It is almost impossible to keep just one of the thousands of images that Bob Gruen has revealed throughout his extensive career, a journey through the history of rock’n’roll that the New York photographer has taken with Tina Turner, the Ramones, Lou Reed, John Lennon, Led Zeppelin, Madonna, Cher or the Rolling Stones, to name some of the artists immortalized by his camera, a privileged eye of the emergence of punk in New York in the 70s, whose portraits have been exhibited at the MOMA and the National Portrait Gallery in London, and has now passed through Ibiza to show his work at the Contrast festival until May 25.

“Rock and roll is synonymous with freedom, the freedom to express yourself very loudly in public, that is what I try to capture in my photos, not only the fashion or the look of the night, but the feeling of the night, of freedom ” says Bob Gruen, having just landed on his first visit to Ibiza, which welcomes him with a sunny day although colder than he expected.

At 79 years old, Gruen has more than six decades of experience since he published his first photograph in a local newspaper, taken in a fire. He was 13 years old and was embarking on a career that would catapult him when Ike and Tina Turner noticed the photos he took during a concert in the Queens neighborhood in the summer of 1970. “Ike and Tina were fantastic, one of the coolest groups. exciting people I have worked with, I never saw any problems between them,” he comments of those years, in which he also dedicated himself to video recording their performances. “It seems very common now, but I had one of the first tape recorders that allowed immediate playback, and I could show Tina and the Ikettes how the concert turned out half an hour later, so they could improve the number.”

For two years Gruen traveled with the Turner couple, who opened the door to the Olympus of rock to portray him throughout his life until today, when he still works for bands like Green Day or, more recently, Maneskin. “The business has changed a lot, photography has been simplified, there are many more people taking photos, each with five websites to publish them, not like before when there were only a couple of magazines that published them.” This ease of disseminating images – “everyone can publish from their bedroom or wherever they are” – makes him doubt that photography is still a business, “now it’s everyone showing everything.”

Everything was more limited and closer in the 70s, which led to Gruen’s friendship with Joe Strummer, Iggy Pop and especially John Lennon, whom he met through Yoko Ono to become close to the couple during their stay in New York. . “I met them through an interview, they liked my photos and wanted to use them for the cover of Some Time in New York City. Then they said they wanted to see me more often and one thing led to another,” he explains of that relationship. “We had a similar sense of humor and we lived very close to each other, it’s easier to work with someone you’re comfortable with.”

From that relationship emerged one of Lennon’s iconic photographs, in which he is seen on a Manhattan rooftop wearing a New York t-shirt, a gift from Gruen himself. “It’s not from any brand, some guys were selling them on the street, in Times Square, I bought a pair and gave one to John Lennon as a gift.” A year later, in 1974, Gruen and Lennon were on the roof of the former Beatle’s apartment taking photos for the cover of Walls and Bridges, and “after doing the portrait part of the session, John said to me, ‘Let’s do it. take more photos on the roof’. As the horizon surrounded us, I asked him if he still had the shirt he had given him a year before, which he did, and he put it on. The fact that he still had her a year later, and that he knew where he was, let me know that he liked her.”

His relationship with Bob Dylan moved in the opposite direction, who did not forgive him for taking an image of him during the Rolling Thunder Review tour in 1975, in which he had prohibited the presence of photographers. “I never got to know him well,” he points out, “the only conversation I had with him was to tell me that he didn’t like that I had sneaked in because he didn’t allow photos, but it was a public event and I thought I should cover it as a journalist.”

Those were different times, it was easier to “steal” images from concerts, “almost no one had a camera, things change when the artist puts on a live show and sees that all the spectators are filmmakers,” he laments. “When that happens, the band is not performing just for that moment because everyone wants to preserve it and show it to everyone,” something that changes the feeling of the performance, “that’s why I understand that nowadays they try to reduce the number of photographers at a show.” These limitations, however, clash with Gruen’s preference for photographing the last songs of the concerts instead of the first three as is usually done today at the wishes of the artists. “I like to photograph the most exciting songs, and those are usually not the ones they sing right at the beginning of the show, but at the end.”

Iconic images have emerged from Gruen’s lenses, such as Sid Vicious playing raw after cutting his chest with a knife, Kiss in suits and ties with their iconic war paints, or Chuck Berry lovingly kissing his guitar. “He was a hero to me,” he remembers of the Missouri genius, “and he was the first person who asked me to sign a photo of him.” Another legendary image is that of Led Zeppelin posing in front of a plane with their name engraved on the fuselage, “they were not its owners, but if you rented it for more than a month you could put your name on it. It is an image that reflects the excess of the 70s with some guys who are not enough to appear in a t-shirt, they go around in their own plane, not even a limousine is enough for them, they need a giant plane.

Gruen went on more than one occasion in that airplane that had a bar, piano and two rooms with a bathroom, one of them with a fireplace, “it wasn’t a real fire, but it looked like one.” A couple of months after taking that snapshot with Plant, Page and company, the photographer went up again to photograph Elton John, who named the plane “Enterprise Starship.” “It was his birthday, he came from a big party and he must have had a hangover,” that’s why he didn’t listen to his manager, who insisted he leave the bedroom. “Finally he went to the bar, and there he found Stevie Wonder playing Happy Birthday, he got in a good mood and I took a very nice photo of him.”

Some time later he went back up with the Allman Brothers, “I remember them leaving backstage, getting into the limousine in a bathrobe and from there straight to the plane’s bedroom.” Experiences that contrast with his bus trip for a week with the Sex Pistols, who tamed each other on the journey. “They were listening to tapes of the best dub reggae that DJ Don Letts, from London, gave them, the fans outside were very excited but inside the bus everything was very calm.”

A declared fan of punk music, Gruen documented the bands that invented punk at the legendary CBGB, such as the Ramones, Debbie Harry, The New York Dolls, Television and Talking heads, a link that he recovered when he photographed Green Day at the 2019 imitating the portrait he took of the Clash in 1984. “They were doing a television show and Rockefeller Center had the best rooftop, the best view of New York, because from there you can see the Empire State Building.” More than three decades later, he met Green Day in the same place, where they had also gone to record a television program, “I told them, this is the building where we went to the rooftop with the Clash, so they gave us permission.” to upload and we took that photo, similar but in color, like the grandfather and the son.”

Between stars and concerts, Gruen has become part of the legend of seventies rock, “I was lucky to be born at that time, I was a teenager when rock’n’roll was invented and the people I saw were completely original ”, a quality that in his opinion was lost over time. “In the 80s or 90s you could compare a band like ACDC to Alice Cooper, but when I saw Alice Cooper you couldn’t compare him to anyone. Tina Turner doesn’t look like anyone, Beyonce may try to look like her, but Tina wasn’t trying to be anyone else”, like the Rolling Stones, another of her fetish bands, “Mick Jagger is 80 years old and he’s still going, maybe not He may be 22 years old, but he is out there offering people a rock’n’roll experience,” the same one that Gruen offers with his images, and which has allowed him to live a life “like a rock band.”