Could this iconic Darrow Montgomery photo of Bad Brains' HR be in a Smithsonian book?
Could this iconic Darrow Montgomery photo of Bad Brains' HR be in a Smithsonian book?

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They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but in the case of music photography, it’s more like a thousand notes. Just take a look at some of the most iconic photos in rock ‘n’ roll history: Jimi Hendrix collapsed on his knees as worships the flames of his ignited guitar, Johnny Cash not-so-elegantly giving the finger to the lens of a camera, The Clash‘s Paul Simonon captured mid-swing about to obliterate his bass guitar. It’s these moments that, with a single picture, have helped define the history of rock ‘n’ roll. The Smithsonian is hoping to find more moments like these.

On Tuesday, the Smithsonian launched a new website to crowdsource rock ‘n’ roll photography for a new book they’re planning to publish in the fall of 2017. “We’re reaching out to the general public to go through their attics, basements, boxes, drawers, digital cameras, photo albums, cell phones, cloud, photo upload sites, and computer hard drives for pictures that show the greatest moments in the history of rock ’n’ roll,” the website states.

Smithsonian spokesperson Matt Litts tells Arts Desk that the impetus for the institution to publish a book of rock ‘n’ roll photography was to capture the cultural zeitgeist of artists during different periods in rock history. “After a while, artists become know for there iconic photos,” he says. “This is a way of hopefully trying to see artists in a different light.”

Though the project is for “rock ‘n’ roll” photography, Litts says that’s more of an umbrella term for the genres of music photography accepted. He says that they’re accepting photos for artists in the genres of alternative, folk rock, heavy metal, hip-hop, new wave, pop, punk, R&B, and rap.

Currently, the new website,, is accepting submissions from anyone for photographs to be considered in the book, though Litts tells Arts Desk that the work of professional music photographers will also be featured in the finished project. As more photos come in, Smithsonian staff working on the project will feature the best shots on the website, with quick notes from the photographer about the shots they submitted.

And if any of the photos submitted end up in the book, Litts says the photographers will be compensated for their work.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery