It was 1969, the year after she released songs titled emphatically like “Think” and “Respect” and went on her first European tour. Aretha Franklin was smoking Kool cigarettes and applying her makeup in a dressing room at Newark Symphony Hall. A young sports photographer moonlighting with Atlantic Records introduced himself to her brother, who stood nearby. She paid them little attention, but she had two things in common with the man she ignored: instant success in their chosen fields and a parent who performed music.
Walter Iooss Jr. shot his first assignment for Sports Illustrated when he was 18. His father was a jazz bass player performing with the likes of Benny Goodman and Dizzy Gillespie and the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra. So, when his friend Jim Cummins asked him to photograph the Schaefer Music Festival concerts in Central Park with him, Iooss did. Atlantic Records noticed and gave him a four-year contract from 1968-1972. He photographed Roberta Flack and Buddy Guy and Janis Joplin, to name a few.
“It was a dangerous time,” Iooss recalled as we talked about the places and the people. It was a turbulent political era filled with Apollo missions, assassinations, race riots and questions about the Vietnam War. Then he described the summer Ray Charles and James Brown showed up in Montauk, Long Island, to play at the concert affectionately called “Back at the Ranch,” held outdoors. “Not many people showed up. I loved it.”
Many of these photographs look intimate, like he was right there onstage with them. “I brought the long lenses,” Iooss said, speaking of the tools he needed on the sidelines to capture action sports. Coupled with high-speed Ektachrome, Iooss captured the intense emotions amid the dim lights and sounds. He also captured a time. “At the Spectrum in Philly, there was a revolving stage,” he said. “It started to move when I was on it one day, and Wilson Pickett kept saying, ‘Where are you going? Where are you going?’ ‘You’re moving!’ I said.”
And they both did: forward and far.
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