Rock stars, movie stars, and sports stars. Hotel pools, fancy cars, and beaches. Concerts, speedways, and bedrooms. The Morrison Hotel Gallery opened its “Endless Summer” photographic exhibition on June 20, 2020, featuring work by photographers as legendary and talented as the people in the photographs that they took.
The “Endless Summer” exhibition is online as their three galleries are currently closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Instead of the usual 50-60 photos in their onsite exhibitions, there is now even much more to see. The Morrison Hotel Gallery’s website has an amazing search function where thousands of images pop up after you type in a band or artist name, and also offers concierge service for search requests.
The gallery’s online exhibition is “not confined by the size of the walls,” said music photographer Henry Diltz. Instead of showing work centered around one singer or band, the virtual galleries encompass themes.
The “Endless Summer” themed photo exhibition is astounding and it was truly one of the highlights of my summer. I felt saturated by the experiences and with the people shown in the photos. A hot day, I drank frozen delights and felt like a teenager again as I scrolled through hundreds of images, lying on my bed and pondering a time pre-Covid – mask-less and bared skin shared when bodies could mingle in concerts. Front row mosh pit! Backstage!
“We’re all a little part of the fabric of each other’s lives,” said Diltz.
He’d spent the morning energizing his chakras, thinking in a universal way, and continued that we are “each such a small part of all that is, and yet, I can access all of it. I can relate to all of it.”
It happened to me while at the online exhibition. Most of us weren’t there in the flesh with the amazing people and objects in the photos, but maybe it doesn’t matter. Because looking at all those photos that day was my way of being there. And it felt really, really good. I asked Diltz, who co-owns the gallery with Peter Blachley, Richard Horowitz, and celebrity photographer, Timothy White, how he got into taking photos.
“I’m a musician, so I love music,” he said. “And when I picked up a camera, and started photographing my friends, it was real easy because I had access, because I knew them all.”
Playing harmonica around the campfire as a Boy Scout, Diltz later learned the blues on his clarinet. Then, in high school and college, he sang in the church choir singing Handel’s “Messiah” and joined the Glee Club. As a young adult taking college classes in Europe, he traveled the country on his motorcycle and he was accepted at West Point, the U.S. military academy.
Diltz got obsessed with the banjo after hearing Pete Seeger, then went to Hawaii to study philosophy, where his band, The Modern Folk Quartet, was formed. The quartet then moved to L.A. where he lived in a one-bedroom studio apartment in Laurel Canyon, exactly where L.A.’s music scene was burgeoning in the 1960s.
“And there I was, right in the middle of all that,” said Diltz.
The late Herb Cohen, who may have absconded with Cynthia Plaster Caster’s art of rock star’s penises, managed The Modern Folk Quartet, and Diltz also knew the first all-girl performance art band, the GTO’s, whom he called “exceptional girls.”
The Modern Folk Quartet played on the Sunset Strip, where they opened for The Velvet Underground, The Four Tops, and Donovan. He met Sally Mann, the groupie who became a lawyer, at The Trip – a club on the famed Sunset Strip. When he later saw her on stage with Grace Slick at Woodstock, he snapped the photos that have since become ubiquitous.
“All my friends were musicians,” said Diltz. “And then they started using the pictures for publicity, and magazines, and album covers, and pretty soon it became my job to do that– my way of life.”
Growing up middle class in New Jersey, White’s interest in photography began with “a mixture of the period in time” – late ’60s/early ’70s.
“I was a rock and roll kind of kid. A bit of a rebel and always looking for a new experience. But my parents brought me up with good values that kept my exploration in check,” White said via email. “I grew up in, and in the influence of, music and youth culture along with a fascination for family snapshots and history. It seemed photography was a cool job, but it wasn’t until I really got into shooting portraiture did I realize that I was good at capturing something in people and that it was something that would become part of pop culture history.”
On photographing musicians, White elaborated more on why they are so important to people.
“I’ve said this many times, but music resonates emotionally with us all,” he said. “In some way, at some time, music affects life. We all have moments of our lives that are defined by the music we were feeling at the time. The musicians and their images represent that emotion that their music conveys.”
Using digital cameras by Hasselblad and Leica, White sometimes shoots with black and white Kodak Tri-x film, his “old Rolleiflex medium format cameras,” or an 8×10 view camera and said that most of his shoots are sets that he creates in the studio or on location.
