By Natasha James
The Sonoma Valley Voice
LEGENDARY MUSICIANS, a 30 year photographic chronicle of music history from the archives of acclaimed photographer, Michael Mendelson, now on display at the Sausalito Art Lounge, a branch of the Mark Reuben Galleries, 12 Princess Street, Sausalito. Call for gallery hours (415) 331-9569.
SVV: One of the salient aspects of your photography is that the spirit of your subject constantly shines through. How do you accomplish that?
MM: Understanding that a good photograph can speak volumes about someone, I try to capture what a filmmaker might take 2 hours to do.
SVV: Did you set out to become a music photographer? How did that come about?
MM: It just happened. (He smiles a secret, silent grin.) I was going to the concerts of the Grateful Dead, (now he laughs and strokes his David Crosby-style mustache) and the Jefferson Airplane, Sons of Champlain, and since I was in the front with my elbows on the stage anyway, I decided to take a camera to these concerts, which I borrowed from my friend's father. John Lee Hooker was my first indoor shot.
SVV: What is your favorite way to work with your subject?
MM: To be given carte blanche.
SVV: Where was this Jerry Garcia taken?
MM: (He buddhas his hands) 5-28-82. The Vietnam Veteran's Benefit in San Francisco, with the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Starship. That shot of Jerry was a rare opportunity because I did it using a flash and the Dead never allowed photographers to use a flash, but I was THE photographer for the Benefit.
SVV: And Wavy?
MM: Wavy Gravy? 1996, in my livingroom.
SVV: Most of your work is extremely high contrast and sharp. How do you decide to use the light? Why?
MM: Thank you for noticing. I am a purist and never use any special effects.
SVV: Is there a particular shot/event throughout these years that particularly sticks out?
MM: There's more than one... so many... I remember Tito Puente used to pose for me during the show! So did Gregory Hines at the Fairmont's Venetian Room. He paused the show, leaned into my front table asking if I were ready, then he stood on his tiptoes and I got the greatest shot ever! (Michael smiles with glee) Then he leaned forward and asked me, "Did you get it?"
SVV: Almost without exception, your exhibit encapsulates the cutting edge of music from each moment. Is that an accident or do you carefully choose your assignments?
MM: They were never assignments. I had to love or be interested in the subject matter. In fact, I have turned down many big names.
SVV: How would you say the music that you have documented from the 60's to the present affected your life? I know that's a loaded question!
MM: I'm an anthropologist. What's it done for me? Hmmh! it's allowed me to chronicle, the way Matthew Brady photographed the Civil War, and remember, some of the greatest shows that I've ever seen! This exhibit affords us a precious opportunity to take a trip upon a magic photoship and recapture our collective memories of an era through its' music, so fixed in our common memory as the hub of the world our generation redefined and colored, definitely COLORED.
Michael offers us a unique and spectacular chance to catch a later insight by giving us a birds' eye view of our collective past and continually evolving social and cultural symbiosis.
(Natasha James is a singer, songwriter, and musician residing in the Sonoma Valley currently writing for the Valley Voice.)