With the publication of Friendly Access: Close Encounters of the Musical Kind and 1/60th X 100, Bob Shaw revisits his archive to explore the multi-splendored realms he traveled during the 1970s and ‘80s. While Friendly Access takes us on an in-depth journey through the Texas music scene, 1/60th X 100 offers a holistic look at Shaw’s photography practice.
As a teen coming of age in 1960s America, Bob Shaw decided he was going to design cars and become a photographer. He enrolled in the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, and quickly became immersed in the art. “I appreciated Ansel Adams but I wanted to be more like Robert Frank”, Shaw says.
As classicism gave way to modernism, the spirit of freedom and liberation was in the air. By the late 1960s, beatniks and hippies ruled the New York avant-garde, and writers like Ken Kesey and Allen Ginsberg equally inspired Shaw. It was an era of breaking rules and writing your own, redefining not only the narrative but also the way it was being told.
After graduating, Shaw, like many art students, discovered a harsh reality. “I managed to get a degree but had no idea how to support myself”, he says. “I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be in New York, where I was told I would have to become somebody’s assistant. It just didn’t catch my ankles.”
Fortunately, the stakes — and cost of living — were much lower half a century ago and Shaw decided to travel down to Fort Worth, Texas, visit classmate Bill Jenkins during the summer of 1971. There he met Jim Meeker (1935–2021), art critic for the Fort-Worth Star Telegram. According to Shaw, Meeker came from oil money, which he used to finance his love for the arts. “Jim was getting ready to fund a documentary film, but there was no photographer. He asked me to come down, hang out with the crew, and start taking pictures.”
“Opulent living spaces with people dressed funny”
Art critic and collector Jim Meeker’s Fort Worth home was the epicenter of the country music scene. There, Bob Shaw met musicians Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, and Rita Coolidge just as country music was becoming a pop culture force, bringing the spirit of the South to the Billboard charts. Kristofferson, who would go onto star in the 1976 blockbuster film A Star is Born alongside mega-celeb Barbara Streisand, was extremely down to earth. “He helped me empty my luggage out of the car when I moved to Fort Worth”, says Shaw.
But with entrée into Meeker’s world, Shaw was suddenly thrust into a world he had never seen before. “There was this strange form of culture: theme parties on weekends at different people’s mansions like the Acapulco party or the Parisian party, in opulent living spaces with people dressed funny”, he says.
Shaw quickly found himself in the middle of an unlikely scene, documenting private parties and art openings at the Kimball Art Museum in Fort Worth, where the documentary film was screened. He moved to Dallas in 1974 and adopted Texas as his home.
“I merged into the art scene, and it was becoming a fantasy”, says Shaw, “We’d fly to Houston for a museum opening and connect with a couple of magazines. I became friends with the art director of Horizon magazine, and started doing jobs here and there. It was a special time. I got to see from behind the curtain, and the access was really magical. I equate it to the Paris salon of Gertrude Stein — and in this case Stein was a Texas oil man named Jim Meeker.”
Surreal Scenes of the American Landscape
“Bob’s photographs are here to stay and America will never give up its flavors, not for all the hairspray in Texas,” artist Ed Ruscha is quoted as saying at the beginning of the book, letting us know we are in for a ride unlike any we’ve been on before. No matter where he goes, Shaw sees the quirky yet lyrical side of life, capturing fleeting moments of the magical lurking amid the mundane. Here, artists, musicians, and regular folks mingle and merge in surreal scenes of the American landscape.
Texas women with buoyant bouffants lend an effortless sense of campy glamour to their workaday lives while Andy Warhol positions himself as a paparazzo, snapping portraits of museum guests. Bluesmen, cowboys, and casino workers have seen it all, while the artist’s mother smiles widely underneath a hair dryer at the beauty parlor. Through Shaw’s lens, we discover beauty and joy reveal themselves to those who are kind of heart and see goodness and humor everywhere they look.
A Brothership of Love
“It was almost like you went to summer camp and you didn’t know who paid the bill but you had a great time”, Bob Shaw says of those heady years being in Jim Meeker’s inner circle. “I felt very free photographing in these situations, like being at the New Bluebird Nightclub in Fort Worth, an old blues bar everyone went to on Friday and Saturday nights. There was a brothership of love.”
Shaw became more closely connected with the music scene after a classmate from Pratt, who had become road manager for The Band, introduced him to legendary concert promoter Bill Graham. Between 1971 and 1978, Shaw amassed an extraordinary collection of photographs of the music scene, which he documents in Friendly Access: Close Encounters of the Musical Kind.
Given all access, Shaw photographed rock & roll icons like Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Jefferson Starship, Joni Mitchell, and Tina Turner at the heights of their careers. “It was rare to be accepted by everybody that was your hero,” says Shaw, who did just that. “I found everybody I photographed were the most wonderful people and that goes for Andy Warhol, and Jasper Johns. I would be there pinching myself under the table to make sure I was really there.”
Friendly Access: Close Encounters of the Musical Kind, $40, and 1/60th X 100, $125, are published by Firefly Studio Press, and bundled for $150. Please send inquiries to [email protected].