he images of photographer Roberto Rabanne have captured the energy, complexity and beauty in music, fashion and art for more than four decades.
“I have a simple philosophy about photography, it’s that the image has to be powerful” explains Rabanne. “And I find this happens when you capture the subject engaging in the non-defensive, unguarded essence that is truly ‘them.’ The picture always has to tell a story, but in doing so, you can break all the rules.”
Outspokenness, veracity, defiance and a willingness to seek out and walk the edge in life and in art – these are the themes that have shaped Rabanne’s creative sensibilities during his remarkable career which has reached the pinnacles of the music and fashion worlds.
“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.”
When the Vietnam War was still raging and so was Bill Graham’s Fillmore East, Rabanne became a student activist and got a job as an usher at the newly opened Fillmore. One day at a sound check he decided he had nothing to lose and asked Jimi Hendrix if he could take his picture with his Yashica twin lens reflex. “Sure, man,” the flamboyant guitarist said, and Rabanne began snapping away. “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.”
Rabanne’s photos were first 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, Jefferson Airplane, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and more. Early on, Rabanne befriended Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead. The legendary musician gave him priority access and allowed the photographer to do several studies of him and the band.
Later, Rabanne’s interests expanded to include 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.
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 high fashion, shoes and the women who wear them. Rabanne quickly became one of the most sought after high fashion photographers in the business.
While making the rounds photographing the collections in Milan, Paris, London and New York, his photos appeared in dozens of magazines including G.Q., Vogue, Depeche Mode, New York and Seventeen. Rabanne amassed high profile clients like Yves St. Laurent, Givenchy, Fiorucci, Versace and John Paul Gautier.
He was proclaimed an ‘important new artist’ by both Women’s Wear Daily and Details magazines. His fashion photography is noted for it’s gritty, sexy and provocative edge. His photos are compared to the works of Guy Bourdin and Helmut Newton, who he considers one of his greatest influences.
The fashion and music worlds often find themselves intertwined and again, Rabanne is always in the right place at the right time. His lens not only captured the salable image, but also the lifestyle that defined the era.
His career continued to blossom, and Rabanne branched out into TV commercials and promotional videos for clients including Toyota, DKNY, Visa, Calvin Klein, Chanel, Volvo and Honda, among others. Later, he founded and published Fashion Preview – which, like Collezioni, became a bible in the fashion trade. With the coming of the digital age, Rabanne expanded his interests to the internet and became the Creative Director of supermodel.com and other fashion-related web sites. He has also toured retrospectives of his work in San Francisco, New York, Japan, Barcelona, Miami and Paris.
Rabanne’s vast archive of historical photographs and video has been seen recently on several episodes of VH-1’s ‘Behind the Music’ series, film documentaries, 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, Downbeat, Woman, Manner Vogue and others
His fine art work is avidly collected by private individuals. One of his fine art snowboards was recently acquired for $50,000. A record price for a snowboard!
Rabanne is using the latest cutting edge techniques in digital photography to print his fine art work on unorthodox surfaces and explore new mediums including large format decorative prints from his vast library of music, fashion, travel, and nature photographs.
He is planning a series of limited edition books and show that will incorporate a retrospective of his forty year career in music and fashion “It will be a return to my roots in music and the times that have shaped my life.”