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Moshe Brakha's flashback photography goes pop at the Grammy Museum

May 16, 2009 |  9:00 am

Madonna Jpeg

Madonna is standing before a packed crowd at the Palladium in New York. Stage lights beam overhead. Legions of plastic bracelets dangle from her slender wrists. Her disheveled  locks are pulled away from her face. Clutching onto the microphone stand, she glances to her right. Click. The flashy scene from 1983 stands still forever with the help of a guy and his camera.

At the Grammy Museum at downtown’s L.A. Live, this portrait of Madonna and other music heavyweights make up “Occupation Dreamer: The Photography of Moshe Brakha,” the first photography exhibition at the 30,000-square-foot museum. The collection is like a mix tape of images taken from 1976 to 1986 of mostly up-and-coming rock stars of the time.

“I was just trying to capture dreamers living their dream,” said Brakha, 62. “Some lived on nothing. But that didn’t matter. They loved what they did.”

Cars  The 30 portraits line the curved wall of the museum’s second floor, each with its own title and story — whether a young Anthony Kiedis lying on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, giving the middle finger to the camera, or New Wave group Devo wearing plastic breasts, or a seductive Diana Ross tangled in pearls atop a tiger rug.

“The museum tries to highlight a broad spectrum of music,” said chief museum curator Ken Luftig Viste. “His photographs balance that with different types of artists who play different styles of music. It’s a great dynamic.”

Long before Brakha was directing commercials and photographing the likes of Tom Hanks, Sean Penn and Will Smith for Newsweek, Esquire and Vanity Fair, he was simply a man with a camera.

The Israeli-born, L.A.-based photographer graduated from Art Center College of Design in 1975 and began his career shooting “strictly punk.” He fondly recalls the day he photographed punk band the Screamers, their mouths gagged with chains. 

“The beginning of punk was the beginning of something in my life,” Brakha said. “I was really, really in love. It was loud, aggressive, not beautiful. The way I understood punk, freaky is better. Aggressive is better.” 

Run DMC Jpeg But his subjects would evolve well outside that scene. In one photo, Neil Young, ever the cowboy, raises his guitar against the balmy air as he drives his car on his ranch. In another, hip-hop impresarios Run DMC stand against a red backdrop overcast with shadows for a Rolling Stone photo shoot; later, Brakha said, the group would storm off the set. And in a portrait of the Cars, Ric Ocasek and company look sluggish and crammed in, well, a car.

Ask Brakha to pick a favorite, and he shakes his head. “They’re my girlfriends. I can’t pick a favorite.”

The photographs were rediscovered after Brakha and his sons were moving offices. The initial thought was to showcase the nearly 200 photographs in book form. When their book deal fell through, they sought out gallery spaces to display a select few, and the show premiered at Ogilvy & Mather in New York last year. Separately, the team is also seeking a gallery setting to debut a collection of Brakha’s still-life photographs called "Silent Pictures."

But, for now, the rock stars take center stage. Thanks to a guy and his camera.

-- Yvonne Villarreal

Grammy Museum, 800 W. Olympic Blvd., L.A., through Aug. 9, 11:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Sundays to Fridays, 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Saturdays. $14.95. (213) 765-6803.

Top: Madonna performing at the Palladium in New York in 1983; middle: the Cars in a car in 1982; bottom: Run DMC at a photo shoot in NYC in 1985. Credit: Moshe Brakha / Grammy Museum