Photographer Janet Macoska captures the heart of rock and roll in Northeast Ohio

Photographer Janet Macoska has captured the heart of rock and roll in Northeast Ohio since the 1960s.
Photographer Janet Macoska has captured the heart of rock and roll in Northeast Ohio since the 1960s. [Janet Macoska and Elaine Matusakis]
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Watch Janet Macoska story above on Ideastream Public Media's Applause program

From her iconic photos of music heroes like Todd Rundgren and Bruce Springsteen to her historic images of the World Series of Rock, held in Cleveland Stadium in the '70s, Janet Macoska has captured Northeast Ohio's rock and roll heartbeat since the late '60s.

Todd Rundgren, 1976 [Janet Macoska]

Today Macoska still shoots concerts at places like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the MGM Northfield Park, continuing what she set out to do when she was just a teenager.

Getting Started

When I was 10 years old, the Beatles came to America, and that was the moment where I knew I needed to be involved in music, but I didn't play musical instruments. I got the direction for where I was going from Life Magazine that my mom subscribed to, and I realized that I wanted to tell stories. I wanted to tell the stories of the people who are famous and why they are famous. And the key to that was in our front closet, I thought, which was my dad's camera. The business that I wanted to do, the career I wanted to have was to be a photographer in the music business.

Janet Macoska front and center with camera at Leonard Nimoy event in 1967 [George Shuba]

So I began calling radio stations. I started calling a couple of the disc jockeys on KYW & WKYC. They were kind enough to let me come down to the station. I don't know, maybe on a weekly or biweekly basis, and I started answering their fan mail for which I would get huge boxes of 45 records, promo records with picture sleeves, which was the best. So I was living the high life, and I was only 12 years old.

Sonny and Cher in Teen Scream Magazine in 1966 [Janet Macoska]

Well, in '66, Sonny and Cher were playing a concert across the street at Music Hall, and before the concert they came over to WKYC and answered some calls from listeners and I took some photos. A couple of those photos I sent to Teen Screen Magazine and they printed one and I made $2 from my efforts, but it pretty much convinced me this is what I was going to do.

Bruce Springsteen 1974

I see that there is a show coming up at the Allen Theater. I'd heard about this artist that was going to open because WMMS had started playing his records. He had two records of, I think, by that point. But he wasn't very well known. And so I didn't know what to expect.

Bruce Springsteen, 1974 [Janet Macoska]

Here he comes out on stage and he he looks like a little beatnik guy and his name was Bruce Springsteen. It was February 1st, 1974. First time he played in Cleveland. And it was the first time I shot a rock and roll concert. So we had our first moments together.

The World Series of Rock

The World Series of Rock at Cleveland Municipal Stadium in 1974 [Janet Macoska]

Belkin Productions created a series of shows called the World Series of Rock that they held at Municipal Stadium.

Peter Frampton, 1977 [Janet Macoska]

I don't think more than five acts in a day, kind of like a mini Woodstock, and I'm given almost free reign to go wherever I want. And it was just like a candy store.

Joe Walsh, 1974 [Janet Macoska]

So I see Joe Walsh and he's got a band called Barnstorm. I've never seen this many people in Municipal Stadium, and I wanted to get a shot of Joe playing with the audience in front of him.

Joe Walsh, 1974 [Janet Macoska]

I ended up over by the drummer. He's drumming and looks down and he sees me with my camera, and I said, "shhh" and I shot some photos from that position, got exactly what I want and stealthily crawled away.

Capturing the Live Event

When I started shooting rock and roll and music it was all about the live event. That appeals to me the most because it's a weird space I get into, kind of really quiet inside. I don't even hear the music.

Tina Turner, 1985 [Janet Macoska]

It's just reacting to whatever is in front of me and [in] the light...because it's the most authentic way to capture the talent, and the art that that person on stage is producing.

David Bowie, 1976 [Janet Macoska]

If I if I can do that, like encapsule some of that energy and what that person puts out, [so] when you look at the photo, whether it's Bruce Springsteen or David Bowie or whatever, you're going to get it.

Aretha Franklin, 1983 [Janet Macoska]

It's shooting in the moment. It's a sixteenth-of-a-second moment. You have to anticipate, and that's why you need like some kind of gyroscope or a radar or something inside you that tells you when to click.

Janet Macoska [Elaine Manusakis]

Janet Macoska shares more stories in her photography books, "All Access Cleveland," from Cleveland Landmarks Press and  "Bruce Springsteen: Live in the Heartland," from ACC Art Books.

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