If you were asked to name some of the boldest images of 20th century rock photography, you could be forgiven for not mentioning, Neil Young “flying like a bird” on his Laurel Canyon rooftop, one of the earliest documented performance moments of The Who’s Pete Townsend’s guitar flying through the air, a bunch of punk rockers lounging high in a tree, circa 1964. Remember that date!
When I decided to tell the unknown story of pioneering rock and roll photographer, Jini Dellaccio, I became fascinated by the impact of photography, as an art form. I soon realized that I had stumbled upon something much more than a little known archive of cool band shots taken in the mid 1960s by a middle-aged self-taught photographer.
Whether they were facing the camera through mist and tree branches or striking poses against the foggy banks of Puget Sound, these images are anything but still. In the process of photographing young (soon to be legendary) musicians Jini captured something else – and did so with a sensibility and daring rarely seen in photography before her.
Here’s what rock photographer Alice Wheeler (Nirvana, Neko Case) had to say when we interviewed her for the film:
“You can tell she’s really getting into the heads of the people she’s photographing… “ Climb the tree”, or “Pose this way,” or “Play with your guitars,” or “pose your Beatle boots tall so we can see them”… Women photographers, I think we have a slightly different point of view and we look at things a little bit different and our subjects react to us a little bit different…”
And Jini’s subjects and compositions are certainly different! (remember we are still in 1964-65!). Jini marched these bands onto university campuses to shoot inside gothic libraries, got them jumping and running across her misty backyard. And this is the 50-year-old woman who confidently persuaded Neil Young in 1967 to find a ladder and climb on his roof.
Jini was not merely producing publicity stills for bands that needed album covers. Jini was taking photography in a new direction, with her unique approach there is no doubt she was truly documenting the bands and the music subculture they were creating. You may not know all the bands Jini photographed but how she photographed them has a timeless quality and style rare for that time period. Renowned Grunge-era photographer Charles Peterson really pinpointed this in his interview with me for the film.
“One of my favorite Jini photos is a picture of The Wailers playing during sound check, and it’s in like a high school gym or something like that with some windows behind them and they’re in their cardigans and just their casual clothes, they haven’t changed out to their stage costumes yet. And that could be any slovenly indie rock band today.”
The photo Peterson is referring to was taken in Tacoma, Washington State,1964.
Lance Mercer, another well-known rock photographer, (Pearl Jam) recalls discovering the album covers by Jini Dellaccio in his Dad’s record collection that influenced him. The photos were all taken in 1964-65.
“For me listening to that Sonics Boom album, looking at that photo, it was on the same lines as the Clash or Sex Pistols, the photo definitely fits with the music.”
Jini was clearly unhampered by the usual school of photography conventions, (boring studio-based band line-ups) that were commonplace. She was creative and playful with the camera and her youthful subjects. In fact, Jini was as revolutionary in her approach as the bands she photographed.
And as so many of the film’s interviewees remarked, Jini’s photography makes you feel something. Delving into Dellaccio’s archive you get an incredible sense of Jin’s empathy. The bonds with those early rock and rollers, – are all in that click of her Hasselblad: she painted the musicians’ true pictures.
Her Aim Is True, is a film festival award winning documentary currently raising music licensing costs for release. You can see clips from the film and more info here.
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