How I met the man who photographed David Bowie, Queen, Aretha Franklin, and other legendary musicians

By Tom Primeau, Visitor Services and Membership at The Art Gallery of Windsor

Working within an Art Gallery:
One of the great aspects about working within an art gallery is having the opportunity to see and experience the installation of art exhibits as well as meet the artists which can also be intimidating.

British photographer Barrie Wentzell was the exclusive chief photographer for renowned British music magazine Melody Maker from 1965 until 1975, one of the most important decades in popular music. Barrie’s chance encounter photographing music icon Diana Ross was the catalyst that catapulted his career with Melody Maker. Barrie’s staggering portfolio includes David Bowie, Little Richard, Marc Bolan, Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, Aretha Franklin, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Queen, and a host of other famous musicians from the 1960’s and 70’scapturing some of the most significant portraits in rock history.

Exhibition Opening:
In 2006, the Art Gallery of Windsor hosted an intimate and visually stunning exhibition of Barrie’s majestic, immaculately tailored portraiture. The exhibition showcased several silver gelatin and giclée prints curated by Art Rental and Sales manager Sarah Peters, and flowed seamlessly throughout the main floor gallery spaces.

Mr. Wentzell was present at the gallery opening that evening, signing posters and engaging with gallery visitors. As I was working at that event, I had the opportunity to experience the opening and meet and speak with Barrie. It was incredible to converse with such a prolific yet humble artist, hearing and feeling the stories that accompanied his art.

Meeting a Famous Photographer:
During my conversation with Barrie, one of his stories particularly fascinated me: Barrie’s account of his photo shoot with David Bowie in the early 1970’s. As Barrie reminisced of the encounter, he mentioned travelling on a small boat to a remote island where David was waiting for the photo shoot. Since Bowie had such an integral impact on me growing up as a young teenager, I literally hung on to every word. Though Barrie’s story was short, it carried such a great impact that it still resonates with me today. It was quite spectacular to be speaking with someone who was part of a very significant time period in music history.

Please join us for the 2021 Windsor-Essex Triennial of Contemporary Art!
While the AGW is currently closed, we look forward to hosting our exhibition openings when it is safe to do so. That said, we invite you to join us for our virtual In Conversation series and studio visits, featuring discussions with incredible artists from the 2021 Windsor-Essex Triennial of Contemporary Art. Joining into these conversations are excellent opportunities to engage, converse, and experience new exhibitions with new, upcoming artists from the local scene and all over the world. We look forward to seeing you — virtually — for now, and we hope to welcome you back into the AGW soon!

The Art Gallery of Windsor (AGW) is a non-profit public art gallery known for its cutting-edge contemporary art program and Canadian art collections.