How Wattstax Kickstarted This R&B and Funk Photographer’s Long Career
August 17, 2022 by Carren Jao (kcet.org)
Bruce Talamon has been taking photographs of R&B and funk royalty for five decades and counting. | Courtesy of Bruce Talamon
Over the last five decades, Bruce Talamon has trained his lenses on some of the music industry’s brightest stars. “I was fortunate enough to photograph what I like to call R&B and soul and funk royalty. I got lucky.” Over the past decades, Talamon has taken photographs of such luminaries as Diana Ross, Chaka Khan and Parliament-Funkadelic. His works are now featured in a Taschen-published tome, “Bruce W. Talamon. Soul. R&B. Funk. Photographs 1972–1982” and a yearlong exhibition at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. And it all began at Wattstax.
In 1972, Talamon had just graduated college. He had purchased his first camera in Berlin for $100 and started experimenting. While visiting his parent’s house, he happened to meet up with Gerald Busby, who incidentally would become a Motown Records president years down the line. That chance meeting set him on a path to a press pass (but not a camera pass) for Wattstax , a benefit concert put on by Stax Records for the Watts neighborhood, just seven years after the uprising. Acts like Isaac Hayes, the Staple Singers, the Bar-Kays, Kim Weston and more drew a crowd of more than 100,000 to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
With the confidence only a young man could have, Talamon brought along not one, but two cameras in the hopes of passing off as a professional. As the night went on and security laxed, he eventually got right on stage and photographed the headliner Isaac Hayes. “[That] photograph changed my life,” reflects Talamon.
After the concert, Talamon also took advantage of a second opportunity. He “marched up to Howard Bingham,” Muhammad Ali’s photographer, introduced himself and began “a beautiful friendship.” Talamon tells KCET.
It was Bingham who would eventually introduce Talamon to Regina and Ken Jones, publishers of the Soul Newspaper, a publication born out of the Watts Uprising and focused on Black musicians like the Jackson 5 and Earth, Wind and Fire. Here are a few pages of Talamon’s photography laid out on the pages of the publication:
A cover story of Donna Summer featuring the photography of Bruce Talamon. | Courtesy of Bruce Talamon
“They cudda funked fo’evah!” A story featuring Chaka Khan with the main image taken by Bruce Talamon. | Courtesy of Bruce Talamon
Earth, Wind & Fire cover image taken by Bruce Talamon for Soul Newspaper. | Courtesy of Bruce Talamon
A feature story of Earth, Wind & Fire with photography by Bruce Talamon. | Courtesy of Bruce Talamon
“Is his funk real?” a Soul Newspaper featuring Bootsy Collins asks. | Courtesy of Bruce Talamon
A spread on Soul Newspaper featuring Bootsy Collins. | Courtesy of Bruce Talamon
A feature story of Jacksons with photography by Bruce Talamon. | Courtesy of Bruce Talamon
A Parliament-Funkadelic spread on Soul Newspaper featuring the photography of Bruce Talamon. | Courtesy of Bruce Talamon