life of Lennon, who would have turned 73 years old on Wednesday.