There’s a smile of contagious joy on the face of Larry Hulst in the homepage photo where he stands before the Red Rocks stage, holding his camera, ready to shoot another summer performance under the stars. Since the ’60s, Hulst has been on the front lines of legendary tours by artists ranging from Bowie, Hendrix, the Stones and Zeppelin to Petty, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Ramones. The list is stunning. His portfolio of photos numbers in the thousands and counting.
Hulst is a serious music lover. He rides the wave of the front row, part of a pulsing and energized audience pulled in by the stage. He prefers not to use filters or alterations. He focuses entirely on the unique emotion of the performer. The result is a stunning live portrait with the feeling of front row awe. We talked with Hulst about his career, the art of capturing sonic energy on film and his passion for immortalizing the imagery of generations of rock and roll.
Springs: How did you get started as a music photographer?
Larry Hulst: My first concert was Simon and Garfunkel in 1964. Shows were $4, and standing room was only was $2. I shot bands in every music venue in Sacramento including Sam’s Hof Brau, The Sacramento Blues Festivals, Memorial Auditorium, Club Can’t Tell and every place music was being played.
How many concerts do you think you’ve captured?
If I count the 15,000 negatives and 4,000 slides I have, I would say that I have photographed 350 bands and many of those bands many times.
Have you met the artists?
This is the one of the many questions I get asked [often]. I have tried to be a fan first. I bought most of the tickets to the shows I’ve seen. My camera sometimes got me into shows. [Back then] I would meet a band member at the back door, show some photos, and they would let me in.
When did music photography shift from a passion to a career?
Funny, but as a photographer, I didn’t start out thinking I would be doing this for 45 years. It became serious when I got with Getty Images in 1979. I was shooting The Blues Brothers when they were playing with the Grateful Dead. They said they were remarkable photographs and I should be doing this for a living. From there, I stayed with Getty. They helped me get the photographs on rock albums which kind of verified my credentials as being a little bit more than an amateur—getting on albums like Zeppelin’s [reissued] Houses of the Holy.
What photos are special to you either because of the subject or the experience?
My favorite photos have appeared on albums by Hendrix, Clapton and Springsteen. I am also very proud of the image of Billy Idol. I snuck my camera into the show and stood near the front rows. I would take a photo or two then put the camera down. I was literally knocked to the ground over seven times. My results were classic Billy Idol from 1986.
How would you describe the synergy between live music and how it is captured on camera?
The relationship between the camera and the performer is a drug most people won’t experience. The energy that the photographer gets from the band is constantly drawing them to the front of the stage. The plus side of being in the pit is when a performer locks into you and now you are part of the show. Once, the singer for Ween jumped in the crowd and grabbed my camera. He took a bunch of pictures and threw it back; the photos were mostly of me. Why did he attack me? I was the tallest person in the crowd. It happens all the time.
You’re still actively shooting, capturing Colorado musicians and supporting local and regional artists. How do you see your roll in the Colorado community?
Bands that have made music since the ’70s and are still playing often perform because the audience and the managers want it. Their hearts are not as in it. My favorite images of artist are when they were young and they are bursting at the seams with energy. [Today] I want to see the new kid with the guitar that has something to show you. I love the Gold Room on a Wednesday night. You have no idea who these performers are. They’ve been playing in their bedroom for years getting ready to get on stage. They may be playing to their largest crowds possibly, and they’re on fire.
What reflections about your career emerged from your honorary exhibition at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center in 2017?
I felt I couldn’t get any higher in stature than the recognition I received from the Fine Arts Center. My photographs have been to over 43 museums; I haven’t heard as much about them as the press I got from the FAC. It was amazing!
Your work shows such a connection to these rock gods and a humility. Any final thoughts about the divinity of live music?
In California, the people I was capturing were all alive. Now 25 years later, many of them have died. That is what solidifies it for me. I keep showing my pictures in Colorado and elsewhere to remember the people that have contributed to rock and roll.
See Larry Hulst’s Photography
Special thanks to Larry Hulst for allowing us to display a gallery of his images. Find more or contact him at larryhulst.com.