Q&A with award-winning photographer Steve Manheim - traces the history of the blues, rock and roll, through today's music.

“Photography has always been important in the documentation of social, political and cultural situations. A good photograph can tell more about the human condition than words. Like music, it is visceral and direct, a truly universal language.”

Steve Manheim: The Essence of Blues Pic

Steve Manheim is an award-winning photographer in Cleveland. His lifelong passion for music and photography coincide with dynamic concert, intimate portrait and poignant documentary images. His work traces the history of the blues, rock and roll, through today's music. His use of black and white creates an authenticity reflective of the subject matter.

He is a native of Canton, Ohio and a graduate of Ohio State University. His book, “Blues Musicians of the Mississippi Delta” will be published by Arcadia Publishing in May, 2019.

Interview by Michael Limnios            Photos © by Steve Manheim

How has the Blues and Rock Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

I’ve been a fan of popular culture since my early teens. It opened my mind to a larger world beyond my own. The 1970s was a great time to be interested in rock music. What was considered “counterculture” in the 1960s would become pop culture in the 1970s. It was a very creative time period, a fascinating era for art, music and movies. Societal changes in the 1960s would come to fruition. All of these experiences have influenced by world view.

How do you describe Steve Manheim's photo art? What characterize your mission and philosophy?

I try to capture the essence of the performers character in my music photography. Whether in a live concert of personal setting, there are always a few moments when the performer reveals something more of themselves. I like to approach live concerts in a portraiture style.

Why do you think that the Delta area and Sun Records continues to generate such a devoted following?

People like to connect with history. The blues and early rock and roll all came out the Mississippi Delta and Memphis. There is a reverence and sense of awe in experiencing where this music came from. This music still resonates today as it did when it was first produced. It is a powerful connection.

"I try to capture the essence of the performers character in my music photography. Whether in a live concert of personal setting, there are always a few moments when the performer reveals something more of themselves. I like to approach live concerts in a portraiture style." (Chicago and delta blues legend Robert Lockwood Jr. performs at Brothers Lounge in Cleveland in 1998. Photo © by Steve Manheim)

Which meetings have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

My first experience in blues photography was with the late Robert Lockwood, Jr.  He was gracious enough to allow me to photograph him on several occasions at his home in Cleveland, Ohio. It introduced me to the world of the blues, and the importance in documenting these original blues performers before they were gone.

Are there any memories from photo shootings in clubs, lives and festivals which you’d like to share with us?

Some memorable concert photos included Ray Charles in Chicago, John Lee Hooker in Annapolis, MD. and B.B. King in Cleveland.  Blues musicians including Big Jack Johnson, Eddy Clearwater and H. Bomb Ferguson were also memorable.

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

The original Chicago and Delta blues had a real authenticity. Many of these performers came from harsh early lives, so their blues came from a real place that made the music genuine. It’s hard to say where the current blues is headed.  Hopefully there will be performers that carry on the blues tradition.

What has made you laugh from the late Lockwood, Jr.? What touched (emotionally) you from Robert Johnson Gravesite?

Robert Lockwood Jr. was a gracious person who always would acknowledge me whenever I saw him. He was a musician’s musician, straightforward and no-nonsense. My visit to Robert Johnson’s gravesite in Greenwood, Mississippi was a very poignant, moving experience. Virtually all blues, rock and popular American music were influenced by his catalogue. The mystery of his life continues to intrigue.

"The original Chicago and Delta blues had a real authenticity. Many of these performers came from harsh early lives, so their blues came from a real place that made the music genuine. It’s hard to say where the current blues is headed.  Hopefully there will be performers that carry on the blues tradition." (Blues legend Robert Johnson's gravesite, Little Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Greenwood, MS., August 2016. Photo © by Steve Manheim)

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned about yourself from your experiences with blues people?

The passion of blues fans continues to inspire me. It goes far beyond the surface, with a deep- rooted love for the blues that keeps it relevant.

What is the impact of music and art of photo on the racial, political, and socio-cultural implications?

Photography has always been important in the documentation of social, political and cultural situations. A good photograph can tell more about the human condition than words. Like music, it is visceral and direct, a truly universal language. 

Where would you really want to go via a time machine and what memorabilia (records, photos) would you put in?

It would have been an interesting adventure to work with William Henry Jackson, who was among the first to photograph the American West in the 1870s. His historic photographs of Yellowstone, Wyoming, Colorado, and the Rocky Mountains helped establish the U.S. National Park System.

www.stevemanheim.com

Early rock and blues pianist H. Bomb Ferguson in Cincinnati, 2000. Photo © by Steve Manheim

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