Five questions with photographer Michael Weintrob

New York entertainment photographer Michael Weintrob is debuting a pop-up art gallery during Jazz Fest called InstrumentHead, a surrealist portrait series where legendary musicians pose with their instruments covering their faces. In connection with the Frenchmen Art Market (2121 Chartres Street), the gallery will showcase 75 InstrumentHead icons to be sold as limited-edition fine art prints. 20% of the proceeds will go to New Orleans charities.

Eric McFadden of Parliament Funkadelic, Rob Mercurio of Galactic, Eric Bolivar (Anders Osborne), Nigel Hall, and DJ Logic will perform live at the grand opening Thursday, April 25 at 7 PM.

You have created over 250 unique images of musicians posing with their instruments in front of their faces as part of your InstrumentHead collection. What was the original inspiration for such a unique concept?

When I work with musicians in the studio, I try to do things that spark emotion. By asking people to put instruments in front of their face changes the mood and creates a level of fun during the shoot. One of the first times I did this was in 2006 when I set up a portrait studio on Jam Cruise. I was shooting George Porter Jr. from the Meters and he agreed to do it. That image actually made it into his CD that came out the next year.

You have photographed such a wide range of artists from Bootsy Collins to “Uncle” Lionel Batiste, from Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead to Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads. How does your approach differ for each musician?

I try to tell each musician’s story through the image. People are very comfortable when they are surrounded by elements of who they are, so I have them bring their own clothes, instruments and artifacts to the shoot — things that distinguish them individually. Sometimes when we shoot I will play music that I know they can relate to so that we can set the mood of the shoot.

Musicians tend to have specific personality traits that often lead them to their instrument of choice. What kinds of discussions have you had over how you see a musician portrayed and how they see themselves?

We talk about how they see themselves as artists and how they want to be portrayed in a photograph. A lot of times photography creates an illusion of a person. I am trying to show their true self. These folks I am shooting are musicians, not models. They are performers first, and public figures second. A lot of times, I will have them perform for me so that we can capture the live element in the studio. Normally, after they perform, things loosen up and they begin to feel more comfortable.

“Uncle” Lionel Batiste is a New Orleans legend and iconic musician who was photographed thousands of times over his long life. What was it like working with such a character?

It was really fun to work with Uncle Lionel. He was really quiet and did not say much, but he was smiling the whole time and was always game to try new things and have fun with the shoot. We hung his drum from the ceiling in Preservation Hall with two coat hangers with the help of Benny Jones. At one point Uncle Lionel was standing on one of the benches in Preservation Hall so that he could get high enough to drum so that it appeared that he was doing it over his head. We had a great time that day.

You are donating a 20% of the proceeds from this 10-day show during Jazz Fest in New Orleans to local charities. What do you hope to accomplish by making such a generous donation?

There’s no better time than during Jazz Fest to give back to a city that has given so much to our music culture worldwide, and me personally as a photographer and fan. I chose the Tipitina’s Foundation and NOMAF because the funds will pay it forward to the next generation of musicians, by providing them with instruments and a community as well as helping older musicians get quality health care.

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