ML: The vice president of Business Development approached me about this project, seeing if we were interested in taking it on and publish a book form some of the content provided. It’s a cool project, and I think it jives nicely with the ideals of the Smithsonian Institution… But in my mind’s eye, I was pretty confident that we would get a lot of “middle of the road” rock stuff, which is fine because it kinda fits in with one of the layers of the project. The first obvious [layer] is for people to send us their “Greatest Moment in Rock.” It’s not going to be Ike Turner playing “Rocket 88” or Jerry Lee Lewis or Chuck Berry, it’s the collective your Greatest Moment in Rock, whether that was you seeing R.E.M. in 1984 or the Flaming Lips in 1987 or Scratch Acid in 1986… That was kind of the first goal -- just send us your stuff. All that being said, we have gotten a lot of middle of the road stuff. Probably the most sent-in artists so far are Queen, Bruce Springsteen, and R.E.M. We’re getting tons of Motley Crue and Van Halen, but we would love to get Elvis, or Tina Turner, or Janis Joplin…
The second layer is, we hope to get images of the iconic artists in ways that they haven’t been presented before. If you think Elvis Presley, you think of the one or two images of him with his hips out to the right, with left arm holding the cool microphone. I think artists, after a while and especially after they pass away, are slimmed down to two or three images and you just think of them in that way. But you just know that someone’s grandmother or grandfather took a picture of Elvis at the Arkansas State Fair that might be really cool. We’re hoping to get those shots that have been sitting in someone’s basement or attic, but it’s kinda cool just to see what people are excited about, see what they’re posting, and see the volume of what’s coming in… Just in the first week, we received 1,500 photographs, and we didn’t know if that’s a lot or a little. Then we talked to the people who work on the photo contests for Smithsonian Magazine and Air and Space, and we’ve tripled Air and Space and are on-par with Smithsonian, [even though] ours is not a contest... You would think rock photography is such a smaller niche than nature photography. If this kind of pace continues, we’ll have 50,000 photos in a year, which is frightening.
IP: Have you started to take the next steps of how you will be organizing it, your metadata, those kinds of things?
ML: Yes. We’ve brought on an intern, and her job is basically to review, process, tag, and upload, in that order. Then the site technology kind of organizes itself, and give the photographer the option to geo-place the image by city and venue, year, date, captioning, and all that stuff. The intern is a college student -- junior year, I believe -- and doesn't know half the bands. It’s kind of funny to hear her ask “What kind of band is this?” from a genre perspective.
IP: Can you tell a bit about the rules regarding image quality, and if you've received any files that maybe don’t live up to those qualities?
ML: We put up specs because we didn’t really want people just sending in cell phone photos -- not that we don’t want them specifically, but we thought it would give us better quality [images]. I’m honestly not that fluent in that language, but there have been a number of submissions that we want but were the wrong size. For ones that we think are special, we personally respond to the submitter. One that bummed me out was a pre-Pink Floyd Syd Barrett photo, and it was the wrong size, so I immediately emailed that guy back. Sometimes we get other photos that really wouldn’t matter if they were there. I know that sounds harsh, but if it’s, like, a Van Halen photo, we’ve already got forty Van Halen images, and if there’s one that was submitted with the wrong specs, it won’t get uploaded [to the web site]. I’m just guessing, but six months into this [project], there’s going to be a lot of stuff. And repetition. I would love to be wrong about that, but I don't think I will be.
We went out nationally with [the project] really well, and the response was great, but one concern is that there’s the potential that everything will slow down. After the holidays, we’re going to start on kind of a regional publicity thing, and try to localize this site by region. After that, we’ll see if we can get artists to utilize their social media accounts to reach out to their fans… That’s going to be stage three for outreach. We’ve had Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips tweet about the site already, the guys from Green Day have, the Elton John Fan Club has… I think some other bands will do it just on their own.
ML: There was… Sony donated some, but they were studio photos or kind of promo photos that were just stills, and that doesn’t fit in with the theme of the site. We want this to be more of an individual or personal history. Feature photographer Roberta Bayley sent this photo of the Ramones and Iggy Pop hanging out together at the bar at CBGB. I was like, “Oh god, that’s so rock ‘n’ roll!” They don’t have to be all live shots, but they have to capture the moment… The one that Sony sent us, you’ve seen most of those photos before, and what we are trying to do is show off images you haven’t seen. At the end of the day, to me, that’s what makes the project cool.
IP: What’s the timeframe for the project?
ML: After a year, we’ll be putting together a book. The book is scheduled for Fall 2017. We have an author, but I don’t think he’s come up with a hard and fast concept for it yet. I know that he’s compiling a list of artists that he’s going to utilize to illustrate his concept. The one thing we haven’t started yet is creating the database that logs bands and number of images. We haven’t done anything like that yet. Our goal was to get this up before the year’s end and before the holidays, and we accomplished that -- so we are thrilled! I would think after the new year, we’ll have two features a month by different people and their photography.
IP: What kind of advice would you give to someone who may have that treasure trove of photos in their basement or their attic?
ML: Send them in! There’s lots of people still shooting bands at shows. Every time I go see a band, there’s someone with a camera. People like to shoot animals in the woods, and people like to shoot bands on stage, and I don’t think that’s ever going to stop. Right now, we’ve yet to see ‘50s through the ‘60s [submitted], which is kind of a bummer, but I also think those years are going to take longer… It’s not going to be some kid uploading Radiohead photos. It’s a different situation altogether. But I think the one great thing the Smithsonian Institution does is store and present history, art, culture, photography, science, and technology, and this is our little way of sharing that and allowing people to share it through us. To me, that’s a pretty big deal.