Tina Turner, Frank Zappa, Frank Sinatra and a host of other pop music celebrities arrived in town Tuesday — if in image only — as part of an exhibit of 70 concert pictures a photographer will display next month at the new arts center next to town hall.
John Atashian, a Southington-based commericial photographer whose passion for concert portraits began at a 1979 Pink Floyd concert when he was a teen, brought his pictures to the Southington Community Cultural Arts Center to start setting up the "Live Concert" photos. The show is the first one-person exhibit at the new center, a nonprofit enterprise in the renovated former town hall annex. The center opened this month.
"This is an excellent place," Atashian said of the street-front gallery. "I've got some nice window action here."
As the 54-year-old New Britain native hung pictures he took of Bruce Springsteen and Mick Jagger on one part of the wall, visitors peeked in. Outside, a steady stream of cars moved slowly past the gallery's windows, each the size of a queen bed, facing the town green on Main.
By mid afternoon, Atashian had hung Jimmy Buffett, the Beastie Boys, Eddie Vedder, Tina Turner, Luciano Pavarotti, Sinatra and a few other artists whose portraits he's taken at venues across Connecticut since 1980.
Wreathing the gallery floor was a who's-who lineup of yet-to-be-hung photographs: David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Kid Rock, Paul McCartney, Willie Nelson, ZZ Top, Eric Clapton, Jerry Garcia.
And about 50 others.
Mary DeCroce, director of the center, said she's known Atashian for years. His work was a natural to display in September and October when the town's annual apple harvest festival will draw thousands of people to the town center. People will recognize the subjects and should flock in to look, she said.
While figuring out who to hang where, Atashian talked about the concert photographer scene and how it has changed in 35 years.
In the 1980s, photographers had freer movement. Now, some performers require signed agreements that demand review of pictures in advance of any use. Photographers are now penned in specific sections, often far from the stage in the back of the venue by the sound board.
"You can see the performer with a long lens, but it flattens things out. And you don't feel the vibes," he said.
Most shows are fine, but a few crowds upset him. At Woodstock '94, a music festival in Saugerties, N.Y. commemorating the 25th anniversary of the original Woodstock, he recalls seeing hands from the crowd reach up, tear clothes off a woman perched on a man's shoulders. Then the woman was yanked down. "Vacuumed right out of sight," he recalled. "Scary."
Other concerts and photographs bring up pleasant memories. Like the time David Bowie walked over in full makeup and costume to autograph a concert picture for Atashian. Or the Prince concert he shot in Rio. He remembered Prince demanded the promoters empty all the furniture out of his hotel rooms, bring the grand piano into his suite from the lobby, and provide him with 100 towels.
The towel request puzzled Atashian for years. Then someone explained why.
"Hotel rooms can be dirty with lots of germs," he said. "So people ask for clean towels and cover everything with them."