©1978 Bob Minkin
Ian Anderson – Jethro Tull | Madison Square Garden, NYC | 10/9/78
In search of the Dead, and other living legends
With Mike Foldes
Ragazine: Bob, thanks for giving us permission to use your photo in the interview we did with Bill Laymon, which led us to this exchange. Bill mentioned you’d done a lot of great work photographing musicians and concerts, and he wasn’t kidding. The portrait gallery on your website runs from Jerry Garcia to Pete Sears, Phish to Melvin Seals & JGB, Mariel Hemingway and many more!
Who would you say are the most interesting people you’ve photographed/worked with, and why?
Bob Minkin: The Grateful Dead were/are the most interesting people I’ve worked with, being a Dead Head since I was 13, to actually get close to that organization and do work for them was a dream come true. Working with Relix magazine during the ‘70s and ‘80s was a great learning experience for me, seeing the behind the scenes reality of putting a music publication together and dealing with the dynamics of musicians and photo needs. I photographed many punk shows such the Plasmatics, Talking Heads, Ramones, which were very exciting and outside my musical comfort zone…They were great to photograph due their energy and unique style.
Q: How does a kid from Brooklyn get into photography in the first place, and how did you happen to fall into the rock ‘n’ roll tar pit?
A)I always loved to draw and paint from a very young age. Photography offered me another way to express myself. When I began going to concerts in 1974, those first shows were a powerful experience for my 15-year-old self. I wanted to document it, keep a memory of it, a “souvenir” so to speak. So I brought my Kodak Instamatic to a New Riders of the Purple Sage concert at the Academy of Music in NYC 11/29/74, my first music shots… And I never stopped.
Q) What was your first camera, and do you remember your first photographs?
A) My first camera was a Kodak Instamatic I got when I was 12. I photographed stuff around my neighborhood and my family and friends.
Q) You went to NYC SVA (School of Visual Arts) and have a BA degree in graphic design. What was your career goal?
A) At the School of Visual Arts, I majored in Graphic Design. My goal then was to be an art director, or creative director at an ad agency or graphic design studio. I wound up doing just that for many years after I graduated. But I was also taking photographs, lots of photographs, at countless concerts, as well.
Q) What was happening in New York at the time, and who were your greatest influences there?
A) In the ‘70s and ‘80s NYC was very exciting for me as I was in my teens and twenties. I went to art galleries, and the great museums, took classes with renowned graphic designers and artists. I would run into photographers that I looked up to, such as Chuck Pulin and Ebet Roberts. The music scene burst open with “punk rock” and exposed me to a whole ‘nuther scene. The great jazz and blues clubs were going strong. I absorbed it all.
Grateful Dead-Winterland | San Francisco, CA | December 1977
Q) When/Why did you move from NY — other than the fact that Marin County is one of the most beautiful places one could choose to live?
A) In the Grateful Dead album, “Skull and Roses” was a statement,
DEAD FREAKS UNITE: Who are you? Where are you? How are you?
Send us your name and address and we’ll keep you informed.
P.O. Box 1065
San Rafael, a city in Marin County, became a mythical place, a place I wanted to visit because that’s where the Dead were. The summer after high school I made that fantasy a reality and visited San Francisco, and Marin County. Of course I was blown away by the natural beauty of the area, but the musical heritage is what brought me out. I was lucky and got to see a Jerry Garcia Band show while I was there, and the photos I took of that event became the first really good shots I took of Jerry Garcia. It was a daytime show, and I was at the rail right in front of Jerry. That was August 12, 1977.
After many more visits to the Bay Area, my wife and I made the move for good in 1990.
Q) You made your chops in photography shooting musicians, personalities, concerts, parties and so on. When did you start doing more commercial photography, product shots, real estate, and so on? There is a whole different quality to this work than to a lot of your “music” work. How did you make the transition to commercial photography? Does it take a different set of equipment to get done “right”?
A) The transition is easy and fun as I enjoy the diversity.I bring the same “eye” and view to make my commercial work as dynamic and interesting as possible. I learn a lot from it and (from) working with different clients and their needs.
Q) What was it like growing up in Brooklyn? Were your parents artistic, and did they encourage you in the path you chose for yourself? Do you have brothers or sisters, and if so, are they also involved in artistic pursuits?
A) The old cliche of Jewish parents is they want their kids to be a doctor, or a lawyer. My parents supported my artistic endeavors. My father could draw quite well but never pursued that. My grandfather was a writer and a poet. My great uncle was an amazing artist and played the violin. And finally, my great grandfather, who I knew, was a photographer. At a young age I was encouraged with my drawing and painting. I was lucky.
