In 1961, Robert James Campbell, an eager young man from Vermont with a passion for music and photography arrived in New York City to frequent the jazz clubs nightly with his camera and soak up every live performance he could. In a short time, his immense talent would evolve into an established career as a photojournalist for Downbeat Magazine and The Village Voice.
Campbell documented major jazz legends in historic New York venues: John Coltrane, The Modern Jazz Quartet, Philly Joe Jones, Count Basie, and Bud Powell. He was a regular at Birdland, The Village Vanguard and was commissioned to document several shows, including Battle Royale and Drum Night at Birdland. Campbell was able to establish intimacy with his subjects, photographing them at backstage settings, in recording studios, in their homes. He spent the next ten years amassing a photographic portfolio of the jazz clubs and streets of New York.
Campbell’s path took several turns – he ran a coffeehouse called The New World Gallery and musicians would flock to play on Saturday nights. As folk music and beat poetry emerged in New York City, Campbell’s photography diversified. He began photographing at historic venues, The Tin Angel and The Gaslight Café where he photographed Mississippi John Hurt, Richie Havens and Freddie Neil.
Almost half a century later, after having slipped into obscurity for decades, he passed away in a homeless shelter in Burlington, Vermont, where he had resided the last five years of his life.
CTSIMAGES is grateful to Jessica Ferber for sharing Mr. Campbell’s collection. For more information on the incredible story of Robert James Campbell and the rescue of his historic collection by Jessica Ferber, please visit :