Lynn Goldsmith Q&A: Back to the Future Shock with Images of ‘Music in the ’80s’ (New Book Out Now)

Rock Cellar Magazine

MTV originated in the 1980s, making musicians more image conscious than ever, and shooting on assignment for Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, People, Elle, Interview, Life, Newsweek, Time, The New Yorker, et al, Lynn Goldsmith covered the decade like few photographers have. Now the visualizations of Goldsmith’s indelible music memories are assembled and collected together in a single volume, Music in the ’80s (Rizzoli), which was published on September 27 and is her 15th book.

This colossal coffee table book is expansive enough to encapsulate the rambunctious decade that gave us New Wave, Punk, Hip-hop, Heavy Metal, the ballads of Billy Joel and beyond. At 352 pages, the 13×10 inches tome is big enough to hold Goldsmith’s spontaneous, in performance and posed portraits of a cornucopia of talents, including: Bruce Springsteen, Boy George, the Eurythmics, Carlos Santana, Carly Simon, Grace Jones, Dolly Parton, Eric Clapton, Frank Zappa, The Go-Gos, Iggy Pop, James Taylor, Joan Baez, Joe Cocker, Joan Jett, Johnny Cash, Kiss, Linda Ronstadt, Lou Reed, Madonna, Meat Loaf, Michael Jackson, Miles Davis, Sting, The Ramones, Rod Stewart, Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder, Talking Heads/David Byrne, Bono (who, in the book’s introductory quotes, calls the ’80s: “The decade taste forgot”) and so on. 

Today, the 1948-born Goldsmith divides her time between Nashville and New York City, and continues to pursue her creative projects, including photography and abstract expressionist painting. In this candid conversation about the musical scene that was the flipside of the Reagan-Bush era, Lynn Goldsmith discusses her creative process, Prince’s shyness, Debbie Harry’s beauty, Bob Dylan’s sense of humor, Tina Turner’s neck and much more.

(c) Rizzoli New York

(c) Rizzoli New York

Rock Cellar: Where were you born and raised?  

Lynn Goldsmith: Detroit, Michigan. For most of my youth we lived there … When it came to high school, we moved to Miami Beach … I went to the University of Michigan, and I graduated in three years with two degrees, Magna Cum Laude, because I really wanted to get in the world; I didn’t want to just stay in school.      

Rock Cellar: How did you first get into photography?

Lynn Goldsmith: I always made pictures. What’s interesting is, I think it’s kind of common, not only did professional photographers or people who love photography have a parent who was some sort of serious amateur. So, for me, it was one of the ways I spent time with my dad. And I don’t see very well out of my right eye. I’m more or less a cyclops. There’s been a number of photographers, Albert Watson, many, who have the same background as myself …  

Rock Cellar: Who influenced your style of photography?

Lynn Goldsmith: I don’t have a style. I’m really not about that. To me, the camera is a tool. It helps me to manifest my ideas or serve some purpose. I’m really not one of those photographers who want you to look at a picture and know that it was made by them. Like, I know when I see a [Richard] Avedon, I pretty much know when I see an Albert Watson, I know when I see a William Coupon. But I don’t really see myself as a photographer. I see myself as an artist and one of the ways I express myself is with a camera as a tool.

And if I’m being paid to do that, if it’s not just coming out of something I want to manifest, then I’m thinking about what serves that artist. So, my style, whether it could go from using a large format camera in a studio setting to using a 35mm format camera for work that’s more documentary. Some cameras are quieter than others. So, there are different kinds of cameras you can use because you want to be a fly on the wall, you really don’t want people to know you’re there.

[Henri] Cartier-Bresson, when you say his name, you know what that style is. You see that moment in time; he made that term “decisive moment” part of the language of photography. I just want to be able to have a style that works for whoever is hiring me. I doubt I would have shot in the ’80s Talking Heads the same way I would have shot Judas Priest. It’s about reflecting who the person or the group is that’s in front of the camera and how it relates to whatever product is being sold.

Judas Priest, 1981 (c) Lynn Goldsmith

Judas Priest, 1981 (c) Lynn Goldsmith

Rock Cellar: Do you have favorite photographers?

Lynn Goldsmith: Generally speaking, the ones who are my favorite photographers are my favorites because they’re my friends. [Laughs.] I like them as people. There’s lots of wonderful ones, both names we’re all familiar with like Annie Leibovitz, to names we might not be so familiar with. There’s a Rolling Stone editor, who also makes pictures, Sacha Lecca … his concert pictures all hold together. I know it’s his eye; he has a certain viewpoint and a way of expressing it.

I don’t do that. I go in and I’m more in service. Let’s say Rock Cellar wanted a studio portrait of Gary Clark Jr. — I’m not going to shoot that the same way I’d do a studio portrait of Adele. You wouldn’t know the same photographer made the same images. Whereas there are photographers who are great, David LaChapelle — but I know a LaChapelle every time I see it.

Rock Cellar: Have you primarily been a freelance, staff or house photographer?

Lynn Goldsmith: I’ve always been freelance. I’ve never wanted to work regularly for anyone. Even though I have a very large body of work, which revolves around making images of musicians, I do other things, as well. I’ve worked for National Geographic one month every year; I do travel photography; I do fine arts photography; I do things with my dolls. So, for me, it would have been too limiting.

Everything I’ve focused on has been about breaking limitations.    

Rock Cellar: How did you get into rock photography?  

Lynn Goldsmith: I don’t really consider that there’s such a thing as “rock photography.” I see myself as more a portrait photographer, even than a documentary photography. In portraiture or any subject matter, I have not only photographed so many musicians, but I photographed so many who have become iconic and who mean so much to so many. Then I get categorized as a music photographer. What’s a “music photographer”? … All of those terms I have problems accepting as labels to describe me.

Rock Cellar: In the beginning of your new book Music in the ’80s, there’s a section with quotes about that decade mainly from musicians called “Thoughts on the 1980s.” Daryl Hall says the music of the ’80s was “international.” Did you go overseas a lot on assignment?

Lynn Goldsmith: Well, I was a recording artist as well in the 1980s, as “Will Powers.” Especially since my label, Island Records, was in the U.K., I had to do press tours, TV shows, in Germany, France, and other places. One of the reasons was MTV. We were all seeing a range of musical genres, which prior to MTV our country was not necessarily aware of what was happening somewhere else.

Van Halen, 1980 (c) Lynn Goldsmith

Van Halen, 1980 (c) Lynn Goldsmith

Rock Cellar: What was the importance of MTV to the ’80s music scene?

Lynn Goldsmith: Music has always been connected to fashion, because of MTV and the ability for people all over the world to see the different styles in places. There were a lot of people prior to MTV — I had been to London a number of times. But, going to King’s Road, it’s not like you saw those clothes in fashion magazines. MTV changed all that, which made the connection of fashion with popular music even stronger.   

Rock Cellar:  Today, looking back, what are your primary reflections on that era?

Lynn Goldsmith: Doing the book really changed how I feel about the music scene in the 1980s. When it was suggested to me that I do a book on that decade, my first reaction was not unlike those of friends of mine who are the same age as me. For example, Iggy Pop. Jim and I went to college together. Chris Stein put it succinctly: “The ’80s murdered what was left of the ’60s.” But as I went through I decided to do the book alphabetically, because it would be more interesting to me to see the differences in the artists.

To see a picture of Bananarama and what those three girls looked like next to Barry Manilow, just talks so clearly to the diversity that existed in the 1980s. There are people who are across from each other in the book, what they looked like, sounded like, and they were all successful. In the ’80s, the success of Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea, when you also had Black Sabbath. You had the hair bands, then you had reggae, Black Uhuru and Bob Marley. I thought, really, what an amazing decade visually and musically. That was when rap was really taking hold and punk had moved on from the Sex Pistols to The Clash, that was the beginning of U2, anthem rock. To have artists who were still part of the Blues, like the Allman Brothers. And it was also Hall and Oates’ decade.

