Access All Areas: Photographing Musicians Backstage

Far away from the limelight of the stage, these candid photos capture a glimpse of life on the road for touring musicians

Guy Le Querrec The American singer Abbey Lincoln. Paris, France. 1980. © Guy Le Querrec | Magnum Photos
Bruce Davidson Sammy Davis Jr. in his dressing room. New York City, USA. 1965. © Bruce Davidson | Magnum Photos
Philip Jones Griffiths I photographed The Beatles during a concert in Liverpool. I spent most of the time in their dressing room getting to know them. The highlight was the reading of letters from female fans that shocke (...)
Wayne Miller Lena Horne backstage at the Chez Paree. Chicago, Illinois. USA. May 1947. © Wayne Miller | Magnum Photos
Bruce Davidson The Supremes at the Apollo Theater. New York City, USA. 1965. © Bruce Davidson | Magnum Photos
David Alan Harvey Rappers praying before they go onstage at the Apollo Theater. Harlem, NYC, USA. 2000. © David Alan Harvey | Magnum Photos
Dennis Stock The jazz musician Louis Armstrong in his dressing room at the Latin Casino. Philadelphia, USA. 1958. © Dennis Stock | Magnum Photos
Peter Marlow Punks The Damned playing at the Roxy Club. London, GB. 1976. © Peter Marlow | Magnum Photos
Guy Le Querrec From left to right: the American jazz musicians Nat Adderley (cornet) and Dizzy Gillespie (trumpet, vocals, percussion). 9th International Jazz Festival de Nîmes. France. 1984. © Guy Le Querrec | Magnum Photos
Philip Jones Griffiths The Beatles. John Lennon and Paul McCartney with guitars. England, GB. 1963. © Philip Jones Griffiths | Magnum Photos
Dennis Stock Louis Armstrong. Last minute of concentration in the wings before appearing in public. Philadelphia, PA. USA. 1958. © Dennis Stock | Magnum Photos
Nicolas Tikhomiroff Edith Piaf before a performance at the Olympia music hall. She always hesitated a little and remained for a short while next to the stage curtain, made a few steps forward to get up her courage, an (...)
Bruce Gilden Musician John Lee Hooker. New Haven, Connecticut, USA. 1990. © Bruce Gilden | Magnum Photos
Eli Reed Jam Master Jay from Run DMC trying to call his girlfriend after the performance, backstage at the Capitol Center. Washington, DC. USA. Sept, 1986. © Eli Reed | Magnum Photos
Chris Steele-Perkins Pete Presley in the dressing room, Portsmouth Locarno. Portsmouth, England, GB. 1976. © Chris Steele-Perkins | Magnum Photos
Eli Reed MCA (Adam Yauch) playing around after a concert while touring with Run DMC. Norfolk, Virginia. USA. September 1986. © Eli Reed | Magnum Photos
Eve Arnold Singer James Brown after a concert in the Apollo in Harlem where the slogan 'Black is Beautiful' was introduced. New York, USA. 1968. © Eve Arnold | Magnum Photos
Ian Berry Singer Dusty Springfield exhausted after a night's show waits for a taxi at the stage door. Manchester, England. 1968 © Ian Berry | Magnum Photos

If we are to believe the rock star myths that pervade popular culture, the life of a touring musician is a glamorous one. From the stories of TVs being thrown out of hotel room windows to Van Halen’s infamous rider request for the removal of the brown M&Ms from a bowl of candy, going on tour is synonymous with crowds of adoring fans, hedonistic parties and outrageous diva demands. But what really happens backstage and in the dressing rooms of artists, hidden amongst warrens of labyrinthine concert venue hallways, remains largely a mystery.

Many Magnum photographers have crossed this threshold and gained access to these private scenes where, away from the public gaze, artists are able to let their guard down as they kill time between a cycle of travel, soundchecks and promotional duties. Far away from the limelight of the stage, their candid photos capture the highs and lows that accompany life on the road, from raucous dressing room parties and backstage antics to moments of solitude and quiet preparation. Through these photos we are privy to a series of intimate moments that reveal a side to a series of legendary musicians that we don’t often see: Bruce Davidson captures The Supremes having some down time backstage at the famous Apollo Theater in Harlem, Philip Jones Griffiths photographs a trouserless Ringo Starr signing autographs for fans, while Ian Berry finds Dusty Springfield half-asleep as she waits for a taxi to take her back to her hotel after a show.

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