Photo show contrasts Denver musicians’ lives at home and on stage

A photo of Esme Patterson from Glenn Ross’s new exhibition, At Home / On Stage.
A photo of Esme Patterson from Glenn Ross’s new exhibition, At Home / On Stage.

Editor’s Note: Glenn Ross is a regular photographer for Reverb.

The life of a musician isn’t always what it seems. When you see A. Tom Collins’ Aaron Collins have a conniption at his piano at the Hi-Dive, for example, it’s easy to imagine him offstage as a real life Cookie Monster, running around in a crazed waddle and eventually ending up in the studio to lay down the songs he’s somehow conjured along the way.

But in reality, artists are rarely so one-dimensional. As much as performing music is an act of extroversion, writing it is often a deeply personal exercise.

That contrast is the crux of Denver photographer Glenn Ross’s new exhibition, At Home / On Stage. Ross spent the last two years photographing local musicians mid-performance and in their writing spaces, amassing hundreds of photos in the process. They’ll be on display at the Leon Gallery from January 10 to February 15.

Ross was embedded in the music industry long before he became a photographer, doing production work and even performing himself as a singer/songwriter. It was this behind-the-scenes experience that led him to the concept for At Home / On Stage.

“All the preparation, emotion and relationships in the band that make the show happen — there’s a lot of story you don’t see as an audience member on show night,” Ross said. This also rings true for the exhibition itself: Ross’ 44 featured shots—one at home and on stage for each artist—are dry mounted on slabs of wood that took some 50 hours to prepare.

Among the 22 musicians featured in the exhibition are well-known artists in the local and national scene, like Esmé Patterson and Nathaniel Rateliff, who pens his masterful ballads in his backyard. But the collection also informs the music of up-and-coming acts like SHEL, aka the Holbrook sisters, whose family-built pastoral residence in the plains of Fort Collins reflects the band’s folksy roots. (SHEL split its time between their Colorado home and Nashville.)

Beyond parallels of space and craft, Ross’ photographs examine a struggle many musicians deal with, something he calls “the push and the pull of music life.”

That is, when they’re on the road, they can’t wait to get home and vice versa. This constant search for balance is laid bare in the exhibition, which, perhaps tellingly, excludes the liminal between venue and home.

“It’s okay to struggle to make your art happen,” Ross says of the main insight he took from the project. “Even the most successful artists struggle.”

Glenn Ross’ At Home / On Stage opens with a reception on Saturday, January 10 at 7 p.m. at the Leon Gallery. For more information on the artist, check out his website here

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Dylan Owens writes album reviews, essays and features for Reverb. You can read more from him on his website, or the comment sections of WORLDSTARHIPHOP.