When You’re Strange

My insight into The Doors comes mainly from being a stoned 17-year-old sitting in a room where night blended into day and Jim Morrison’s haunting baritone told me ‘girl, you gotta love your man’. 

Having missed Oliver Stone’s ’90s film and not got round to watching When You’re Strange, the new documentary, I was interested to see what light Shoreditch’s Idea Generation Gallery could shed on the iconic frontman and his band.

The free exhibition, which runs until 27 August,  features the work of four photographers: Joel Brodsky, Henry Diltz, Ken Regan and Bobby Klein. It is inspired by the Johnny Depp-narrated documentary and did I mention that it’s free?

Brodsky is responsible for the ubiquitous image of a topless Morrison with outstretched arms and a smouldering look on his sculpted face. Brodsky’s photos come from a studio session in ’67 and most are mild variations on the classic that launched a thousand T-shirts.

Diltz’s contributions come from walking around Venice Beach with the band in ‘69 and have little explanatory notes beside them. This is how I came to learn that the photo of the band inside the Morrison Hotel had to be taken on the sly as the manager denied their request. The notes were interesting but in almost every photo Manzareck, Morrison, Densmore and Krieger look shifty and awkward, like tourists dutifully posing in front of landmarks for their friend’s Facebook collection.

Bobby Klein’s photos are from the early days of the band. He was the first professional photographer to work with them and perhaps he siphoned their willingness to play in front of the camera. In one, Morrison (according to the blurb beside it by Klein) is ‘trying to channel a forest nymph spirit’. In another, he is smiling. However, this is the exception that proves the rule and the band’s general surliness almost seems parodied in one image, where they scowl against a backdrop of tropical palm trees.

Regan’s role in the exhibition, despite numbering only a handful of pictures, shows the band at their easiest: performing. And this brought home to me that The Doors were not part of the modern phenomenon of bands as comfortable on a photo shoot as they are on stage. They were writers, musicians and performers: no Girls Aloud gloss.

But to all the fan girls and boys out there, the band’s general inscrutability as photographic subjects is inconsequential. As historical artefacts, The Doors and their memorabilia are there to be scrutinised and this exhibition, with its thoughtful and orderly photographic tribute, is definitely worth a nostalgic hour of your time.

The Doors When You’re Strange is on show until Friday 27 August at:

Idea Generation Gallery
11 Chance Street
E2 7JB

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