23 March 2007

Joel Brodsky

Joel Brodsky died of a heart attack earlier this month, I’ve just learned. He was 67 years old.

Brodsky’s is not likely to be a familiar name, but his work will be. In addition to arguably the most famous image of The Doors’ Jim Morrison (left), he composed the cover image for Tom Waits’ 1976 album, Small Change (below).

Obituaries can be found on the San Francisco Art Exchange site, as well as in The Independent and The Washington Post. The latter is particularly recommended. Among its gems:

Photographer Joel Brodsky; Shot Album Cover Photos
The Washington Post
March 18, 2007
By Matt Schudel

Featured on the cover of the 1985 "The Best of the Doors" album, the black-and-white image depicts the messianic, sensitive and dangerous qualities that made Morrison such an important musical figure of his time.

Mr. Brodsky described the session in a 1981 interview. The 23-year-old Morrison, he said, was "totally plastered . . . so drunk he was stumbling into the lights."

Still, he projected an edgy charisma that Mr. Brodsky was able to capture on film. "You know, Morrison never really looked that way again, and those pictures have become a big part of the Doors' legend," Mr. Brodsky said. "I think I got him at his peak."


In 1971, Mr. Brodsky photographed soul musician [Isaac] Hayes in sunglasses and a striped robe for his "Black Moses" album. The cover unfolded in the shape of a cross to a size of 3 feet by 4 feet, which is believed to be the largest album cover ever made.


Mr. Brodsky was a meticulous craftsman, spending hours setting up lights, scenery and cameras. Even when his photographs looked like casual snapshots, such as the squalid backstage dressing room depicted on Tom Waits's "Small Change" (1976), they were always carefully composed.

"What Annie Leibovitz and David LaChapelle ended up doing, Joel was doing 30 years ago," said gallery owner Chris Murray, who gave Mr. Brodsky his first exhibition at Washington's Govinda Gallery in 2001. "Joel's work was a precursor to the illustrated concept album, and he's definitely a precursor to hip-hop."

Here’s some footage of Brodsky discussing his work:

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