The 1980s were so wild, it was all over the place, yet it was all popular. Michael Jackson was popular, but so was Iron Maiden. [Laughs.]

To me, it’s really amazing. I just have to let go to my youthful connection, my 16-year-old connection to the ’60s. Because if you look at the remark by Ben Stiller, who was a teenager in the ’80s, he really felt about the ’80s how people of my generation felt about the ’60s and early ’70s … The explosion — it’s like Alvin Toffler’s “Future Shock.” We keep moving faster, there’s more to see and experience. While doing the book I really got into it and I thought: What a wonderful period of time when all of this could just bust out. From electronica, to New Wave to Hair Metal to dance music — it was pretty amazing!

Rock Cellar:  What’s the difference between shooting in black and white and color?

Lynn Goldsmith: Once again, I’m about who the artist is. Some people, like when I mentioned Sacha Lecca, his pictures are all black and white. Anton Corbijn always used to be sepia-toned. I’m more about what is right for what it is I’m trying to do. Black and white is inherently more dramatic. Color, particularly with certain kinds of artists, it supports who they are. You’re going to do the B-52’s in saturated color — they’re like a hallucination. [Laughs.] Between the colors and who they are and the hairdos, you want that in color. Not that I didn’t do black and white — I always shot both because there were reasons for doing black and white, since I printed in the darkroom and I enjoyed the printing process.

The B-52's (c) Lynn Goldsmith

The B-52’s (c) Lynn Goldsmith

In the 1970s, when I shot Patti Smith — most of the stuff always shot on her was black and white. I felt she needed some color representation, especially since magazines were running color, far more than they were black and white. So, there’s different reasons for it. It’s more like when I’m doing a project. I did a book of self-portraits. I started it out in black and white but then I switched to color, and did them all in color, because I really felt the real world as we see it is in color. It’s a decision that’s made based on a number of factors.

Rock Cellar: What cameras and lenses have you favored over the years?

Lynn Goldsmith: 35mm always fits; it’s the rectangle, it’s how we see. It’s not a square; that’s not how we see … And it’s lighter weight. I always used Nikons, Hasselblads, Mamiyas and sometimes Leicas. It depended on what it was. If it was an album cover, generally speaking, it was a square, you wanted a large negative because you knew it was going to be at least 12 inch by 12 inch. Then it might also appear as a billboard, if not on Sunset Blvd., then at Tower Records. Those decisions were made not on an aesthetic level, but on more of a utilitarian one.

Rock Cellar: Do you shoot digital now?

Lynn Goldsmith: Yeah, I have since the beginning of digital.  

Rock Cellar: What do you prefer to shoot: Photos that are posed or spontaneous?

Lynn Goldsmith: Once again I can’t give an either/or answer because there are people who are really good in front of the camera, they have a clear sense of themselves. The studio shoots can go to a creative level, where I’m not spending a lot of it just trying to make the person relax. Then there’s the other way of shooting which can often be far more pleasant and creative for me because you put the individual in a certain environment. Then by taking a more documentary approach they’re more comfortable, so you can make better pictures. 

Rock Cellar: On page 334 in your book is a photo of U2 at a hot dog stand near Central Park. Was that a posed shot or did you just spontaneously capture a moment in time?

Lynn Goldsmith: I took them outside — it was raining, it was St. Patrick’s Day. We went out for a walk on Fifth Avenue, down and around by the park, and they were hungry. And I did do setups; I had them go out into the middle of the street, to make it look like they were in the parade. Then we’d walk somewhere, and as we walked there are moments. And one of those moments is when they stopped to get hot dogs. And it’s not posed at all. It’s the same thing with Steve Winwood crossing the street In New York. 

