Sarnia’s Richard Beland has been obsessed by rock and roll his entire life.
That passion inspired a career in photography that’s taken him around the world to thousands of concerts to record the most iconic rock musicians of our time.
“The first show I shot was in 1986 at Rich Stadium in Buffalo where I saw Tom Petty, The Grateful Dead and Bob Dylan,” says Beland. “That was it. I fell in love and knew I wanted to find a path into music photography.”
Growing up in Bright’s Grove, Beland and his friends spent countless hours listening to records and tuning into WRIF and other Detroit rock stations to hear Black Sabbath, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Who, he said.
“I knew every song on every album. That’s all we did.”
He made countless trips to De Sena’s store, where Beland bought and studied the photos in rock magazines, like Creem and Circus.
After graduating from Fanshawe’s photography program in 1994, he headed to Toronto.
“I hit the ground running, banged on every door, called everyone I could think of to find work.”
His big break came in 1998 when he was hired to shoot The Tragically Hip ahead of their Phantom Power tour. He and the late Gord Downie went into an alley behind The Horseshoe Tavern and Beland rolled off a few casual shots while Downie put on a toque.
The result was a black and white photo Beland said didn’t stand out to him. “It breaks a number of rules that I teach my students now, like I cut off his wrist and there’s a bit of motion blur.”
But The Hip’s manager found the photo special. Not only did it appear in numerous magazines, it opened doors and helped establish Beland in the industry.
“I’ve grown to love that photo and appreciate it,” he said.
Beland would go on to shoot The Tragically Hip more than 100 times, including at a Sarnia Bayfest performance and their final show in Kingston.
The list of artists Beland has shot over 35 years is staggering: David Bowie, U2, Nirvana, Sound Garden, Rush, Robert Plant, KISS, Dolly Parton, Cold Play, Green Day, and on and on.
He’s been the in-house photographer for live shows at Fallsview Casino Niagara since 2007, and returned to Sarnia 10 years ago to build the two-year digital photography program at Lambton College.
As his 50th birthday approached five years ago Beland decided to select some of his images for a career retrospective. Eventually he picked 55 photos with help from Toronto gallery owner Brian Liss, and Tony Wing, executive director of Sarnia’s International Symphony Orchestra (ISO).
Beland’s “Our Immortal Stars” exhibition opened in Toronto in May and has its hometown premier at the ISO’s ISObar Gallery in downtown Sarnia on June 3.
It’s the gallery’s first solo show, Wing said.
“We wanted to kick it off with a hometown success story. Richard’s work spans decades and is still evolving, so we’re privileged to host this mid-career study.”
Beland said a second exhibition and a book will likely follow.
“Tony and ISO get the credit for having my show in Sarnia. It’s likely there would have been no show without the opportunity to work with them,” he said.
Beland will be on hand for the opening with a Q&A around 7:30 p.m. His work will be accompanied by a collection of all-access passes and other memorabilia from concerts he’s photographed.
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: “Our Immortal Stars,” a retrospective of Sarnia photographer Richard Beland’s music photography career.
WHERE: The ISObar, 143 Christina St. North.
WHEN: June 3 – Sept. 5. Opening night is the June 3 First Friday, when Beland will be interviewed on stage at 7:30 p.m. Music by the ISO Nexus Players performing David Bowie arrangements.