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Michael Weintrob Shares His Instrumentheads
Rock photographer Michael Weintrob will unveil his “Instrumenthead” exhibit at Bembe in Williamsburg, NY tonight. The project, which captures musician’s faces being covered by their own instruments, includes portraits of such musicians as Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth (Talking Heads), Nels Cline (Wilco), Matt Abts (Gov’t Mule), members of Galactic, Leftover Salmon and more. The event will feature music from local area musicians Jason Blum and Jesse Murphy from The Brazilian Girls. Also, the first 50 people to arrive at the exhibit will receive a free print. In the interview below, Weintrob talks about the project’s genesis and development.
Can you talk a bit about what “Instrumenthead” is?
The project is called Instrumenthead. Basically, I’ve been doing portrait shoots for the last six or seven years since I moved to New York. So something I would do to get the musicians to loosen up would be to tell them “Hey, put the bass down your shirt” to kind of make them laugh and do something fun. The first person I ever did that to was George Porter Jr. from The Meters. So I’ve been doing these portrait shoots over the years, and I also do the Jam Cruise portrait series with all the musicians dressed up. The next year I was thinking of something I could work on and I looked at my body of work and saw all these images of artists with their faces covered. So then I started focusing on that and inviting people to come over to do that. I was trying to think of how to get people to come, so I allow the artists to use the portraits for their own projects. It’s getting really exciting and it’s really starting to snowball.
Your site mentions that you went to several notable venues to capture these photos. Can you talk about why you used these settings as oppose to a studio?
I told myself in the fall of 2010 I was going to travel to shoot these portraits. So I spent three weeks in Colorado and I set up my studio at my friend’s place in Boulder and I went to Red Rocks and I set up a studio backstage at the Leftover Salmon and Yonder Mountain String Band show. I shot portraits of Leftover Salmon, Split Lip Rayfield and Yonder Mountain String Band backstage at Red Rocks while people like Chuck Morris and Coran Capshaw (Dave Matthews/Phish manager) and Don Strausberg were all watching what I was doing.
The whole idea for shooting at these music venues is because all the musicians know where those places are and there’s nothing going on during the day—it’s usually like an empty room. So I can go set up my backdrop, and I can invite them to come to the venue because they all know where that is. I went down to New Orleans and I set up at Preservation Hall where I shot Benny Jones and Uncle Lionel from the Treme Brass Band. Then I went to Tipitina’s and set up while Galactic was rehearsing for their concert the next night. I had Walter “Wolfman” Washington, Cyril Neville, Big Sam, Johnny Vidacovich while Galactic was performing right below me. It was awesome.
Where did you find the inspiration for the idea?
Well the whole thing is I have been photographing music for almost 15 years now and I have all these connections with all these artists that I’ve met over the years. There’s so many people who photograph, especially in the music vein, so I’m always trying to do something to stand out. I want to be taken seriously as a portrait photographer that does conceptual ideas. It gets me excited to bring these people into the studio and share this intimate time with them.
Who are some of the biggest artists involved?
I went to the Gathering of the Vibes this year where I had an exhibition. But the day before the vibes all my camera gear got stolen. Two days later, though, I had a shoot scheduled with Bootsy Collins in Cincinnati, and the guy there let me use all his equipment to photograph him. Bootsy said he would stay for a half hour—he ended up staying for three. He liked the picture so much he’s using it for his next album cover, and I also got the cover of Bass Player [Magazine]. And the same thing happened with Lenny White, I got the cover of Downbeat this month. So what’s happening is I’m shooting all these portraits and then the artists are showing them to their people and now everyone is starting to use the images. So it’s starting to snowball. Also the press photo I’m using, is of the guy from the Fugees who was recently let out of jail [John Forte]. So I did all of his press photos for his new project. Les Claypool and Tom Morello have also shown interest in doing it.
Do you have any favorite stories that came from working on the project?
The coolest thing about this is that sometimes I’ll schedule musicians to come in and do shoots at the same time and then they’ll get to meet. So I had this guy Bill Sims Jr. over to do a photo shoot, and I get everyone to perform for me a bit and then I’ll take some normal portraits and then some with the instrument over their face. But Eric Lindell was here as well and they met for the first time and I got them to play together and they sang “Sweet Home Chicago” with Eric on harmonica and Bill on guitar, at 1 o’clock in the afternoon on a Monday.
And then another time I had Jay Rodriguez, from Groove Collective, and Felix Pastorius, who’s Jaco Pastorius’ son, he’s a bass player, over [to my studio]. I got them to play together and then Jay invited Felix onto his gig to play the show with him. Then I ran into Felix one night and he told me he got the Cindy Blackman gig because he met Jay at my house. So I’m connecting people, which is really fun. I’m becoming a part of the community, and that’s the whole goal. Also Chris and Tina from Talking Heads came over and I shot them…and also Nels Cline from Wilco.
Can you talk a bit about the show tonight?
It’s at Bembe, which is a bar I’ve been going to for about five years now. For the first 50 people that arrive tonight, they’re going to get a free print. And I’m having this guy Jason Blum and Jesse Murphy from the Brazillian Girls are going to perform. It’s going to be an acoustic duo, acoustic guitar and upright bass and they’re going to kind of sing out into the room. I’ve shown the stuff at Gathering of the Vibes and Mountain Jam before, but this is the first time I’ve had an opening in New York City. So I’m really excited. The whole goal for this project is so eventually create a book with all the portraits.