Renowned American photographer and filmmaker Jay Blakesberg and San Fransico’s The Contemporary Jewish Museum (The CJM) have partnered to take visitors on a nostalgic journey through the pulsating heart of music history with the upcoming exhibition, RetroBlakesberg: The Music Never Stopped. The solo exhibition–an ode to some of the most explosive moments in the world of music–will land in Blakesberg’s chosen home city on Aug. 31 and run through Jan. 28, 2024.
RetroBlakesberg: The Music Never Stopped, curated by CJM Associate Curator of Contemporary Art Qianjin Montoya in collaboration with Jay Blakesberg and his daughter Ricki, pays tribute to the enduring connection between music and cultural memory, showcasing captivating photographs that bring to life the sounds and stories that have shaped not only the Bay Area but also the broader musical landscape over a vast period of time.
Spanning the years 1978 to 2008, the exhibition transports viewers to bygone eras when Blakesberg was capturing iconic moments exclusively on film. The exhibition features a staggering collection of over 210 photographs and associated ephemera, providing attendees a visual and emotional feast. Through Blakesberg’s lens, music aficionados can relive and feel the energy of legendary performances by artists, including the Grateful Dead, Joni Mitchell, Tracy Chapman, Neil Young, Soundgarden, Carlos Santana, and more.
However, the exhibit is not only about the musicians; it also pays homage to the fans who lived and breathed the music. The exhibition offers a glimpse into the vibrant subcultures that evolved around these iconic artists–with photos of fans eternalized mid-spin, smile, embrace, or headbang–Blakesberg’s eyes and soul prove they are not just that of just an on-looker but one who partakes of the symbiotic relationship between the music and its devotees.
The inspiration for the exhibition came from an unexpected source – an Instagram account with the handle @retroblakesberg, created by Jay Blakesberg’s daughter, Ricki. The journey that began on social media has transformed into a full-fledged exhibition that chronicles the journey of Blakesberg and the music he immortalized through his lens.
Qianjin Montoya, the curator of the exhibition, shared her excitement, saying, “Jay’s photography immortalized iconic moments in rock ‘n’ roll history, and this exhibition will explore not only that history, but Jay’s journey as well. He documented San Francisco counter-culture movements following the Summer of Love, all the way through the punk and grunge scenes that emerged in the 1980s and 90s. We’re excited to share this distinctly Bay Area story with our audiences.”
Tracing Blakesberg’s evolution from capturing performances to exploring portraiture showcasing his decades-long experience photographing groundbreaking artists, the exhibit closely follows Blakesberg’s own adventure: his move from New Jersey to San Francisco, following the trail of the Grateful Dead (aligning with the very ethos of the exhibition) shows the story of a true visual anthropologist who captured the essence of the modern-day hippie tribe which remains rooted in the city that the exhibit will now call home for five months.
Speaking of his journey, Blakesberg shared, “I grew up in New Jersey in the wake of the Summer of Love, reading articles and books about the music and culture that came out of the Bay Area. My move out west changed my life and defined my career. San Francisco, where I still live, has been the backdrop of much of my work—photographing B.B. King at the Paramount Theater in Oakland to Dolly Parton in Golden Gate Park and the Grateful Dead at the Warfield Theatre, to name a few. It’s deeply meaningful to share this exhibition in my hometown of more than 35 years.”
See a collection of photos from RetroBlakesberg: The Music Never Stopped below.