Anyone who grew up in the ’80s will tell you there’s those huge moments you’ll never forget. The same goes for places. In the history of rock music, some streets or corners of the American city, have become part of the collective imagination.
One Instagram user has found a novel way to bring rock history into today’s world. Steve Birnbaum is a photographer from Pennsylvania, who lives in NYC. In His instagram account @thebandwashere, Birnbaum returns to the scenes of classic rock photos and takes new pictures, aligning classic snaps in front of the locations where they were originally taken.
The goal is to celebrate iconic musicians, some of whom are no longer with us, such as Kurt Cobain, Prince, Amy Winehouse, Janis Joplin, David Bowie, Michael Jackson and more. Birnbaum’s imaginative pictures reveal the changes that have occurred in the years since he took the originals.
His project started in 2010 with old family photos, and since then, he has moved on to music photography, having covered over 500 music locations around United States. We’ve interviewed him to get a better understanding of his project.
Tell us, who is Steve Birnbaum?
“Besides being the creator and photographer behind the Instagram account @TheBandWashere, I’m also a documentary filmmaker, director, producer and photographer, part of the creative collective, Nom de Plume.”
How do you select which iconic picture you’d like to revisit?
“I started the project back in 2011 after I saw an article in the Daily Mail of a Dutch historian who was photo blending historic war photography with what the locations looked like in present day. He was blending the two images in Photoshop. Because I wasn’t well versed in photoshop at the time, I started using pictures from my own family albums and held the pictures exactly how you see me doing on my Instagram. Over time, I started visiting the sites of movies and TV shows I loved, then quickly transitioned over to music photography. Most of the images you see are of musicians or photographers I admire. Sometimes I’ll post pictures of musicians I’m not that familiar with. That sometimes gives me a reason to dive into their music and learn a bit more about who they are and the music they create. For the most part though, what I’m featuring is all a reflection of who I am and what my music taste looks like.”
How do you figure out the locations where the original snap was taken?
“A lot goes into figuring out the specific locations. Some are more known and recognizable then others. If you’ve lived in NYC for so many years, you start to become aware of the buildings and architecture around you. I’ll narrow locations down just by looking at a style of building or the way a street is paved. Sometimes I’ll zero in on little clues within the pictures like a street sign, restaurant sign or address numbers. I’ll research photographers and read interviews or books with them hoping to find clues about where they took certain photographs. Sometimes the location and dates will already be known, given by the photographers when they post them on their social media or their personal websites.
Google Maps has been a blessing. I’ll spend an endless number of hours just looking up and down streets, hoping to spot something recognizable or similar to the pictures I’m searching for.”
Everybody thinks they’re professional photographers on social media. Why did you choose to put yours on Instagram?
“Instagram was designed to be a platform where you share pictures. It only made sense to use that platform as a tool to get my art seen by as many people as possible. The secret is to have someone who is endlessly scrolling through content and have them stop and pause on your work, separating yourself from everyone else they’re seeing on their feed. I think my approach and art does exactly that. I try to use that to my benefit.”
What are some of your favorite pictures?
“Some of my favorite pictures are of the musicians and bands I’ve loved through the years. It’s also of the pictures that I can remember seeing in magazines when I was a kid, never imaging that one day I would be walking in their exact footsteps and standing where they once did. Pictures of musicians who are no longer with us affect me, and the people viewing them, differently though. The feeling you get from looking at someone who was once alive and with so much life, and then show that setting as bare and what it looks like today, is really impactful. I think that contrast is exactly what I hope comes across in every picture you see of mine.”
Are you hoping to mount an art live exhibition of your pictures?
“That’s been a goal of mine since this project started. I can really see this being as most effective with the images blown up and placed within a gallery setting. I think standing in front of these images, rather than seeing them on your phone, can have a whole different effect on the viewer. I’m hoping something can come of that soon.”