The images of photographer Roberto Rabanne have captured the energy, complexity and beauty in music, fashion and art for more than three decades. His images have appeared worldwide in magazines such as Rolling Stone, Down Beat, GQ and Vogue, on television and in books. Retrospectives of his work have taken place in Berkeley, New York, Barcelona and Paris.
Born in Panama, Roberto moved to the States at age thirteen. While working as an usher at the newly opened Fillmore East he asked Jimi Hendrix if he could take his picture with his Yashica twin lens reflex. “Sure, man,” the flamboyant guitarist said. “I shot half a roll of film, rushed back to my little darkroom and processed it, and ran back to the Fillmore with the proof sheets,” explains Rabanne. “Hendrix said, ‘Wow, man, I like these,’ and stuck a $100 bill in my hand. He was my first ‘client’ and that was the beginning of my career as a professional photographer.”
From the late 1960’s through the 1970’s, Rabanne immersed himself in the countercultures and vastly diverse music scenes of both the Lower East Side and the Haight-Ashbury district. His photos were published in magazines like Rolling Stone, Crawdaddy, Cream and the East Village Other. They ran the gamut of the great bands – from the Grateful Dead and Quicksilver to Big Brother and the Holding Company, Cream, Dylan and Jefferson Airplane. Rabanne befriended Jerry Garcia, who gave him priority access and allowed the photographer to do several studies of him.
Later, Rabanne’s interests expanded to jazz and reggae. Shooting for Down Beat, Jazz Express, Goldmine, NME and numerous recording companies, his work now included the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Carmen McRae, Betty Carter, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Bob Marley and scores of others as he became the official photographer of the Monterey Jazz Festival. During this time he was a student at Berkley and earned a B.F.A while also managing a Flamenco Dance company run by the niece of the legendary Flamenco guitarist Carlos Montoya.
In the early 1980’s, Rabanne returned to live permanently in New York and was soon looking for new challenges. The legendary Alexander Lieberman – then Editorial Director of Conde Nast publications - noticed his work and encouraged Rabanne to try his hand at shooting clothes, shoes and the women who wear them and Rabanne quickly became one of the most sought after high fashion photographers in the business. He was proclaimed an ‘important new artist’ by both Women’s Wear Daily and Details magazines.
Rabanne’s vast archive of historical photographs has been seen recently on several episodes of VH-1’s ‘Behind the Music’ series, A&E’s ‘Biography’ series, Saturday Night Live, Conan O’Brien and other programs. He has several photographs in the Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame and is often published in fashion catalogues and magazines including Spin, Rolling Stone, Code, Woman, MannerVogue and others.
“Roberto’s magic lies in his ability to completely surrender to his subject,” comments Bret Primak, the noted jazz writer, on Rabanne’s work. “His work is egoless; in fact, he’s practically an invisible part of the process. He always comes away with so much because he takes only what is offered from his subject. Nothing more, nothing less.”
Rare images of Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead, who Rabanne shot from their earliest gigs in San Francisco throughout the group’s 29 year history, plus other popular artists from the Woodstock era including Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Carlos Santana, Jefferson Airplane, Joni Mitchell, Steppenwolf and Ritchie Havens will be on display for exhibit and sale at Sidedoor Gallery from July 31st through September 6th.