Michael Jackson, 1984 (c) Lynn Goldsmith

Michael Jackson, 1984 (c) Lynn Goldsmith

Rock Cellar: I want to mention the names of some of the musicians in your book and for you to share your memories, reflections of them and the shoots.  What is it like shooting a legend like Bette Midler?

Lynn Goldsmith: Bette is very savvy about her visual presentation. So, she’s very easy to shoot if you build a set or design something that she can be part of. For straightforward portraits of her, particularly studio portraits, she had a rather androgynous face. Her body was very female — skinny, and large breasts. She was always more comfortable as the personality Bette, rather than the woman Bette. It’s always easier to photograph people who are smart and funny and know this is part of their job in being artists.   

Rock Cellar: Tell us about shooting Tina Turner?  

Lynn Goldsmith: Tina Turner was fantastic because this was during the period of time when she was basically making a comeback, without Ike. She had been very much involved with Nichiren Sho-Shu Buddhism. She just had this really very calm, giving way for the camera. When I worked with her on that studio shoot, she hadn’t come with clothes. That’s Mitch Glazer’s pants and my mother’s top. Tina was always inspirational to me; in addition to her singing was her energy.

During the shoot we played music and she kept swinging her head, and I kept swinging mine back. I dance with people when I’m making pictures and they’re dancing. I’m giving them the signal to keep turning their head and I’m throwing my head around. After the shoot was over, I couldn’t move my neck and I had to go to the hospital. I realized Tina has a really thick neck. She’s been rolling her head around for years, spinning her head. And I just did it that afternoon for an hour and I was in a neck brace.   

Rock Cellar: Tell us about shooting David Bowie?

Lynn Goldsmith: I’m sorry I didn’t do more studio work or other work with him. Lots of times the reason I didn’t had nothing to do with anything other than when I was asked to shoot I was in another country or another state. The timing didn’t work out. With any photographer he’s worked with, the pictures are strong because Bowie had a real respect for the camera and what it can project. He puts his creativity into it — he’s there, he’s not anywhere else, he’s not thinking about anything else. There are very few like that, really. Patti Smith is like that — but, they’re rare.  

The Pretenders, 1980. (c) Lynn Goldsmith

The Pretenders, 1980. (c) Lynn Goldsmith

Rock Cellar: How about shooting Prince?

Lynn Goldsmith: Prince was, particularly at that time, extremely shy. He’s an example of somebody I needed to do a straight-ahead photo shoot for Newsweek, where putting him in a location — that’s not what the magazine was looking to run. They needed a straightforward portrait. When you work with somebody like Prince, the first time especially, it would be far easier to create an environment that reflects him, that he’s interested in. Then he would be more comfortable to act like Prince. It’s very difficult to just stand in front of the camera on a seamless backdrop. It’s hard as one can feel so very exposed.

He’s another artist who did end up becoming very aware visually of what he wanted to project for fans.

Rock Cellar: Shooting Debbie Harry?

Lynn Goldsmith: Oh, she was easy. First of all, I love shooting girls, and girls like Patti and Debbie are my age, so it’s more like they’re my girlfriends and we’re just having fun. And Debbie in about ’76 or ’77 showed me how particularly makeup can change a picture. Because in those days there weren’t makeup artists on shoots; that only existed in the fashion world. Also, Debbie was so beautiful — you couldn’t really take a bad picture of her, even if she wanted you to. She could make really horrible, ugly, funny faces and she was still beautiful.        

Rock Cellar: Shooting Bob Dylan?

Lynn Goldsmith: Bob, we’d would walk around on the street and he’d do things that totally came out of him, it had nothing to do with me. Like, we were out in this snowstorm and he started pushing on this car. And he said, “Shoot this, shoot this!” And I went, “Why?” And he said, “Just shoot it!” So, I did and as soon as I shot it, I realized, “Dumb me!” It looked like he was trying to push the car out from this snowbank. [Laughs.] He has a sense of humor. He knows when he’s making pictures, he’s in control.   

