Looking through 50 Years of Rolling Stone, the new coffee table book out recently from Abrams, one can’t help but think: Wait, Rolling Stone has been around for only 50 years? The magazine seems much longer in the tooth. Perhaps that’s because so many Rolling Stone images have become iconic. I wasn’t around, for instance, when Baron Wolman made his photograph of The Grateful Dead on the stoop of their shared house in 1967, but I know that picture well. Likewise Annie Leibovitz’s photo of Elton John with his electric glasses, or her image of Nixon leaving the White House aboard Marine One. Herb Ritts’s photo of Jack Nicholson magnifying his own Cheshire grin or Richard Avedon’s provocative portrait of Prince are both instantly recognizable, as are so many other images.
Speaking of Avedon, there’s a short story in the book dedicated to his famous 1976 portrait project “The Family,” which depicted presidential candidates Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford along with nearly 70 other members of the American political elite. Images of the original newsprint spreads appear in the book, showing Avedon’s images in the context in which they were originally presented (typical newsprint discoloration notwithstanding). There are also several pages dedicated to Sebastião Salgado’s work, which has appeared in Rolling Stone’s pages 19 times, we’re told.
Not only the images have become iconic. Select interviews, stories and other important moments are remembered here, from contributions by Hunter S. Thompson and Ralph Steadman, to David Fricke’s 1994 interview with Kurt Cobain, to long-form reporting on the AIDS crisis and the 2008 financial crash. Jan Wenner, the magazine’s founder, contributes an introductory history as well.
The book, however, is really about the photographs. “I started Rolling Stone with an understanding that photography was essential to what we were setting out to do,” Wenner writes. “Rock & roll was also an esthetic: the looks, the style, the sex appeal.” To the aforementioned photographers, add the likes of Platon, Albert Watson, Mark Seliger, David LaChapelle, Peggy Sirota, Danny Clinch and many others, and you have an insight into celebrity portraiture for the past five decades as defined by one of the important barometers of popular culture. —CONOR RISCH