Capturing Music History: An Exclusive Interview with Jonathan Rach – Behind The Gallery Exhibition

by the partae

Can you share some insights into the process of selecting the images for this exhibition, especially those that have never been seen before? Some images speak to you, resonate a feeling, and if it’s true to the event, then I think it should be part of the exhibit.

The Nine Inch Nails Self Destruct Tour spanned from 1994-97, capturing a pivotal era for the band. How do you believe these photographs encapsulate the essence of that period, and what made it such an iconic moment in music history? I knew Trent was doing something special. You could feel it in the air. The crowds were fanatic. All I had to do was point the camera in the right direction and capture it. I felt like I was witnessing something worthy of music history.

The exhibition not only features Nine Inch Nails but also includes images of David Bowie, Lou Reed, and moments from the Hollywood Palladium in 2018. How did these additional elements come together to enhance the overall narrative of the collection? The other artists selected were part of the tour. The shot of Lou Reed was chosen because it was taken in Australia. He was on a lineup with Nine Inch Nails. I think it was called the Big Day Out Festival in probably 1995. He came into the band’s dressing room and gushed at how much he was blown away by watching the performance. I happened to be right by the door as I was putting my video camera away, so all I had to do was just turn and point. A snippet of the moment is in the documentary “Closure”. It blew us away to have Lou Reed come into the dressing room and gush over the band. That did some real damage to any second-guessing. We all had so much respect for him. You knew you were doing something right, especially when David Bowie wanted to join the tour. What was going on? It was David Bowie. I wanted to make sure I had Bowie represented in the exhibit. His presence played such an impactful role for all of us on that tour. I remember David asked me if I would film him as he came off the stage and went into a room to decompress each night. Every night it was just he and I in this small, confined room. As I filmed him, he would talk about the performance. I thought, what am I doing here? It just felt surreal. I always had so much respect for him. We all did. The song “Under Pressure” spoke to me every night as he performed it. It helped me get through some personal things. The lyric “Watching some good friends scream, let me out” just spoke to me. “Why can’t we give love a second chance.” It seemed to offer something from such an intense long tour. The job of documenting artists at this caliber was such a gift, and I feel lucky to have had the chance. It all could be so emotional at times. Another example, I worked with Neil Young and watched him write a song from scratch right in front of me on an old beat-up piano, and it just hooked you in in the first 5 seconds. Unbelievable emotions evoked. Working with Trent was the same experience, and David Bowie. So thankful to be able to just experience it and then share it as a documentarian. This exhibit focuses on the Downward Spiral album and the Self Destruct tour, so I wanted to make sure the opening acts that spent the most time on the tour were represented. Those images are on display too. As for the 7 images selected from the Palladium shows with Nine Inch Nails, they are just my favorite that did not make it to the limited edition series. Trent wanted to have one selection from each night of playing the historic 6 nights at the Palladium. So if a couple of favorites fell on the same night, then I had to pick only one, and this exhibit is an opportunity to present some of the others. I think if you were a fan of the Palladium series, then you would find these additional images interesting.

With 45 images on display, could you highlight a few that hold special significance for you personally, and what makes them stand out in the context of the exhibition? If I can connect the dots to two events to help answer that question. Usually when I walk through a museum, I kind of purposefully move somewhat quick. I enjoy the overall first impression then I keep moving. I don’t know if that sounds odd or relatable, but usually there are so many paintings that even at a faster pace, you still can’t get through all of them. I think it was at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. I sort of just stopped and stared at one particular painting from like the 1500s. I studied it and all its details and I tried to imagine the painter hundreds of years ago working on every brushstroke and how at the time it was just routine maybe even mundane. But to then have someone so far off in the future with very limited experience of that time by someone so far in the past and how it spoke to me and presented a feeling of what it was like back then I realized the power of the painting in that moment. It was capturing the human experience for all future generations to help make sense of it all. A photograph that captures an important moment can have the same effect. I had a request for one of my photographs at large-scale size. I got it back from the printer and opened it up on a table. It was the one of Trent smashing the keys with his foot on stage. It hit me that this was the one shot that summed up the entire Self Destruct tour in a single moment. This was what was important to remember. It felt larger than life. It didn’t feel like I took the photo, as odd as that might sound. Like someone else took it. I just happened to be a witness standing there. It was all the emotions of that experience wrapped up in one shot. The emotions that resonated so powerfully with an arena full of that generation. What was it all saying that connected so intensely between the artist and fan? And it did. That image captures something that felt authentic to the music, the message. The experience. It’s just a raw honest expression of what it was all about. I’m sure there are a thousand versions from a thousand people, but for me, that was the one having spent so much time on the tour. There are many in this selection that do the same for different reasons, some personal, but if I had to pick one, it would be the one of Trent smashing the keys on stage. It was as if the keyboard had a limitation and Trent just went beyond it.

