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Thursday, September 16th, 2021  

Icon: Music Through the Lens

PBS, Fridays through August 13, 2021, Viewable on PBS.org or on the PBS Video App through August 27, 2021

Aug 10, 2021 Photography by Baron Wolman Web Exclusive
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“A picture is worth 1000 words” could be the subtitle for PBS’ six-part docu-series, Icon: Music Through The Lens, where the focus (pun intended) is turned on music photography.

The first thought is, how much can you talk about taking pictures and how many anecdotes can you relay about a photo session before it gets repetitive? Quite a few, it turns out, with thematic, hour-long episodes that stop the same topics from being too rehashed.

“On Camera” is the first episode’s topic of what makes an image iconic where all the photographers interviewed state it’s just that one second and one moment in time. The second episode, “On the Road,” is about photography on the road, which refers to concert and behind-the-scenes of photography. This includes conversations with photographers who traveled with bands developing their own dynamic with them. The third episode, “On the Record,” is on album covers and the fourth, “On the Cover” is on magazine covers, when they mattered, and ends on a sad note that you can do more with social media than you can with a magazine at this point in time. The fifth episode, “On the Wall,” talks about the commodifying of music photographs whether it’s through prints, posters, books and gallery shows. The sixth episode, “On the Net,” discusses the elephant(s) in the room, Instagram, digital photography, iPhones and the disposability of the entire art form.

The image are the real stars of Icon, which features 100s of truly iconic images, many recognizable, some not seen as often, all of them hugely impactful. If Icon was just a slide show if these images—which it sometimes feels like it is with images flashing one after the next, that would be powerful enough. But there are many familiar names in the music photography who are among the talking heads as well as some select musicians.

Up until the last episode, the artists whose images are featured are those established in the 20th century. The Rolling Stones, Madonna, The Who, Bruce Springsteen, The Beatles, Janis Joplin, Elton John, Bob Dylan to The Stone Roses, The Manic Street Preachers, Blur, The Verse and Oasis, the list goes on and on. Those images are an indelible part of cultural history. The photographers on hand include Bob Gruen—who took the ubiquitous images of John Lennon in his New York City sleeveless shirt, given to him by Gruen, Jill Furmanovsky who has been around for years and documented Oasis’ entire career firsthand, Chris Floyd whose images signpost musical landmarks—Floyd’s recounting of his first Oasis shoot is priceless—also on hand are Rankin, Mick Rock, Kevin Cummins—who the Manics said they were more excited to meet than any musicians, Brian B+ Cross and Vikki Tobak.

The disproportionate number of men to women photographers is noticeable, particularly in the exceptionally iconic decades of the last century. Furmanovsky, Deborah Feingold, Laura Levine and Janette Beckman are standouts and trailblazers for the women photographers who are more present with later artists such as Billie Eilish, captured by Rachael Wright for the cover of the NME and Arctic Monkeys, Tame Impala, Leon Bridges and so many more captured everywhere by the colorful and excitable Pooneh Ghana.

The musicians included are wide-ranging from Suede’s hyper-photogenic Brett Anderson to Craig David, Ziggy Marley, Manic Street Preachers’ Nicky Wire, Arctic Monkeys’ Matt Helders, Julian Lennon (a dab hand at photography himself), Metallica’s Lars Ulrich, Dizzee Rascal, the hilarious and gorgeous Stefflon Don and bizarrely, Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme, whose brutal kicking of photographer Chelsea Lauren in the band’s photo pit is the stuff of bad musician behavior legend.

Icon is decidedly skewed toward Boomer, Gen X and older millennial-era musicians and bypasses electronic musicians altogether—who, probably more than artists any other genre, tap into the powers of visual media. This doesn’t take anything away from the significance of the unforgettable images, album covers, magazine covers and photo shoots that make up the bulk of Icon. By the end of each episode, you’ll undoubtedly find yourself trying to “Strike a pose” to capture your own iconic moment. (www.pbs.org/show/icon-music-through-lens/)

Author rating: 7/10

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