Not to take a single note away from the legendary musicians she’s photographed, but it’s safe to say that many of them owe a slab of their success to Kate Simon. While it always comes down to the music, it takes another kind of gifted, collaborative artist—the photographer—to capture and communicate the essence of what makes the music maker tick. And in the process of doing exactly that, the Poughkeepsie-bred, part-time Woodstock resident has created hundreds of striking works that match the greatest songs of her subjects.
Since the early 1970s Simon has been giving us some of the most iconic images in popular music: a back alley-raw band on the Clash’s debut album cover; a flirty Debbie Harry on a New York rooftop; a foppish David Bowie in the studio; an amused Sex Pistols in front of a fist-fighting audience. And besides those of Rod Stewart, Queen, Miles Davis, Led Zeppelin, and more, there’ve been portraits of William S. Burroughs, Dennis Hopper, Jean-Michel Basquiat, W. H. Auden, and other nonmusicians. Most famous, perhaps, are her mythos-making photos of an intense Bob Marley, one of which graces the cover of the reggae hero’s 1978 classic, Kaya
(Island Records); hundreds more are collected in the book Rebel Music
(2012, Genesis Publications), and several appear in the recent documentary Marley.
According to Simon, the secret to a great shot is all in the eyes. “Eye contact is what I look for most,” says the photographer, who is currently assembling a career anthology and preparing for a show at the National Portrait Museum in Washington, DC. “The eyes provide the whole barometer of a person’s status. To me, without [eye contact] you ain’t got a picture.” Katesimonphotography.com