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Rock'n'roll's visual side on display in N.Y. museum

 An undated handout photo of singer Amy Winehouse by Max Vadukul is part of the
An undated handout photo of singer Amy Winehouse by Max Vadukul is part of the 'Who Shot Rock & Roll: A Photographic History, 1955 to the Present' exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum in New York. REUTERS/Max Vadukul - Brooklyn Museum/Handout
— image credit: Reuters

By Christopher Michaud

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A major new photography exhibit is built around the idea that the eyes are just as important as the ears for appreciating and understanding rock 'n' roll.

The Brooklyn Museum's sprawling show "Who Shot Rock & Roll: A Photographic History, 1955 to the Present" opened on Friday as a study in the contrasts that run through the rock music subculture.

Nearly 200 photographs, videos, album covers and slide shows, from multi-panel images of Jimi Hendrix to Amy Arbus' simple gelatin print of Madonna walking down a Manhattan street in 1983, give the unsung visual aspect of more than 50 years of rock music history its due.

"This is only the beginning of the conversation about the importance of images in rock and roll," said curator Gail Buckland, author of a companion book of the same title published this month by Knopf.

"The images have been like the step-children of its cultural history, and I wanted them to be part of the pantheon," Buckland said.

Chronicling such events as Elvis Presley's first album cover and Amy Winehouse's wedding day in 2007, the exhibit runs through January at the museum, New York City's second-largest.

The early days section includes the rarely seen first group photo of the Rolling Stones, shot outside London's Australia Pub in 1963 just days after they had signed with a manager. Told to look "mean and nasty," by today's standards the lads appear sweet and harmless.

In a look at live performances, the band's later history is glimpsed in a 1969 photograph from the notorious concert at Altamont speedway that resulted in the deaths of four fans.

Johnny Cash gives the camera the bad finger while performing at San Quentin State Prison that same year.

In a behind-the-scenes section, the Sex Pistols seem to be exploding out the door of EMI records amid a shower of beer spray in 1976. A few feet away the original Supremes step off a plane in full hair and makeup, elegantly attired and toting hatboxes.

One highlight of the portraits area is a set of Richard Avedon's individual shots of The Beatles from 1967. A 1960 photo depicts "The Fab Four" in Hamburg, although they were then five, and there was no Ringo.

Later, John Lennon and Yoko Ono pose playfully at home in bed for Allan Tannenbaum in November 1980. Two weeks later, Lennon was murdered.

More than 100 photographers are represented including Diane Arbus, Annie Leibovitz and Linda McCartney, documenting the art and lives of musicians such as Blondie, Iggy Pop, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Grace Jones, Kurt Cobain, Tina Turner, Marianne Faithfull, Patti Smith and Chuck Berry.

The exhibition is scheduled to tour Memphis, Tenn., Worcester, Mass., Akron, Ohio and Columbia, S.C.

(Editing by Daniel Trotta and Bob Tourtellotte)

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