Q) Do you still do work in the darkroom or have you completely converted to digital photography? Do you keep a digital archive of your early work/transparencies and negatives?
A) I packed up my darkroom in 2005 and have been “digital” ever since. I’ve since been scanning my negatives and slides, especially for my book projects. Film deteriorates over time and scanning it preserves the images forever. That said, I was recently gifted a 35mm film camera, a German made “Voigtlander” by an Emmy-winning filmmaker. I feel compelled now to shoot some film with it. It was made in the late ‘50s and no auto anything, fully manual. I’ll let you know how that turns out!
Q) Do you print your own work or send it out to be done for you? If you print for yourself, what equipment do you use?
A) Being a hands-on kind of guy, I do all my own printing using an Epson printer. The quality is amazing and I can be very creative with all the different types of paper to print on. I use Adobe Lightroom for my image processing.
Q) What cameras/lights/etc. do you favor/use these days, and lenses? Any tips there for young photographers?
A) I’ve used Nikon equipment for many years. I currently use a Nikon D800 body with Nikon lenses. It’s easy to get too focused on the equipment, case in point, all my older classic images from the ‘70s to early ‘80s were shot using a relatively inexpensive Minolta SRT101 camera with third party lenses. And these days I use my iPhone 6s plus all the time. People are sometimes astounded when I mention I took a particular photograph with my iPhone, as they thought it was taken with my Nikon. For photographers starting out, developing your eye and image processing skills are more important than having the “best” camera.
Q) When did you learn to fly? Why a Piper Cherokee?
A) My other love is flying. I was always fascinated by airplanes, maybe because my father was an airplane mechanic, as was my uncle. I used to build flying models as a kid and it was always a far-off dream that I’d learn one day to fly. That day happened in 1997 when I passed my check ride and exam and received my pilot certificate. Why a Piper Cherokee, well, economics played a big part in that decision as the Cherokee airplanes are affordable, costing $40-$50k for a 1960s’ example. Another reason is that I used to rent them and liked their flying characteristics, easy to fly and docile.
Q) Do you take any particular camera or lens with you when you’re shooting aerial?
A) It’s tight room in the cockpit so I don’t take much equipment. Generally a wide angle lens and flash for the in-cockpit photos and my 24-70 mm zoom lens for the landscape below.
Q) What, if any, would you say are your favorite or most memorable photographs? Why?
A) My photographs are like my children, but I do have some that are special to me. A shot of Jerry Garcia I took at Winterland on 12/29/77. I had travelled solo cross country on a Greyhound bus from NYC to San Francisco to catch the Dead’s three nights at Winterland. It was an arduous journey but once I was inside the legendary venue, all that melted away. I made my way to the stage, in front of Jerry. They were tuning up with “Jack Straw” and just about to begin the show. Jerry looked right at me, wearing a button shirt with sleeves rolled up, getting ready to play. I was mesmerized for an instant then snapped the shutter. It’s a powerful image. When I look at it now it brings me back to being 18 years old at an amazing Dead show in San Francisco.
Foggy Golden Gate Bridge
Another, an aerial photograph I took while flying with my son over the Golden Gate Bridge. It was the day after my father died. My dad loved flying, too. In fact, after I bought my airplane, he got inspired and at the age of 73 began taking flying lessons. He did earn a student certificate and got to solo a few times. That was all he wanted,
I’ve flown over the Golden Gate countless times but on that evening, the day after my father passed, the clouds and fog were swirling and roiling over the bridge in a way I’d never seen before. It was so beautiful.
Q) What is the most difficult thing to get over on the way to becoming comfortable taking pictures anytime, anywhere, of anyone?
A) That’s a confidence that comes over time, and doing it over and over. And that brings a familiarity, you become a regular. At a concert, I need to be aware of the people around me and not intrude on their enjoyment of the show. Shooting backstage, I need to assess the situation, do the artists want to be left alone? Is my presence welcome? I try to be unobtrusive, but nowadays I’m pretty friendly with most of the artists I photograph so it’s not a big deal, but I do take that privilege seriously.
Bob Minkin / Legends
Bob Minkin / Aerials
All images use with permission ©Bob Minkin
To order signed copies of Minkin’s book, Live Dead—The Grateful Dead Photographed by Bob Minkin:
As we were “going to press” with this issue, we received a notice of a Kickstarter campaign for Minkin’s next book, “The Music Never Stopped: Marin County’s Music Renaissance.” For more information and to get on board, click here.
About the interviewer:
Mike Foldes is founder and managing editor of Ragazine.CC. You can read more about him in About Us.