Legends Through the LENS: An Intimate Portrait of Rock & Roll History

Janis Joplin 1969.

By Kyle Knoll


A random discovery of old negatives in an attic has culminated in a stunning new photo exhibition opening tomorrow, April 14, at the California Heritage Museum, Santa Monica.

Former rock n’ roll manager and music producer Michael Friedman’s wife Donna Vita recently stumbled on what ended up being a plethora of amazing images of her husband’s oldest and dearest friends: Janis Joplin, Todd Rundgren, Paul Butterfield and The Rolling Stones.

“Rock & Roll Legends: The Lost Negatives of Michael Friedman,” is an exhibition of photographic prints made from a collection of the more than 1,000 negatives recently found in Friedman’s attic and will open to the public April 14 until July 15.

The collection offers rare insight into what it was like to be standing just offstage during some of the most influential performances in American music from the late 1960s through the early 80s, when rock n’ roll ruled the airwaves.

“It is a peek into the musicians as people,” Friedman told The Mirror. Friedman was the same age as most of the famous artists he worked with and captured them on film as various stages in their performing careers.

“We all started out right when rock n’ roll grabbed a hold of everybody in the country, and some of us decided to go with it.…It was kind of easier in those days because it was all very new,” Friedman explained.

The similarities in life experience between Friedman and the artists he worked with were often not only generational, but literal. “My wife always says, ‘Was everybody in the music business at that time born in 1943?’” he mused.

Friedman was born only one month apart from and worked closely with iconic rock vocalist Janis Joplin, and only two months apart from influential musician Robbie Robertson, lead guitarist and songwriter for the group The Band.

“I was expected often to be the grownup in the room, but I really wasn’t,” Friedman recalled, explaining that he wore suits to work daily at Albert Grossman Management in an effort to project an air of business authority and an illusion of social distance from the artists he worked with.

“I was one of them. My habits weren’t really any better than theirs,” he said.

The intimacy and the mutual comfort of the relationships that Friedman enjoyed with the likes of Joplin, Rundgren and Paul Butterfield lends an authenticity and a vulnerability to the photographs in the “Lost Negatives” exhibit. “Nobody was posing for me in any of these pictures,” Friedman explained. “They were my friends.”

Referring to a prominently featured portrait of Rolling Stones lead singer Mick Jagger that is being hung as a 20-foot banner on the California Heritage Museum building to publicize the show, Friedman said: “I was onstage because Janis played that show, so I had an all-access pass. I was standing offstage…at the same level. I wasn’t shooting up and into the stage like most of the shots you see of performances that are up people’s nose.”

When asked about his process for taking the photographs, Friedman said that he was “try[ing] to catch a moment…to see something happening and catch what you think is a moment that you want to remember.”

Following its exhibition at the California Heritage Museum, the collection of prints and negatives is expected to travel to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, where it will be archived in perpetuity as the Michael Friedman Collection.

Janis Joplin 1969.
Robbie Robertson & Levon Helm 1969.
Mick Jagger, MSG 1969.

The California Heritage Museum is open Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and is located at 2612 Main St., Santa Monica, California 90405. More information about the exhibit can be found at californiaheritagemuseum.org or at michaelfriedmanphotography.com.