Exposed: Michael Weintrob’s ‘INSTRUMENTHEAD’

March 21, 2017

Michael Weintrob’s INSTRUMENTHEAD book draws on a collection of special images that he’s created over the years. In this series, the photographer has shot over 400 individual musicians with their faces obscured by the tools of their trade. As he explains, with each shoot, he asks the artist: “How are we going to tell your story? How will people know that it is you without seeing your face? What is it about you that makes you special?” Here are some of the results. To learn more about the project and to purchase the book, visit:

Scott Avett (above)

I met Scott Avett at the Newport Folk Festival in 2008 when I was a house photographer there. I was standing backstage, close to the stairs next to the stage. I approached Scott and showed him some of my “INSTRUMENTHEAD” portraits on my iPhone. He told me if we could ever find an opportunity to shoot that, then he would like to participate. I had the opportunity to set up a studio a couple of years later at the Suwannee Springfest. We shot some solo portraits and then did the “INSTRUMENTHEAD.” This image is really special in the grand scope of my project because of how recognizable Scott’s banjo is with its red painted flowers on the banjo head.
John Popper

After John played Brooklyn Bowl one night, we went back to my studio to do the “INSTRUMENTHEAD” shoot. It has always been a struggle for me to photograph musicians with smaller instruments for this project. We decided to hang John’s harmonica case and open it— this way you would be able to see his many harmonicas and the case. I attached John’s hat that he always wears to the top of the case, and he is holding his cane that he always travels with.

Mickey Hart 

I arrived at Mickey Hart’s house after learning five minutes earlier that my cousin had passed away. It was hard to connect with him, but once I let him know about the tragedy I was dealing with, he agreed to do whatever I wanted for the shoot. I buried him in drum sticks like you would bury someone in the sand, and I shot portraits of him with his wife and daughter. Then we headed into his music room. He started playing drums for me while I moved lights around and took his photograph. I sawan empty kit next to him. I can keep a four-beat on the drums and thought to myself, “What the hell?” I sat down at the kit and we had a jam until there was nothing left to do because all I could play was that four-beat. My cousin, who passed away, left behind a husband and two children. Her husband was an old Deadhead and Mickey signed a drum head to them that said, “To Andy, Sam and Annie: Onward, Mickey Hart, Grateful Dead.”
Alam Khan

I shot this portrait of Alam at the Ali Akbar College in San Rafael, Calif. Alam’s father, Ali Akbar Khan, was one of the foremost Indian musicians in the world. This image is a tribute to his father. Alam has a sarod over his face, which is the instrument both he and his father play. Alam is sitting with a sculpture of his father’s head in his lap surrounded by beautiful flowers.

Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks

This image is really special to me. The first time I ever shot an “INSTRUMENTHEAD” was backstage at the Aggie Theatre [in Colorado] in 2000. It was a portrait of the Derek Trucks Band. Todd Smallie, his bassist, put his bass down his shirt for the portrait shoot. That was the first time I had ever shot a portrait like this. Nine years later, Derek and Susan agreed to work with me for this project. This image is my take on the “American Gothic” portrait of the farmer and his wife. You can see Susan on the left with a ‘59 Les Paul holding a microphone, and Derek on the right with his Gibson SG, with all of the signatures on it, holding a slide on his finger.

Peaches Staten

Peaches is a blues singer in Chicago. I was having an exhibit in Chicago, where I had a studio set up during the day to photograph local musicians. I wanted to try to tell her story through the image. She sometimes wears a head wrap while she performs. We decided to hang the washboard so she could stand in front of it. I wrapped her head wrap around the top of the board. In the image, she is wearing peach-colored clothes and actually throwing peaches in the air. We tried the throwing shot a number of times before we got it perfect.

Binky Griptite 

Binky is the musical director for Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings. His name is Binky, and that is why there is a binky—another name for a pacifier—hanging from his guitar. He is gripping his record tight for “Griptite.” He is wearing a crown on top of his head because he is a Dap-King.

Tina Weymouth

I grew up a huge Talking Heads fan. I had met Chris [Frantz] and Tina years before this shoot when they were performing with their band the Tom Tom Club. When we were shooting portraits of the two of them together, we were listening to Fred Astaire on the stereo. It set the tone for a beautiful shoot. Tina was such a joy to work with. Afterward, we went out for a great Italian meal in Brooklyn.

Anders Osborne

I had Anders over to my Nashville studio when he was in town playing City Winery. I knew about Anders’ guitar called Blackie, and his love of butterflies. He has stickers of butterflies on his guitar, as well as tattoos of butterflies on his body. To prepare for the shoot, I ordered a bunch of fake butterflies on the internet. When Anders arrived for the shoot, I had already prepared a bunch of hanging butterflies for him to pose with in the photo. He saw them when he walked in and cracked the biggest smile, and it set the mood for the shoot.