Anastasia Pantsios Turns Rock Hall Exhibit into First Book

Tina Turner, Blossom Music Center, June 1984

Esteemed Cleveland photographer (and CoolCleveland Editor) Anastasia Pantsios recently released her first book, Girls to the Front: Girls: 40 Years of Women in Rock, which originated as a popular Rock & Roll Hall of Fame exhibit.

For decades while Jane Scott was in the crowd reviewing concerts, also documenting the performance was veteran rock photographer Pantsios, whose work appeared in publications such as Rolling Stone, Spin, the Village Voice, Esquire, Creem, Hit Parader, Circus and the New York Times.

Pantsios’ journey started out in unlikeliest of fashions shooting rock concerts as an extension of her interest in theater. After completing her M.A. in theater at Case Western Reserve with an emphasis on scene design and lighting, she turned her attention to rock ’n’ roll photography.

CoolCleveland talked to Pantsios about the Rock Hall exhibit, the new book and #MeToo.

CoolCleveland: Congratulations regarding the release of Girls to the Front: Girls: 40 Years of Women in Rock. Tell us how this Rock Hall exhibit ended up becoming a book?

Anastasia Pantsios: It was originally called Girls on Film: 40 Years of Women in Rock. The exhibit had like a six-month run in 2011. Then early this year the Rock Hall remounted the show again, really at the last minute. They did a beautiful job. This time the Rock Hall changed its name to Girls to the Front: Girls: 40 Years of Women in Rock because they said so many people came in thinking it would be a lot of videos. That started me thinking, people have been saying for the longest time I should do a book. I finally decided it was time for me to do that. The book includes all of the photos that were in the Rock Hall show plus about a dozen more, all with captions.

CC: Digressing from the book for a moment, what is it like to walk into the Rock Hall and see an exhibit of your work?

AP: The latest installation was so impressive. The first time it was in the round space downstairs, and that was nice, but this one was upstairs in a darkened room. They had the pictures spotlighted, music playing and big signage outside. I just stood there and went, “Wow. This is really pretty amazing.” I had been impressed when it was at Lehigh University. They have a serious museum there. They have a collection with artists like Andy Warhol. They did this amazing job with different colored walls. They had some of the photos blown up and projected. They had a soundtrack playing. When the Rock Hall did sort of a similar thing, I thought this was really beautiful. It was kind of a crowning moment. What can you say? I was watching people come in and say, “Oh my God, look at this. I love her.” Or “I was at that concert.”

CC: Tina Turner, Patti Smith and Joan Jett were in the Rock Hall exhibit. Who are some of the additional artists highlighted in the book?

AP: Deborah Harry, Stevie Nicks and Ani DiFranco, who I put in at the last minute because we had an empty page. Regarding the name “40 Years of Rock,” I didn’t shoot professionally for 40 years, but I had a picture of Grace Slick that I took at a free concert in Grant Park, Chicago in 1969. That was well before I was shooting professionally. My dad had cameras. I borrowed one, took the train downtown and just took these pictures. It was a free show.

CC: Looking back, could you ever imagine that photo would lead to decades of rock photography?

AP: No, I was in school for theater. I was going to be a lighting designer. I had two degrees in theater. I took pictures for the theater. I started to realize that going into technical theater was really closed to women back then, and sadly still is. So I thought I might do stage photography. I loved to shoot dance and theater, and I kind of found rock ’n’ roll by accident.

CC: Finally, looking at Girls to the Front: Girls: 40 Years of Women in Rock it’s hard not to think about its relevance today whether that’s #metoo or gender inequality.

AP: That’s really important to me right now. Looking back in my career, I came into it at a time that historically was the most excluding for women. People are surprised to hear that because of the hippies, when everything was open and free. But it wasn’t free for women making music. You had your long-haired folkie girls; you had a few blues mamas like Janis Joplin. And Grace Slick kind of broke the mold. Until you got into the late ’70s with people like Heart, Pat Benatar, Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie, there weren’t a lot of women.

That started to change in the ’80s with punk and new wave bands. You started to see all-women groups like the Go-Gos and the Bangles, both of whom are in this book. So you started to see some change, but I think it’s important because the rate of change has been slow. I’ve had people say to me, “I’m buying your book to give to my 10-year-old niece who is taking guitar lessons, so she can see what women have done and see what’s possible.” I think at this point in time it’s really important.

Girls to the Front: 40 Years of Women in Rock is available at Mac’s Backs in Coventry Village, Visible Voice Books in Tremont, Blue Arrow Records on Waterloo, and the In the 216 stores on Clifton on the west side of Cleveland and in Coventry Village.

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