In the late 1950s and early ’60s, soul—black music with elements of R&B, gospel, and blues—emerged in the American South and later burgeoned in Detroit, where pop-infused Motown hits took hold, as well as Chicago. Although male artists like James Brown first championed soul, women became a driving force of the genre, as legends like Etta James and Aretha Franklin rose to center stage. Soul music became a powerful vehicle to address social and political issues like civil rights and the Vietnam War, with which white soul singers like Dusty Springfield and Janis Joplin also engaged. Subsequent genres like disco and funk are indebted to soul, while artists such as Amy Winehouse, Erykah Badu, Adele, and Lauryn Hill represent the genre’s contemporary influence and endurance. Below are six photographers who immortalized the performances and personas of soul’s leading ladies.
For over a decade beginning in the late 1960s, the Brussels-born Dutch photographer Gijsbert Hanekroot shot leading musicians—from Mick Jagger to Bob Marley—for the Dutch music magazine OOR. In images from the early ’70s, Tina Turner performs in Rotterdam during an era when she and Ike Turner were making soulful music together, churning out hits like their 1970 cover of John Fogerty’s “Proud Mary.” Shot from below, Turner appears larger than life as she performs with powerful, expressive energy. Although Hanekroot left music photography in the early 1980s to become a tech and publishing entrepreneur, he recently returned to his body of work, digitizing past images; publishing an art book, Abba…Zappa: Seventies Rock Photography, in 2008; and showing in Tokyo, Moscow, and across Western Europe.
Bronx-born Jerry Schatzberg was an instrumental American filmmaker in the ’70s, and his 1973 film Scarecrow, starring Al Pacino and Gene Hackman, earned him a Palme d’Or prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Before his film career began, Schatzberg shot fashion photographs that were published by the likes of Vogue and Glamour, as well as portraits of celebrities from Fidel Castro to Jimi Hendrix. In 1967, he captured Aretha Franklin in her mid-twenties. The close-up photograph shows Franklin, seemingly unaware of the camera, caught in the middle of singing with her earring frozen mid-swing. The image epitomizes Schatzberg’s intimate, lighthearted compositions, whose unusual angles and stolen moments place them more in step with Modernist photography than traditional celebrity snaps.
As a teenager, David Corio began photographing concerts in London, shooting artists like Elvis Costello. Later, the British photographer captured “High Priestess of Soul” Nina Simone, as well as soul and funk singer Lyn Collins (whom James Brown dubbed the “Female Preacher”) and Aretha Franklin. His black-and-white photos perfectly balance crisp dark tones with luminous highlights, resulting in images that are simple yet stunning. (Corio has stated that he prefers the medium to color photography for its “character” and drama.) Illustrative are his photographs of Whitney Houston from her 1988 concert at London’s Wembley Arena, soon after “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” shot to number one on the Billboard Hot 100 list—her seventh song in a row to do so. The images of Houston also hint at the singer’s genre-crossing career as she appears both sensual and bubbly, an embodiment of her trajectory from soul-infused R&B into ’80s pop.
In Ron Galella’s images, a smiling Dionne Warwick—whose music spanned gospel, soul, and R&B—hugs Burt Bacharach, who wrote many of her songs; pop and soul superstar Diana Ross is glamorously swathed in fur; and a young Whitney Houston poses with Michael Jackson. A pioneer of the paparazzi genre, Galella captured singers’ and other celebrities’ individual personalities as he unexpectedly photographed them in the course of their daily lives. He often went to obsessive lengths to shoot his famous subjects, adamantly exercising his First Amendment right to follow them through the streets or wait for them to emerge from their homes. Although Galella was praised by Andy Warhol, Jackie Kennedy Onassis’s one-time exclamation to “smash his camera” spurred a lawsuit and became the title of a 2010 documentary about the photographer.
Raised by Russian-Jewish immigrants in a predominantly black Milwaukee neighborhood, David Gahr developed an early appreciation for jazz and blues music. He later moved to New York City, forgoing a spot in Columbia University’s political science Ph.D. program to work at the record store Sam Goody, where he started to photograph musicians who patronized the shop. Beginning in the late 1950s, his photography penchant turned professional; his work graced prominent album covers and was published repeatedly in Time and Life magazines. Gahr’s candid portraits reflect the friendships he developed with many of his subjects. In his images, preeminent folk and jazz musicians like Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, and Ella Fitzgerald seem at ease with Gahr’s discerning lens, often during iconic moments in their careers. Gahr also photographed “The Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin—one image of her with a half-smoked cigarette in hand and a sorrowful expression on her face is particularly incisive—as well as Janis Joplin, whose passionate, raspy vocals helped launch the blue-eyed soul genre, its white offshoot.
Lauded Scottish-born photographer Harry Benson photographed civil rights marches in the ’60s, Nixon’s resignation, and the fall of the Berlin Wall. He has photographed world leaders from Queen Elizabeth to Barack Obama during his presidency (and every other U.S. president since Eisenhower); athletes; models; visual artists like Francis Bacon; fashion designers; and musicians, including The Beatles on their first U.S. tour in 1964. Earning the International Center of Photography’s Infinity Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2017, Benson produces composed, artistic shots that reveal their subjects’ humanity and psychological complexity. In one image from 1969, soul and pop artist Tina Turner sings with Janis Joplin, their shared joy apparent. A more recent image of Amy Winehouse documents the late singer’s sultry persona and evokes her well-known “retro-soul” tracks that are indebted to earlier singers like Turner and Joplin.