In his novel Killing Yourself to Live, Chuck Klosterman once joked that Minneapolis is “where music critics come from.” It’s a statement that’s always made me chuckle, mostly because his assertion that the Twin Cities produces more music journalists per capita than any other city appears, on the surface anyway, to be true.
So when I heard that there was a well-known music photographer releasing a career-spanning book that features everyone from Miles Davis to Madonna to Michael Jackson, and when I saw that these photos were mostly taken in Minneapolis because the photographer, Jimmy Steinfeldt, is a Minneapolis native, my reaction wasn’t, “Oh really?” Instead, it was, “Of course.”
Steinfeldt is based in Los Angeles now, and his career has branched out into many areas, including capturing stills on the sets of blockbuster movies, interviewing other photographers for Hollywood Today, and shooting famous stand-up comedians. But he got his start as a concert photographer here in the Twin Cities, and spent the bulk of his career honing his craft in the photo pits of venues like First Avenue.
“As far as the energy of the room, and the ability to get up close to the artists, First Avenue is probably my favorite venue in Minneapolis to shoot,” Steinfeldt reflects, speaking over the phone in advance of his book signing at the venue’s Depot Tavern tonight.
It was exactly 30 years ago that Steinfeldt got his start. Armed with his first camera, a Minolta (“It was only 100 bucks!,” he remembers, “and they had just released a film that was made for low light”), Steinfeldt drove from his home in Hopkins to the Met Stadium to see Stevie Nicks. Though some of the photos he took that night were blurry, one image in particular jumped out at him and spurred him on to attend more concerts and buy more rolls of film.
Two short years later, Steinfeldt got his first big break: Though he didn’t even have a portfolio of work to show yet, he approached then-brand new magazine SPIN to see if they’d like to publish one of his photos. From there, he got the confidence to call up Rolling Stone, and by the end of 1985 he had photos of George Thorogood and Madonna published in two of the most influential rock magazines in the country.
Steinfeldt’s career ascent is catalogued in great detail in Rock ‘n’ Roll Lens, an impressive collection of some of the biggest names in rock music. The book is arranged in a coffee table format, with each photo blown up to a full page and accompanied by an anecdote from the shoot, and almost all of the photos were shot at venues in Minnesota (early appearances in town by Beck, Cobain, Brian Setzer, and Bono are all pretty mind blowing). Flipping through the book, it’s clear that not only has Steinfeldt been at the right place at the right time throughout much of his career, but that he also has an eye for capturing the essence of each performer as they move across the stage.
“It’s hard to describe,” he says, reflecting on his process. “There is an element that can be hard to put into words that makes a great photograph. If a musician has an upbeat show, and they are moving all over the stage, it’s important to capture that—like the photo of Rod Stewart that is in the book. There is motion in that photo; you can see his hand moving, but his face is also still and in focus. Or if the mood is more somber, you have to capture that as well.”
Steinfeldt names photographer Richard Avedon and cinematographer Karl Fruend (Metropolis, Dracula) as his biggest influences, and is also quick to namecheck a half-dozen contemporary concert and music photographers as his favorite peers. But in terms of photographers who have launched careers out of Minnesota, Steinfeldt’s portfolio is singular. There’s a reason why tonight, when he appears at the Depot to sign copies of his new book, he will be introduced by onetime Prince and the Revolution drummer Bobby Z.
Sample more of Steinfeldt’s work below, and head to the Depot between 7 and 9 p.m. tonight to pick up your own copy of Rock ‘n’ Roll Lens.