“I am always looking for an experience for me, the subject, and the viewer,” said White. “I’m trying to create something timeless that will stand as a piece of me and a piece of the subject, and something that will stand the test of time as a document of a moment with someone who changed history.” When asked what traits he has that help him achieve his goals, White said, “Ha! I’m tenacious, gregarious, and always looking for something new to experience.”
“Sometimes I feel like I’m a little boy who sneaked under the circus tent.” – Henry Diltz
Diltz, when asked the same question, said he’s is an observer. “I am very interested in people, and very interested in the human situation,” he said, then referred to philosopher and existentialist Kierkegaard who advised to look at yourself from afar and also from the ground up (objective and subjective.) “Sometimes I feel like I’m a little boy who sneaked under the circus tent.”
Diltz said that in his work his goal is to “get the scene on the film.” He likes the balancing act of focusing on what he wants in the frame, and has what he calls a “framing jones” and available light or “God’s light.”
His first camera was a broken Pentax, but then by accident he picked up a Nikon and it was like “a tank,” perfect for his live-action documentation. In 2005, he switched to digital. At first, he resisted digital, but once he tried it and discovered the autofocus and the auto-light readings, he thought, “This is magic.” Diltz said that he’s got thousands of digital photos no-one’s seen.
Some of his friends, such as gallery co-owners Blachley, who also worked at Capitol Records in the Video Department while Diltz took still photos as music videos shot, and Horowitz, who sold lithographs of John Lennon for Yoko Ono through monthly pop-ups all over the U.S., suggested opening a gallery of Diltz’s work. Horowitz wanted to sell Diltz’s photographs, and when he did, those weekend pop-ups attracted swarms of buyers. So in 2000, they opened the Morrison Hotel Gallery in NYC.
They hung a photo in the front window of an album cover that Diltz shot, “Morrison Hotel” (The Doors, 1970). People would pass the window, stop in their tracks, go back, look at the photo, and then go in the gallery. And that’s how they decided to name it the Morrison Hotel Gallery.
After a year, Blachley suggested adding more photographers and opening another location. He consulted Diltz for names of photographers, and today 125 photographers are represented by Morrison Hotel Gallery at three locations: NYC, Maui (Mick Fleetwood’s General Store in Lahaina), and Los Angeles, where together they hold over 100,000 photographs.
“But the real interesting part was before any of that happened,” said Diltz, as we talked for nearly two hours on his art, his music, and his international upbringing. Fascinatingly, a spirituality runs all through his stories.
“One must live a little to be actualized,” said Diltz. “We’re all here to learn. That’s why we have all this turmoil right now,” and that the pandemic and the protests are as important a time in history as the much-lauded 1960s.
In a voice so alive, sensitive, and gentle, he continued, “Wisdom begins in confusion, Socrates said. My friend, John Stewart, the folk singer, used to say, ‘God made us all different, and hoped we would share.’ ”
When asked which photo of his from the “Endless Summer” exhibition is especially important to him, White said the photo of N.W.A.
“[The band] changed history and I was able to capture and control a moment that says something about me and about them,” he said. “Being able to work with those particular artists at that period of time was an important moment in pop culture history.”
In 1988, N. W.A. released “Fuck Tha Police,” a song that puts police on trial for their brutality and racism. In 2020, righteous souls all across the entire country have risen up to proclaim “Black Lives Matter,” which Diltz said was flowering at Woodstock in 1969.
“N.W.A. the band represents artists who were at the right moment in time and expressing what they were truly experiencing at that moment,” said White. “Society always has its poets who express what needs to be expressed. N.W.A. were the right people speaking the truths that they were living at that moment. [They] had a power that was so great and all I did was give them a platform via the magazine we were shooting for – to show themselves and to reach an audience.”
“Today’s issues show that we haven’t come really far in addressing racism and class structure in our society,” he continued. “I am very hopeful though that a loud voice of the people will be heard and that change will come.”
It’s a challenge to keep my spirits up when confronted with the horrors some humans inflict. But I’ve been feeling better since writing this article and talking with Diltz and White. Diltz said “to live your life in amazement is the path to self-realization.” Since then, I am taking the time to be amazed about the good things – the sunshine, the breeze, the water on my skin. The music. Merciful progress, and the hope for change.
Morrison Hotel Gallery, Sunset Marquis Hotel, 1200 Alta Loma Road, Los Angeles, CA, 90069 – 310.881.6025
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