Faces and Places

Michael Joseph's new gallery merges rock 'n' roll icons

I went to Michael Joseph Photography and Artists' Haven Gallery expecting one thing and got another altogether. What I expected, more or less, was a traditional art gallery with Joseph's black-and-white photos lining the walls. What I got was a display space in transition, which in this case proved to be much more compelling.

Joseph has been knocking around South Florida for years. He previously had galleries in the Victoria Park neighborhood and on Dixie Highway just south of Five Points in Wilton Manors. Last November, he took over the Fort Lauderdale gallery previously known as Artists' Haven and kept the name, envisioning a space for showcasing not only his own work but that of other artists. The typically slow summer season in particular, he reckoned, would be a good time to share the gallery with other artists of similar sensibilities.

He's still working out the details, but his ambitious plans are admirable, especially in gallery-starved Broward County. When I visited, he had about half a dozen oil paintings by Keith Clark on display. Clark almost invariably divides his canvases into big blocks of bold color and applies the pigment with intentional crudeness. The spare, methodical compositions and Clark's gestural ferocity have a certain appeal, but I'm not sure how well they fit in here. Lois Ostrov's watercolors and Janet Gold's oil pastels, on the other hand, have more in common with the aesthetic at work in Joseph's photography. Both use stylized architectural motifs that are comfortably at home among Joseph's many "portraits" of buildings.

Wolman's Johnny Cash
Wolman's Johnny Cash
Michael Joseph's own Stepping Out
Michael Joseph's own Stepping Out

Details

2757 E. Oakland Park Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, 954-563-5157.

I wish that, instead of devoting pretty much a whole wall to Clark's paintings, Joseph would bring out more of his own work. It would almost certainly play well off the mostly black-and-white rock 'n' roll photography displayed on the opposite wall, the bulk of it by Elliott Landy, supplemented by a handful of shots by Baron Wolman.

Conceptually, Joseph is already there. He talks about how Landy and Wolman specialized in the icons of the music world of the 1960s, while his own specialty is the iconic architecture of major cities. "Famous faces and famous places" is how he puts it at one point. A few minutes later, he quotes his wife, who has connections in the music business, characterizing the gallery as "where art and music embrace."

Wolman was the first chief photographer at Rolling Stone, a position he held from about 1967 to 1970, and the handful of black-and-white shots here date to that era. A portrait of Jimi Hendrix performing at the Fillmore East in 1968 rubs shoulders with a Jerry Garcia picture that ended up on a 1969 cover of the magazine. A 1967 image of Steve Miller shot to accompany a Rolling Stone interview later became the cover of Miller's Anthology record; Joseph has a vintage vinyl copy of the album that he hopes to have Miller sign when he's in South Florida for an upcoming concert at the Mizner Park Amphitheater in Boca Raton.

Other Wolman works include a shot of Pete Townshend performing at the San Francisco Bay-area Cow Palace in 1967 and an image that captures Mick Jagger's larger-than-life presence as he performs at a 1969 concert in Oakland, California (Keith Richards, appropriately blurry, can be seen in the bottom-left corner). My favorite Wolman is a soft-focus portrait of Johnny Cash, caught in a pensive moment at the Circle Star Theater in 1967. Formally dressed, holding a cigarette in his right hand, he's somehow elegant and world-weary at the same time.

Landy wasn't a fixture at Rolling Stone like Wolman but was no less connected in the rock 'n' roll cosmos — he was the official photographer for the Woodstock festival, where he took many photos that have since become woven into the fabric of rock history. A lot of his shots went on to become album covers, and Joseph has paired some of the framed ones with signed copies of the corresponding vinyl. A color closeup of Van Morrison, for instance, hangs on the wall above an autographed copy of Moondance that incorporates the shot into its design. The famous hat-tipping shot of Bob Dylan (a Landy favorite) used for the cover of Nashville Skyline appears, uncropped, above a signed copy of the LP.

The Landy list goes on: Eric Clapton, circa the Derek and the Dominos era; Jim Morrison at the Fillmore East in 1968; Janis Joplin, same place, same year; the Band's Levon Helm, bearded and playing a mandolin, also at the Fillmore East in 1968. My personal favorite: a night-on-the-town 1968 group shot of filmmaker Paul Morrissey, Andy Warhol, Janis Joplin, and musician Tim Buckley at Max's Kansas City in New York, captured with such casual intimacy that you might as well be sitting at the table with them. A close runner-up is the gorgeous sepia-toned shot of the Band that was included in the gatefold of Music From Big Pink.

These are indeed iconic images, or at least images of iconic figures. Joseph, by contrast, is drawn to urban icons of a different sort, specifically buildings or other structures that preoccupy him at the expense of people. You have to look long and hard to find even the suggestion of a human presence in a typical Joseph photograph. And that's not a bad thing.

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