In the summer of 1978, The Rolling Stones toured the US. And on 17 June they arrived at Philadelphia’s JFK Stadium.
Joseph Szabo was a high school teacher whose students had invited to the show. He took his camera along:
Mr Szabo explained (via Michael Hoppen):
In 1978 as the school year drew to a close, Bill Carraro and Chris Davies, two of my photography students, who also worked as editors for the yearbook, asked, “Mr.Szabo, would you like to go to a Rolling Stones concert? We have an extra ticket.” Being a lover of rock and roll, I was intrigued. But before I could even ask why, they said, “The only thing is, the concert is in Philadelphia and we need a ride to get to there.” Bill and Chris were both seniors and I knew their request was not just about driving them, but that we would share the experience as friends. After discussing it with my wife Nancy, who thought it was a good idea and a promising photo opportunity, I enthusiastically said, “Yes!”
When we got to the JFK stadium on June 17th everything was wet and soggy from the overnight rain. The place was packed – news reports estimated the crowd at over 90,000. There were no assigned seats – if you didn’t have a seat saved by your friends, you didn’t have a seat. The closer to we got to the stage where The Stones were playing, the denser the crowds. It felt like being in Times Square on New Year’s where you are bombarded by all these sights and sounds. You don’t know which way to look. That’s how it was; all these fans, all these people surrounding me.
Awed, I took out my camera and started photographing. I had been capturing the lives of my highschool students in Malverne, New York since 1972 and the concert just followed that idea of seeing their lives beyond the school’s walls.
I’ve always felt that music is a mysterious thing, in the way the sounds are put together, in what it can express. When you add the right words, it’s inspirational, it’s infectious. There is no doubt that The Stones music influenced my work that day. But Mick Jagger and company were not the reason why I was there. The show was on the field, among the people. You see these faces and you connect with them, you feel a certain sympathy or empathy for them.
When a photograph captures the energy of its subject, it’s not because of the subject’s energy alone. It’s because my energy and their energy came together at the same time to capture the moment. I had to be in that moment, too. I couldn’t be objective and separated. I had to be part of the whole experience, the music and the mood.
I was very close, physically close to all the people I photographed. They trusted me. But there were some situations where I would get a hostile look from somebody. And momentarily I questioned myself, “Do I take this person’s photograph or not?” but I thought, “This is why I am here,” to mirror this whole situation. I want people who didn’t come to this concert or people who did come, to say, “That’s the way it was. That’s a true picture.”
From my perspective going to the concert was a gift. The chaotic unpredictability of it was part of it’s charm. Recently, I was inspired to revisit the contact sheets from that day and choose images that spoke to me after so many years. For me, the honesty of the pictures still ring true.
This is what teenagers were like on this day, in this place, in this time. Substitute today’s clothes and hairstyles, and I think you’ll find teenagers doing pretty much the same things.
I am still in touch with Bill and Chris, I we remain friends to this day. I am forever grateful to them for our trip, as well as, to all the Rolling Stones fans who were so open to my camera.
– Joseph Szabo
Copyright © Joseph Szabo, Courtesy Michael Hoppen Gallery.
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