The Contemporary Jewish Museum (The CJM) presente RetroBlakesberg: The Music Never Stopped, a solo exhibition that travels through some of the most explosive moments in music history through the lens of Bay Area-based photographer Jay Blakesberg. On view August 31, 2023–January 28, 2024, the exhibition explores the connection between music and cultural memory, showcasing photographs that evoke the sounds and stories that have shaped the Bay Area and beyond.
The exhibition brings together more than 200 photographs and related ephemera from the years 1978- 2008, when Blakesberg shot exclusively on film. Featuring images of the Grateful Dead, Joni Mitchell, Tracy Chapman, Neil Young, Soundgarden, Carlos Santana, and many other influential figures, the exhibition explores both the musicians that changed American music, the fans that experienced it, and the storied career of Jay Blakesberg. The photographs in the exhibition are printed on archival metal sheets manufactured by ChromaLuxe and produced by Magna Chrome. RetroBlakesberg: The Music Never Stopped was inspired by an Instagram account (@retroblakesberg)-turned-book created by Blakesberg’s daughter Ricki Blakesberg, and is curated by CJM Associate Curator of Contemporary Art Qianjin Montoya in collaboration with Jay and Ricki.
“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,” said Montoya. “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.”
Beginning with early photographs from Blakesberg’s formative years, the exhibition presents his work documenting live performances, his creative pivot into portraiture, and his decades-long experience photographing groundbreaking artists. Blakesberg came into photojournalism through his love of music and began taking photographs of his favorite bands as a teenager. He was first published in print while still in high school and instantly fell in love with the experience. Blakesberg continues to perfect his ability to capture the soul of musicians and the zeitgeist of a moment with an unmatched capacity for translating the atmosphere of a live music experience into a still frame. His earliest work as a teenager in suburban New Jersey ignited what became a lifelong photography career shooting for every major magazine of the last 30 years, record companies, and directly for some of the most renowned musical artists of our time.
RetroBlakesberg: The Music Never Stopped celebrates the Bay Area’s music and culture during a time that has become emblematic for the city. Blakesberg followed the Grateful Dead west, an adventure that provided him with an enormous amount of inspiration as a visual anthropologist, photographing the unique and colorful modern day hippie tribe that first blossomed in mid-1960s San Francisco.
“I grew up as a Jewish kid 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,” said Blakesberg. “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, the Grateful Dead at the Warfield, to name a few. It’s deeply meaningful to share this exhibition in my hometown of more than 35 years.”
For more than four decades, Blakesberg documented the evolution of fashion, music, and pop culture. In contrast to today’s digital era of instant access to music and cultural icons – when everyone has a phone in their pocket – the exhibition celebrates the unique experience of photographing legendary musicians along with the fan communities and relationships that surrounded and propelled them, exclusively using film cameras.
RetroBlakesberg : The Music Never Stopped
August 31, 2023–January 28, 2024
The Contemporary Jewish Museum
736 Mission St.
San Francisco, CA 94103