Top 5: Music Photography Books
Words: Dougal Gorman // IG: @dougalgorman
As the new year glints with the promise of a less deadshit me, I’ve set a goal: read more books. And by books, I mean the glossy kind with pictures — photography books.
To me, there’s nothing quite like them. Iconic scenes of history wrapped up in nostalgia and expertly cemented in time. So here’s to less scrolling into oblivion and more reparation of brain juice: my five favourite music photography books to kick your book goals into gear.
1. ‘My Rules’ by Glen E. Friedman
If you haven’t seen this book or heard of Glen E. Friedman, stop reading this now and pull out the CC. Who did Glen take photos of you ask? Oh you know, just…Jay Adams, Tony Alva, Tony Hawk, Black Flag, Bad Brains, Run DMC, Minor Threat. Nothing too major. Friedman is the eye behind some of skate and punks most timeless imagery and his book ‘My Rules’ combines all his best work into one fat-ass 324 pager. To me, it’s more like The Bible.
2. ‘Young Punks’ by Sheila Rock
With the last name Rock, it’s as though Sheila was destined to work in the music industry. The book is broken into four sections - ‘Fashion’, ‘Tribe’, ‘Music’, ‘Influence & Legacy’ and explores the UK punk scene from the late 70’s to early 80’s. Over her career, Sheila documented some of the biggest names in punk, such as The Sex Pistols, Siouxsie, The Banshees and The Clash. Although these big names are impressive, what attracts me to Rock is her inclusivity of the broader punk culture. The stage, the clubs, the fashion — Sheila caught it all.
3. ‘The Memphis Blues Again - Six Decades of Memphis Music Photographs’ by Ernest C. Withers
Born in Memphis Tennessee (the birthplace of The Blues), Withers grew up documenting some of the worlds most influential musicians in history. Think young Elvis, Howlin’ Wolf, Marvin Gaye, Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin. However, it's Withers' crucial photojournalistic work capturing African-American life in the south and the Civil Rights Movement, that is momentous.
The Memphis Blues Again spans six decades of music, capturing the culture and community of mid-century America from its heartland. There’s a particular focus on the 50’s - 70’s and not a hip-shaking genre to be missed: Blues, jazz, R&B, gospel, rock and roll, soul and funk. Powerful images with a powerful history.
4. ‘Peace Love and Brown Rice - A Photographic History of the Big Day Out’ by Sophie Howarth
Man. I wish I was old enough to have experienced Big Day Out festival. From start to finish (1992-2006), Sophie Howarth wore the badge of Big Day Out’s official photographer. Peace Love and Brown Rice is a sensory experience, dripping in nostalgia and crammed with photographic gems collated over her 14 years. Sophie guides us through each year, day to night, with personal notations and memorabilia along the way. Whether you lived it or not, scanned ephemera like AAA Passes, tickets and set times will take you back to a sweatier time. I can’t think of another book that better documents this iconic moment in Australian music history.
5. Your Blues - Michael Schmelling
This book was suggested by a friend and quickly turned into a favourite. So much so I took a lot of inspiration when creating my own book. Your Blues documents the underground music scene of Chicago. Schmelling quotes, “I’m always looking for the stuff that isn’t necessarily represented. It wouldn’t be that interesting to go and shoot a bunch of portraits of well-known musicians from Chicago”. Compared to the previous books mentioned, this one is more poetic and conceptual vs. documentary. Most of Michael’s imagery comes from documenting small club events, recording sessions and house parties. There’s an energy and intimacy that pervades Your Blues and perhaps that’s part of the thrill. We’re reminded it’s not always about the bright lights and big stages — often the magic is in the details.
Hopefully, these five books get you inspired to shoot some music photos. Shop the books below:
My Rules’ by Glen E. Friedman
‘Young Punks’ by Sheila Rock
‘The Memphis Blues Again - Six Decades of Memphis Music Photographs’ by Ernest C. Withers
‘Peace Love and Brown Rice - A Photographic History of the Big Day Out’ by Sophie Howarth
Your Blues - Michael Schmelling