Identity is how we define ourselves and how others define us. For an image maker like famed rock-and-roll photographer
Lynn Goldsmith, a singular identity is something she’s always tried to shirk, even as she
created and refined iconic personas for artists
such as Bruce Springsteen and Frank Zappa.
Over the course of Goldsmith’s more than
40-year career, her award-winning work
has appeared in and on the covers of Life,
Newsweek, Time and Rolling Stone, among others. Many of her photographs have become
the defining image of the artists she has
Despite her success, Goldsmith has
never understood her designation as a
rock-and-roll photographer. “To me, there
were portrait photographers, still-life
photographers and photojournalists. But
a rock-and-roll photographer? What was
that?” she says. “If rock-and-roll means that
it’s about breaking down barriers, revolution, which is what the words rock-and-roll
meant at the start, that’s cool.”
It’s easy to understand her confusion.
Goldsmith has had a wildly successful,
if eclectic, career that has seen her make
more professional transformations than
a rock star changes wardrobe. Among
her many identities, she has directed a
network TV show, managed a leading
1970s band, founded a photo agency in her
own name, and worked as a songwriter,
an optic-music artist and, most famously,
a photographer of icons in every facet of
entertainment and public life.
When asked how she became a photographer, she responds with a weary laugh.
“I’ve answered this one probably 500 times
in my career,” she says. “I never intended
on being a professional photographer. It
actually didn’t occur to me.”
Making Her Own Identity
In her newest book, Rock and Roll Stories,
Goldsmith set out to answer that oft-asked
question: The meandering tale is as much
about music and the ’60s as it is about an
obsession with photography.
Goldsmith is a native of Detroit, a “Motor
City girl,” as she likes to say. Her story starts
with her amateur photographer dad. As
a little girl, Goldsmith would watch her
father develop portraits of her and her sister
in his darkroom. “In that moment, I knew
for certain magic existed,” Goldsmith writes
in the book’s introduction. Soon after, she
received her first camera, a baby Brownie,
and began photographing her dolls.
When Goldsmith was four years old, her
parents divorced, and the family bounced
between Florida and Detroit for the next
several years, until her mother remarried
and they settled in Miami Beach. Goldsmith’s stepfather, who was in the hotel
business, wanted to impress her and bought
tickets to the Beatles’ first appearance on
the Ed Sullivan Show for her 16th birthday.
Little did he know, Goldsmith thought the
Beatles were “goodie-goodies.” She was a fan
of the Rolling Stones.
Not wanting to disappoint her step
father, she accompanied him to the lobby
of the Deauville Hotel to catch the Beatles
arrival. According to Goldsmith, she was
as excited to see the intricate design of the
lobby carpet as the Beatles themselves.
When the group walked in, Goldsmith
was entranced by their boots, which made
her think of the soul singer James Brown, so
she began photographing their feet. When
John Lennon asked if she wanted to take a
portrait of them, Goldsmith shook her head
no—she had what she wanted. A photographer from the Miami Herald witnessed the
unusual exchange and asked Goldsmith if
he could process her film. The photo ended
up in the next day’s paper, her first published image. Her assessment of this event
is typical of her basic creative approach. “I
was in the right place at the right time and
had a particular attitude about what I was
shooting that made it different from what
everyone else did.”
Goldsmith attended the University of Michigan as an undergraduate, where she had
no intentions of pursuing photography
as a career. After graduating, like many
20-somethings, she was in the process of
finding her way.
“I didn’t have this plan of being a celebrity
portrait photographer, much less being a
photographer. Even today, I’m still not sure
what I want to be when I grow up,” she jokes.
She did a stint as a substitute English
teacher in Miami Beach and spent some
time in Los Angeles with her sister before
moving to New York, where she became a
music marketer for Elektra Records.
Goldsmith was successful in marketing,
and before long, she met Joshua White,
founder of Joshua Television, which used
“video magnification” to project rock acts
onto big screens at concerts. Goldsmith
went to work for him as a director.
When White was hired to run ABC’s
In Concert series in 1972, Goldsmith went
along for the ride, becoming the youngest
woman accepted into the Directors’ Guild
of America. Around the same time, White
gave Goldsmith one of her first professional cameras, a Nikon FTN with a 50mm lens.
While working as director of In Concert,
Goldsmith met Grand Funk Railroad, a
popular Michigan-based rock band with a
large following but not much credibility
from the music press. They didn’t have a
number one single, and Goldsmith thought
she could change that. She made a wager
with the band’s new manager to make her a
co-manager if she could land a number one
hit single in all three trade magazines.
This was to become one of Goldsmith’s
first experiments in crafting identities. She
understood that the strength of Grand Funk
Railroad was being from America during
FAB FOUR FEE T: In Lynn Goldsmith’s first published image from 1964, she passed up a portrait of the Beatles for a
picture of their stylish shoes, set off against the patterned carpeting at the Deauville Hotel in Miami Beach.
DEFINING IMAGES: “For the past forty years my work
has been centered on how identity is constructed from
the dress, hair style, and makeup we chose; from the
masks we present to ourselves as well as to the public,”
says Goldsmith. “I worked in fields centered on the
creation of ‘star identities,’ using still photography, film
and video to help recording artists define their image to
themselves as well as to their audience.”
(Clockwise from top left) Goldsmith mugs for the
camera with Ozzy Osborne (1984), Frank Zappa
twirling sparklers (1978), Patti Smith with political
grafitti (1977), U2 parades with umbrellas on a rainy
day in New York (1982), Bob Marley backstage in Milan
(1980), Carly Simon on Martha’s Vineyard (1981).