As a photographer, you had the opportunity to witness and capture genuine moments in music history. Can you share a specific instance or memory from the Self Destruct Tour that you feel perfectly encapsulates the energy and essence of Nine Inch Nails during that time? We were all in our 20’s and there was a certain attitude that came along with that. That age seems to be the zone where music plays its most important role, and this was our moment. This was our expression to hold up with other generations moments and it felt larger than life. When you are in your 20’s everything is there for you and at the same time seeing how the world is so new and raw. Trent and I had a conversation before I came on the tour to do a documentary. We agreed to just kind of be a fly on the wall and capture whatever it is. He felt like he was doing something groundbreaking and different and worthy of capturing. It started out small in clubs then theaters then eventually arenas. He was right. It was something worthy of documenting. I had all this footage from years of touring and it is powerful, but to bring it back to the photography, one photo, an image, a moment, seemed to always pack more punch than all the footage. Why was that? What is it about a single image that can always outdo hours of footage? Incredibly powerful but maybe it’s how our brains work. We need it in a snapshot. Anton Corbijn, who is one of the greatest photographers there is, came out on the tour a couple of times to do a cover shot for a magazine of Trent, and it was Anton that said pay attention to the photography while you are documenting. It will surprise you how meaningful it will become in the processes of documenting, and he was so right on that. Photography of music culture seems to get it better than the footage. It’s that moment that can sum it all up that you strive for.

Given that this is the first time these photographs will be on display in a world-exclusive gallery exhibition, what do you hope viewers take away from the experience? Are there specific emotions or reactions you aim to evoke? I think for a fan who has never witnessed that performance live on that tour, hopefully, this exhibition can give an experience of what it was like. I tried to pick images that showed the dynamics of it all. There are images that hopefully showcase how at times it felt dangerous and unpredictable and at other times it felt vulnerable and sort of lost in a healthy way. Maybe if you had never seen the show on that tour my images could help explain those extremes. The dynamics of that tour were breathtaking, and hopefully, the images show that same range.

How did the collaboration with Behind The Gallery come about, and what drew you to entrust them with showcasing your collection for the Nine Inch Nails community in Australia? I had earlier approached a bunch of high-end rock photography galleries about wanting to exclusively showcase a set of images that I thought were important for a generation. I explained how for twenty some years they sat and have never seen the light of day. Plus, Trent was still very relevant some twenty years later, headlining all major festivals when so many bands from that time just sort of fell off, and I just thought what I had was exactly what a gallery would want. But I was met with, well, it’s not really the Rolling Stones or the Beatles. I tried to explain this was a new generation. This would speak to them etc. but they had no interest. So when Stephen called out of nowhere about this concept he had for a gallery and that my photographs were exactly what he was looking for I was listening to his philosophy and it was a no-brainer. He got it. He is doing the entire gallery experience on music just how I thought it should be done.

The exhibition coincides with the 30th anniversary of the iconic Nine Inch Nails album, “The Downward Spiral.” How did you approach capturing images that would pay homage to the album’s significance in music culture? I thought there was something dangerous and unpredictable going on on stage and I wanted to make sure I captured that but I also wanted to make sure I was capturing the vulnerable moments. Hopefully, the images show the dynamics of the experience.

Limited edition numbered prints signed by you are available for purchase. Can you speak to the significance of offering these prints to fans and collectors, and what it means to you to have your work appreciated in this tangible form? Music photography was elevated many decades back by a relationship between a music artist and a museum curator – gallery owner. The artist felt like some of the photography captured by rock photographers were like paintings and worthy of the attention a painting gets. The artist was Ronnie Wood from the Rolling Stones and the art gallery owner and shop were located in San Francisco or at least this was how the story was told to me. The fans wanted it. They wanted to collect it. Collectors wanted to own it; they wanted to socialize around it and celebrate it. And it is true. It is a lot of fun to go to an event like the one Stephen is putting on and meet others who have the same interest. I am always fascinated to hear why a person connects to an artist and hear all the details to why. It’s such a passionate event to go to and enjoy. What a great way to spend an evening. I hope that Stephen and I have put something together that can live up to those standards.

Opening night is on Wednesday, March 6th. What can attendees expect from the overall atmosphere and experience at the gallery? Are there any special elements or surprises planned for the event? I’m excited to meet fans of Nine Inch Nails always being a fan myself. Stephen wants to make sure it’s a celebration of the band and specifically the 30-year anniversary of the Downward Spiral album.

The exhibition includes an Artist Talk with you on Saturday, March 9th. What topics or anecdotes do you plan to share during this talk, and what do you hope attendees gain from the experience? I am up for sharing anything any fan wants to know. I get it. I feel lucky to have experienced it, and I think it will be fun to talk about what it was like to be there so intimately. As a photographer embedded with the band for years, it makes for a great conversation.

Having worked closely with Nine Inch Nails during the Self Destruct Tour, what was it like collaborating with such a groundbreaking and influential band, and how did the experience shape your perspective as a photographer? I can explain it this way. Usually after the show there is a hospitality room where artists and fans and friends meet up. Sometimes the rooms are small depending on the venue and especially depending on how many people have been invited. This one particular night, I walked in with my camera and it was just packed with people. Everyone was just chatting away and socializing. David Bowie spotted me from across the crowded room and he made his way over to me and said, “I am smart enough to know you just became the most important person in the room.” What he meant was the world and all future generations just walked through the door. That’s the power of a photographer.

Behind The Gallery Exhibition -NINE INCH NAILS, THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL- 6 – 10 March 2024

254 Flinders St, Melbourne


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