Few photographers in recent memory can truly lay claim to the title of pop culture historian; Brad Elterman is one. Always there. Camera and flash slung around his neck like a skeleton key, unlocking doors to the green rooms of public imagination.
Bowie. Dylan. Lennon. Jagger, Joan Jett and The Ramones. It might read like a who’s who of 20th Century music history but Elterman’s wild, rich oeuvre serves as more than pure document – it’s the zeitgeist of 1970s America, white-hot and kicking. His subjects are without exception, the exalted but they appear to us firmly as people – vulnerable – yet, as perhaps the ultimate testament to his gaze – just tantalisingly out of reach.
Originally from the San Fernando Valley, Elterman rose to acclaim early, managing to save enough from the proceeds of his photo sales to German and Japanese magazines Music Life, Rock Show and Freizeit to land his own West Hollywood apartment while still in his teens. Ingratiating himself as the go-to biographer of the Sunset ‘in’ crowd, the young photographer soon gained access to the kind of Hollywood inner-sanctums unthinkable now in an era where even the youngest stars’ careers are micro-managed by publicists, managers and social media gurus.
In the pages that follow – a retrospective of sorts containing some unpublished photographs seen here for the first time – a powerful quality becomes apparent; this is work that punctures the veil of celebrity whilst losing none the lustre that cast us there as voyeurs in the first place; John Travolta locking lips with co-star Olivia Newton-John at the infamous Grease wrap party, all razor-sharp jaw and perfect quiff – indistinguishable from his onstage counterpart Danny Zuko. The ghostly apparition of Joey Ramone in a parking lot, waving to no-one in particular while the trunk of a beaten up Charger looms into frame behind. An impossibly young Robert Deniro rubbing shoulders with Bob Dylan backstage at the Roxy in ’76…
It’s hard to shake the notion of the Iconic when discussing Brad Elterman’s work. Disarming in its casual honesty, it seems to mark the precise moment in the rock ‘n’ roll canon that the public was at last given a chance to view their idols as living, breathing mortals.
Max D’orsogna – Whitelies Magazine, Berlin
Forty-two years ago, Brad Elterman skipped school, drove to a recording studio in LA, and tried to photograph David Bowie. He got the shot, which led to a spread in Creem Magazine and the start to a whirlwind career that would redefine rock ‘n’ roll photography. Instead of typical concert shots, Elterman took his camera backstage and elsewhere to snap candids of some of the era’s greats, riding in cars, eating french fries, exiting port-a-johns—in general, being like anybody else. Nearly half a century later, Elterman found a bunch of his old negatives being sold on eBay, and bought them back for a trip down memory lane.
Brad Elterman’s Website