Michael Zagaris began photographing rock musicians in the 1970s solely as a hobby — at the time, he was a sports photographer for the San Francisco 49ers and the Oakland A’s, living in the city’s golden era of rock and roll. In his free time, he took his camera to concerts, capturing performances by Patti Smith, Blondie, and the Rolling Stones. His photographs would become some of the most notable images of the era, showing musicians both onstage and behind the scenes.
Zagaris assumed he’d become a politician before pursuing photography as a career — he worked on Robert F. Kennedy’s 1968 campaign until Kennedy was assassinated that summer. After a concert, the guitarist Eric Clapton saw his photos and convinced Zagaris to change his mind. He went on to photograph musicians who would become legends.
The book Total Excess: Photographs by Michael Zagaris, published by Reel Art Press, showcases his previously never-before-seen pictures from the 1970s. Click ahead to see Patti Smith, Etta James, and Mick Jagger onstage, with commentary from Zagaris on what it was like to be there.