"Rock'n'Roll Lens": Photographer Jimmy Steinfeldt Catalogues His "Money Shots"

Stage photography begins with being at the right place at the right time. Some people have a knack for it. Within a very short time back in the 1980s music fan Jimmy Steinfeldt went from standing on a-chair fan snapshots to having his photographs published in major music magazines like SPIN and Rolling Stone.

The Minneapolis based neophyte found himself in the right music place at the right time too, with local acts like Prince, The Replacements, Hüsker Dü and many others breaking big nationally. To get the good shots, he just had to get from the back of the arena to stage front and backstage.

This coffee table book of performance photographs traces Steinfeldt's rise from fan to established professional. Each large shot—fifty in total— is accompanied by a short anecdote, most of which are related to the particular picture. The order is not chronological.

Getting the "money shot"—the picture that captures (and sometimes defines) the artist's essence—is difficult enough. Shooting in color subjects in constant motion under ever changing lighting makes the job that much more difficult.

Mr. Steinfeldt has assembled some of his best "money shots"—ones that combine both high image quality and photographic artistry—but he's also included some technically mediocre ones simply because of celebrity.

The opening image from 1982 of Stevie Nicks—more a snapshot than a photograph—is there to show you the humble beginnings. Turn the page and there, three years later, is an absolutely dazzling shot of Tina Turner taken at the First Avenue Nightclub.

But turn the page again and there's an overexposed, not exactly well-focused snapshot of The Go-Gos. Turn the page again and there's a great shot that screams "essence of George Thorogood."

There are great shots of Madonna, Clapton, Aerosmith, Keith Richards, Chuck Berry, Elvis Costello, James Brown and others, all of which are "money shots" in terms of the artist, some of which though are technically less so.

My favorites are one of the impossibly dapper 82 year old Cab Calloway dressed in a white tux, Tom Petty and Dylan sharing a microphone, Slash and Axl Rose in 1987, Michael Jackson enjoying his crotch and a 1997 shot of David Bowie—probably the best picture in the book in my opinion, compositionally, in terms of lighting and most importantly in the way it captures the essence of the artist. The Bowie shot alone is almost worth the $50 price of admission. Another one that gets it all is of ZZ Top. So is a special shot of Les Paul. There are other superb shots as well, along with a few clunkers like one of Frank and Sammy Davis Jr.

Steinfeldt's commentary could have used some punching up and a strong editing hand. While some of it, particularly about his early days, is charming and some of the later anecdotes are entertaining, too much of it comes across as self-absorbed and much of it is trite and banal. Do you care that the photographer shot The Who at Jack Murphy Stadium "where (he) had watched many football games while attending college there"?

Did you know that "Tina (Turner) began her amazing comeback with the Private Dancer Tour. What's Love Got to Do With it became Tina's first #1 hit in the U.S. She soon went on to a successful stage and film career and has continued her amazing music career to this day"?

You did? So did I!

My favorite anecdote is where Steinfeldt finds himself standing near the back of a long men's room line behind Elvis Costello. Knowing a "short cut" bathroom next door, Steinfeldt suggests to Elvis "...that we blow off the long line and go next door to the dive bar to use their men's room." Elvis tells the stranger that "he preferred staying put." Rather than accepting a stranger's invitation to join him in a dive bar's men's room? Ya think?

Overall, the quality of the photographs are not up there with Jim Marshall's Leica black and white masterpieces for instance (few are), but Mr. Steinfeldt demonstrates a keen eye for when to snap the shot and there are many exceptional photos in the book, some of which you can bet you'd like to have hanging on your wall.

A more interesting narrative would have gone a long way toward making this book more compelling and a "must have" purchase. That said, there is something special about seeing a favorite artist close-up on stage being "in the moment" in front of hundreds if not tens of thousands of people.

Mr. Steinfeldt's intimate photographs give you the rare opportunity to do so. You can look into their eyes and wonder how they manage such intense personal focus while playing to the crowds. Clearly the photographer has often been in the right place at the right time and through this book we can be there too!

MCourouleau's picture

Thanks you so much for giving another tribute for the sensational pop star. You really never know how much this meant to his fans like me. - Michael Courouleau