[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]
Press Release Photo Exhibit
Wright collection chronicles rock and roll years of the 60s and 70s
Austin, Texas--In the early 1960s, a young American named Tom Wright met a
young Englishman named Pete Townshend at Ealing Art School in England.
>From there, Wright developed not only a lasting friendship with Townshend,
who would become a household word in the world of rock and roll, but he
also developed a career photographing musicians during the 30 years that
followed that meeting.
Today, Wright's collection of more than 120,000 images, which chronicles
decades of change and the rise of a pop culture, is finding a permanent
home in the University of Texas at Austin's Center for American History.
"I'm delighted that Tom Wright has decided to place his wonderful
photographic collection here at the University's Center for American
History," said Don Carleton, director of the Center. "It greatly enriches
our photographic resources, documenting a very important aspect of recent
American popular culture."
A significant portion of the collection focuses on the rock and roll band
The Who. Wright introduced Pete Townshend to American music during their
time in school together. Townshend, in turn, introduced Wright to the
road. Wright joined the group on its U.S. tours from 1968 to 1989. It was
during this time that Wright's watchful eye and ready camera captured a
phenomenal time of expansion and experimentation or the band.
"Even in the early years of The Who," said English professor Joseph Kruppa,
"Townshend focused on how things 'looked,' as well as how they sounded. He
was concerned with 'performance' in its largest sense. Wright's photographs
were often used as immediate feedback-- developed and printed right after
performances--then shown to Townshend, who was in the process of making a
public identity for The Who."
"Townshend would want to get involved . . . it was fun for everybody,"
Wright said. "Someone would ask, 'Well, did you get a shot of when Pete
busted the cop over the head with the guitar?' 'Well, sure.' 'Well, let's
In addition to traveling with the group whenever it toured the U.S., Wright
also managed the Grande Ballroom in Detroit from 1967 to 1969. It was at
the Grande on May 9, 1969, that the rock opera *Tommy* made its stateside
debut. Wright photographed the landmark event and these images, along with
audio tapes, document the ban's evolution.
"It's one thing to document a tour, but another to present the energy and
emotion impact of a concert photographically in a way that's accessible to
someone else who knows nothing about music but everything about feelings,"
Wright said. "My pictures are not rock and roll shots. They are portraits
of the artists in various stages of their development. I believe that I
captured the nectar of the most recent and significant musical
"The errant conscience of his (Wright's) camera has captured both the
flippancy and the passion of the times. His work is very much about
capturing the moment, "Townshend said.
Those captures moments will be hanging, in large 4 foot by 6 foot
cibachrome prints, in the Performing Arts Center form April 14 through
April 29 when the Broadway musical *Tommy* comes to campus.
While the rock opera had many working titles, "the simple title *Tommy,*"
said Kruppa, "was what Townshend finally settled on, a common name that
made the character an everyman and connected him with the British soldiers
of World War I, who were called 'Tommies.' Tom Wright's photograph of
Townshend in a "Tommy" helmet, used as the frontispiece for this exhibit,
was taken in Los Angeles in 1968 and proved to be an eerie foreshadowing of
the final title for Townshend's project."
Referring to one birthday shot of Keith Moon, Wright explained that Moon
was just turning 20 and wanted to be able to drink at the Holiday Inn bar
so a huge birthday party was staged and announced in the news as a 'Keith
turns 21 party." The news clips served as a fake I.D. for Moon. During
the celebration, the band was busy listening to a demo pressing of *The Who
Sell Out,* which was turned up full blast on a portable record player. The
manager marched into the room and took the needle off the record player.
"He was just livid because we were making too much noise," Wright said.
"When he was about halfway through his speech, Keith picked up his birthday
cake and shoved it right in this guy's face. He alerted every Holiday Inn
on the planet earth that we were not allowed to stay there. For two years,
we couldn't stay at a Holiday Inn."
Another shot shows Townshend in a cloud of smoke.
"Today, smoke machines are standard equipment," Wright said. "In those
days, roadies were lighting little smoke bombs and rolling them under the
amps. The progressed to flash powder poured over live wires and throwing a
switch. Keith was constantly mixing cherry bombs in the smoke bombs supply
just to keep everyone on their toes.
"I'm excited for the *Tommy* cast to see the photographs when they come to
perform, "Wright added. "Some may not have even been born when this was
These prints were made possible by support from Ilford Photo, Inc., and
In addition to his work with the Who, Wright also served as road manager
and/or photographer for the Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart and the Faces, the
James Gang, J.D. Souther, the Thunderbirds, Elvis Costello, Bob Seeger, the
Eagles and others.
The Wright collection will also contain some 2,000 tape and phonograph
recording, Wright's correspondence with Townshend, memorabilia, posters,
scrapbooks and other remnants from Wright's adventures.
The exhibit, titled "Who Rocked for Ages," is jointly sponsored by the
Center for American History and the College of Fine Arts. It will be on
display in the Bass Concert Hall of the Performing Arts Center. Gallery
hours are noon to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and during performances.
The Center for American History
The University of Texas at Austin