A Celebration of Scholarship

Sharing Talents and Gifts in the Spirit of Friendship and Compassion

The Keynote Address of Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow Patrick Harbron

 

Notre Dame College’s first visiting fellow launched a campus Celebration of Scholarship with what he called “a crash course in art and commerce,” the progression—in pictures—of his nearly 40 years documenting the rock music industry.

International photographer Patrick Harbron opened what also was his week on campus as a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow with his public lecture on “Icons and Influence– Rock and Roll–A Photographic History.”

He taught College courses, photographed the community and met personally with students, faculty and staff at Notre Dame as part of his stay. He is the first visiting fellow in the history of the College.

During his keynote address for the College’s first week celebrating academic achievement through research and creative projects, Harbron told about 500 students, faculty, staff and community members in Regina Auditorium he started his career as a fan of rock and roll radio—and became witness to a revolution.

“Early rock and roll was more than what you heard on the radio. It became a large part of a cultural movement,” he said.

Harbron shared about 50 of his personal, professional portraits of the famous musicians he followed, from Ray Charles recording live in Los Angeles to Prince singing on stage in Detroit, from Jerry Garcia with The Grateful Dead playing at a college in Canada to Chrissie Hynde performing in concert in Jamaica.

Throughout the years with his camera, Harbron chronicled nearly four decades of change to his art and the business of music, as well as the evolution of society and sound.

Sound

Harbron’s images serve as a visual testament to the growth of rock and roll in audio.

He captured countless performances of classic rock from The Who’s farewell tours, Neil Young’s reinvention, Bruce Springsteen’s ascension and Blondie and the birth of New Wave.

His memoir of sound continued in shots he snapped at the introduction of the “really big” arena resonance of Van Halen on their World Invasion Tour all the way to the pop-rock big hair of Bon Jovi for the promotion of their Slippery When Wet album.

“Being near music,” Harbron said, “allowed me to record the creative process.”

Society

The visible testimony from across Harbron’s career serves as an anthropological account of not only the artists but also the audiences.

He was present, camera in tow, at a Toronto no-show when Alice Cooper was “sick” and audience members who were already seated for the concert rioted, assaulting each other with anything they could throw.

“Being in the audience is part of a collective experience,” Harbron said. “You are a part of something bigger than you.”

Harbron also captured images of Bono addressing receptive crowds with current politics and social consciousness in U2 song and the thrash metal band Slayer with their violent mosh pit of fans, which he called “a blender made out of people.”

“I have preserved everything,” Harbron said. “I have dated, researched, created a historical record.”

Art

Harbron’s first role in rock was as a drummer and later as a freelance writer. He was enlisted to write about fellow Canadians Rush on their Farewell to Kings tour—but then he saw his photo accompanying the article and decided photography would be his next career path.

He started carrying his camera with him to concerts. He also took a job at a portrait studio, where he learned the tricks of the trade and the value of operating a business

“After a while, I noticed my pictures had gone from looking accidental to looking on purpose,” he said.

After a while, Harbron also started making money. But he said his calling came from a love of music first. Photography followed.

“My access and status changed, but my anticipation never did,” he said. “Moving through the crowd, it was exciting.”

Some of Harbron’s most inspired works are of Springsteen, whom he has photographed 16 times. Harbron said The Boss looked literally ready to “spring” into the audience from the stage in an image from the Darkness on the Edge of Town tour.

“I would ask myself what is the moment and what in the photograph tells me I have captured it,” he said.

Business

Harbron’s career also chronicles changes in the commerce of his industry—and not just from dark room to digital camera.

He said keeping up with the technology is essential and has enabled him to remain current. He transitioned from film/analog capture to digital formats long ago.

“Those who adapted survived,” he said.

His images evidence transformation as well. He photographed the “chameleon” David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust and later reinvented into The Thin White Duke.

Harbron observed firsthand the magnification of merchandising via the original band KISS; he photographed the four members, who looked like “kabuki terrorists,” in makeup on their Dynasty Tour.

Through his pictures, Harbron documented the Rolling Stones during some of their Steel Wheels tour—and witnessed the ramping up of corporate sponsorship and its money-making effects on modern music presentation.

Harbron also said artists and promoters started to restrict photographers’ coverage and the amount of time they were allowed in front of the stage.

Photographers often were asked to sign away the rights to their images before being allowed to work. Harbron refused such contracts and has continued to work without interruption.

Following a transition into television, he currently is busy creating publicity photographs for shows like VEEP, House of Cards, Boardwalk Empire and Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll.

Despite this conversion for many photographers from “image maker to content provider,” Harbron said some things have not changed in his time chronicling the rock industry.

“It still remains our music, our experience,” he said.

The Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellows program, administered by the Council of Independent Colleges, brings prominent artists, diplomats, journalists, business leaders and other professionals to campuses across the United States to introduce students and faculty members at liberal arts colleges to a wide range of perspectives on life, society, community and achievement.

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