David Gahr (1922-2008) began his photography career in 1958, when Folkways Records founder Moses Asch recognized his skill and hired him to photograph album covers for musicians including Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger.
Gahr’s images shaped the perception of the music of the 60s and 70s for a growing popular audience, retaining a dignified authenticity that appealed to a new generation of artists rejecting commercialism. Gahr became one of the most sought-after photographers in the music industry, photographing the best blues, folk, country, jazz, and rock musicians from their earliest moments and throughout their careers. He was with Bob Dylan in his first years in Greenwich Village and his 1963 Newport Folk Festival debut, and there at Dylan’s infamous injection of rock into the festival in 1965. He showed us Janis Joplin’s sweaty first performance in Newport in 1968, and years later in full feathered regalia at the Chelsea Hotel before a show at the Fillmore East. He captured a tender Bruce Springsteen, not yet 23, in Asbury Park on the eve of a career breakthrough, and again as the most popular performer in American music. He preserved Emmylou Harris’s humble beginnings on the folk scene in 1968 and throughout the 70s and 80s as country rock’s reigning queen, and photographed Dolly Parton in New York City in 1976 in some of the most iconic images of her career. Gahr’s profile of Miles Davis in a 1970 performance at the Tanglewood Music Festival is the most famous image of the musician, appearing as the cover of Davis’ Jack Johnson album.
Some of Gahr’s most important images are of the legendary pioneers of American Blues: Lightnin’ Hopkins, Sonny Terry, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, Howlin’ Wolf, Son House, and Mississippi John Hurt, as they rode the crest of renewed recognition with a young American audience.
Gahr’s musician portraits have appeared consistently in numerous major publications for over four decades, and he has been cited as a recognizable influence in American photography, notably by Annie Leibovitz, Anton Corbijn and Jim Marshall, among others. Gahr’s lasting images show almost 50 years of American music and cultural history.