During the summer of 1977, Jay Blakesberg, then 15, accompanied a friend to see the Jerry Garcia Band at Asbury Park in New Jersey. His friend brought a camera, which they passed back and forth, photographing the show from their front row seats. They later hit up a friend’s darkroom to make prints and by this point, Blakesberg was hooked.
“I started bringing my camera to concerts and trying to photograph musicians on stage,” he recalls. “For me, the best thing about shooting is sharing it. I made 8x10s in the darkroom, and eventually sell them in parking lots of Grateful Dead shows to make ticket money.”
In 1978, Blakesberg sent a photo of blues guitarist Jorma Kaukonen to Relix magazine with a letter about how he followed the musician’s limo from to New York after a concert just to get the shot. It became his first published work, and the start of a career that has spanned over four decades.
In the new book, RetroBlakesberg Volume One: The Film Archives (Rock Out Books), Blakesberg and his daughter Ricki teamed up to create a visual autobiography that charts his journey photographing musicians including Carlos Santana, Led Zeppelin, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nirvana, and Dr. Dre. A self-taught photographer, Blakesberg is adept at capturing moments as they unfold, whether he is on stage, in the studio, or among the crowd.
From a young age Ricki Blakesberg was at his side, accompanying her father to shows. “Because my dad allowed me into his world and encouraged me to pay attention, it allowed me to grow with his work,” she says. “He didn’t keep anything from me or hide any of the realities of the industry or of his craft with me.”
Ricki, who runs the RetroBlakesberg Instagram account, was instrumental in curating the book. She delved through her father’s archive, unearthing an extraordinary collection of images that chronicles the evolution of countercultural music, from rock to punk, grunge to hip hop.
“Music holds a lot of connective power for people, and being able to relive these moments through these photographs helps keep those profound memories and feelings alive,” Ricki says.
Blakesberg’s work has long acted at the bridge between fans and musicians. Reflecting on an encounter he had with a teen at a show in San Francisco during the 1990s, he says: “The kid asked who I shot for, where my pictures could be seen. It turned out he had one of my magazine spreads thumbtacked to his bedroom wall. To have my photos resonate with people in that way is a great feeling. It is all of us being connected.”
RetroBlakesberg Volume One: The Film Archives is out now on Rock Out Books.