Rock Cellar: Bob Marley?

Lynn Goldsmith: I loved Bob Marley. He was in a lot of pain during the time I worked with him because of his cancer. He was very generous — not just to me, but also to fans. I could tell when he was suffering and he knew that time was extremely limited. But he was choosing to tour, to go on stage. All of that is really exhausting; not just the performance part, but the travel and everything else that goes with it. But he’d put a smile on and be present and give everything he had.

Rock Cellar: Shooting Cher?

Lynn Goldsmith: [Laughs.] The photograph in the book of Cher is actually more like a candid. She had that wig on. I don’t know what happened in the ’80s with Cher. I think dating Gene Simmons might have affected her both positively and in a fashion way I questioned. That hair was pretty hysterical; I’m glad it was a wig.

Rock Cellar: Diana Ross?

Lynn Goldsmith: I never really got to know Diana Ross, except one time I went to a party with Bob Dylan and Diana Ross was at a table and he went by and ruffled her hair. At first, she looked up and I thought she was going to kill him. Then she saw that it was Bob Dylan and it was like “Ohhh!” She’s “Miss Ross” — you don’t think of her as “Diana Ross,” she doesn’t want you to think of her that way. But once again, she’s a beautiful woman and it’s hard to make a bad picture.

Tom Petty, 1981 (c) Lynn Goldsmith

Tom Petty, 1981 (c) Lynn Goldsmith

Rock Cellar: Elton John?

Lynn Goldsmith: I wish I’d worked with him more. At the time, I wasn’t really into Elton or the theatrics, even though the music was great. And Bernie Taupin’s lyrics were wonderful. Maybe it’s because at that time in the ’80s Elton had gained some weight. Most of the people I knew and photographed were really skinny. [Laughs.] Maybe I had some sort of prejudice … He’s a great subject. There’s a great photograph by Terry O’Neill of Elton in his closet that I wish I’d taken.

Rock Cellar: What was it like shooting Freddie Mercury?  

Lynn Goldsmith: Well, it was concert pictures but I didn’t really get to know Freddie Mercury, but he was a powerful performer.

Rock Cellar: How about the Rolling Stones?  

Lynn Goldsmith: What can you say? They’re the greatest band in the world. They’re my teenage love. After Elvis, it was the Stones for me. The Beatles I didn’t think much of — I did later … The Stones were rhythm and blues, they were out of my Detroit growing up, what I identified with. In addition, all of them were beautiful, in one way or another. It’s great to be able to have those opportunities.

Rock Cellar: Do you have a favorite photo you shot?  

Lynn Goldsmith: It’s not in the book — I shot it in 1964. It’s the feet of the Beatles.

Rock Cellar: Gender identity is a big topic today. But Bowie, Elton, Boy George and Jagger were ahead of their time, pushing the boundaries of binary sexual identities back in the ’80s?

Lynn Goldsmith: And so were Iggy and Alice Cooper … Artists always crossed gender … Even when the Beatles came out with long hair, they were moving in that direction. It just got further and further every decade.   

Rock Cellar: Would you like to add anything about Music in the ’80s?

Lynn Goldsmith: The opening photograph is outside of the Dakota [Apartments in Manhattan of Lennon fans mourning]. I do think that the assassination of John Lennon, which is a very sad horrible thing that transpired — it set off that decade to send a message out to the world of how important our musical connection to one another is.

Rock Cellar: What’s next for you?

Lynn Goldsmith: I’m always doing a range of things; I rarely do one thing at a time. I still do photo shoots once in a while … I paint, I always work on Will Powers things. I have a gallery called Rock and Roll Photo Gallery — it’s online and [also] a brick-and-mortar gallery in Nashville that’s open by appointment. I started it because I collected so much of the work myself.

For info on Lynn Goldsmith see:

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