“Who Shot Rock & Roll?”, currently showing at the Akron Art Museum, answers the question for both fans of rock music and for those who appreciate photography. (The exhibit opened October 23, 2010 and runs through January 23, 2011.) This is the first major exhibition to highlight photographers’ contributions to a musical genre that is as much about image, as it is about music. The exhibit spanning the years of 1955 to the present, covers photographs from the time of Elvis to the present. The exhibit, organized by the Brooklyn Museum of Art and guest curator Gail Buckland, chronicles rock’s history and present times and lets us become privy to stories behind the pictures and the artists who created them. Buckland, a photo historian, scholar and editor of many books on photography, decided to put together a book on the subject and the Brooklyn Museum of Art agreed to do the exhibition around the same time. Buckland selected 174 photographs for the show, after reviewing thousands of pictures. Included are photographs by Annie Leibovitz, Richard Avedon, Anton Corbijn, Diane Arbus and many more. Subjects are a veritable Who’s Who of the rock world and include the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley, David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, Eminem, to name just a few. The selection process was not always easy, and some rock stars were left out, but Buckland based her decisions on the photos themselves. “What’s really innovative is that somebody like me, who is not an expert in rock & roll, who loves music but is not a fanatic, put together the show,” says Buckland. “I could look at the picture without being mesmerized by who’s in the picture and chose the exhibition based on the quality of the photography and to celebrate the men and women who took the pictures… who gave an image, a visual identity to the music.” The show has already toured nationally and has received outstanding reviews. Buckland commented that she is pleased to see many generations enjoying the show and seeing people come to art museums that normally wouldn’t go to a museum. She noticed that many museum attendees spent more time than usual reading the photographs’ captions to learning more about the stories behind the pictures and the unseen heroes of the show, the photographers. Buckland contacted photographers to see their collections and said that most of the photographers were” taken aback” that someone like her wanted to see their work, and not just want to see a picture because it was a picture of someone like Robert Plant, for example. The stories behind the photographs are as interesting as the photographs themselves. Although the photos were chosen on their artistic merit, any music aficionado will relish learning the back stories. The cover photo of Bob Dylan’s “Blonde on Blonde” album, by Jerry Schatzberg, was the result of shooting 2-3 rolls of film. Every picture turned out sharp, but Bob Dylan only wanted to choose from the two or three shots that came out fuzzy, possibly reflecting Dylan’s frame of mind at the time. English photographer Ian Tilton captured the raw emotion of Kurt Cobain, who just came offstage, after smashing his guitar through an amplifier, sat down and cried. Kurt allowed the photograph to be taken and it was widely published. Tilton,a friend of Cobain’s, never would have taken or published the photograph if Cobain had not given permission. Buckman said that many of the photographers were serious about their art and were often close to their subjects. “These are not paparazzi,” she says, emphatically. The classic shot of John Lennon in the New York City T-shirt was taken by Lennon’s trusted and respected friend, Bob Gruen. He only released pictures approved by both John and Yoko Ono. A contact sheet from Gruen’s famous shoot of Lennon at east Fifty-Second Street, including the iconic NYC T-shirt photo, is on display. Gruen had given Lennon the shirt, a cheap purchase from a Times Square souvenir shop, and asked Lennon to wear it during the shoot. The photo captures Lennon as “a free man who questions authority while searching for his own personal truth.” Such stories abound and comprise the exhibit along with many lesser-known images. Buckland tells that besides wanting to present artistic images, she aims to capture the rebellious message of rock & roll. The show and the accompanying book distill both of these aims, embodying the creative spirit, the emotion and artistry of both the musicians and the photographers.