MOPLA's Closing Show Spotlights Rare Photos of Legendary Rock Stars

Stephen Stickler
Dave Grohl by Stephen Stickler

The annual Month of Photography Los Angeles exhibit will conclude Friday night with a presentation of music's most celebrated headliners, including vintage images of Kurt Cobain and The Rolling Stones.

The sixth annual Month of Photography Los Angeles (MOPLA) will come to a close Friday evening at Boulevard3 in Hollywood, with a presentation of images that highlights the West Coast’s enduring influence on classic and contemporary rock.

Organized by Limited Runs, an L.A.-based purveyor of vintage posters, art prints and rare photos, the rock ’n’ roll-themed exhibition comprises 28 images from three of the genre’s most prolific photographers: Neil Zlozower, Stephen Stickler and Sean Murphy. Following the event, all of the images included in the show will be made available for purchase on Limited Runs' website, giving serious collectors the opportunity to own portraits of pop culture deities like an introspective Kurt Cobain, photographed onstage by Stickler during a 1993 performance in L.A.

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Zlozower, who began shooting professionally in the late 1960s, kick-started his career photographing top-notch live acts including the Rolling Stones and The Who at venues across Southern California. He later captured the sun-soaked, booze-drenched dawn of the Sunset Strip’s musical underbelly through the '70s and '80s as a photographer for hair bands like Van Halen and Mötley Crüe.

His work blazed a trail for a new generation of rock photographers: people like Stickler and Murphy, both of whom played instrumental roles in documenting the nascent alternative and grunge scenes of the early '90s. Stickler earned acclaim photographing artists ranging from Moby to Snoop Dogg, while Murphy forged a path creating concept album covers for bands like Weezer and Tenacious D.

Pierre Vudrag, founder of Limited Runs, hopes that the juxtaposition of Zlozower’s portfolio with Stickler and Murphy’s work will bridge a generational gap, providing a seamless account of rock’s evolution across decades.

“We were looking at the idea of how to present a history of rock ‘n’ roll that starts from the beginning -- from David Bowie to Green Day and Jay-Z,” he says. “It’s our way of trying to tell a story.”

That story, to be sure, is a fitting finale to MOPLA’s impressive catalog of events, which this year explored nontraditional lifestyles and atypical concepts of family and community. Standouts of the 2014 edition included Jeff Minton’s compelling series of the iconic Playboy mansion and Jay Mark Johnson’s comparative study of cycling cultures in L.A. and Siem Reap, Cambodia. “This is our first event with MOPLA, but it won’t be our last,” Vudrag adds of Limited Runs’ involvement with the citywide celebration of all things photographic, held each April.

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He hopes his inaugural effort will encourage viewers to reconsider their preconceived notions of modern rock stardom. Intimate snapshots of powerhouse musicians avoid the stereotypical brashness and brooding vulnerability that most rock portraits tend to focus on, instead emphasizing the artists’ utter normalcy despite widespread recognition -- an aspect of fame that often goes unnoticed.

“There’s an early photo of Michael Jackson when he was still with the Jackson 5; seeing that photo gives you a different perspective on Michael Jackson,” Vudrag explains. “To see him as a young kid, happy and with a huge smile on his face, is one thing people are going to be surprised about.”

Likewise, a photo of a mid-20s Tom Petty paints the up-and-coming musician as a fan rather than an object of rabid fan worship. “Ironically, Neil took this photo of Tom Petty back in the '70s, before Tom really hit it big; Tom has said to Neil that it’s his all-time favorite photo.

“I think when people see the photo, they’re going to understand it -- it’s literally Tom sitting in a living room in front of a stereo with some records around him. It’s just a guy who’s at home listening to music,” Vudrag says. “That’s the thing we wanted to do with the show: give people a different perspective on musicians.”

Staged in partnership with Limited Runs, MOPLA’s closing event will be held April 25 from 7-10 p.m. at Boulevard3, 6523 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles; 323-466-2144.