Kickstarter Campaign Raises Awareness for Jazz Photographer
In the 1950s and ’60s, photographer Robert “Bob” Joseph Campbell captured the cultural events of the post-war era, from the rise of the civil rights movement to the active New York jazz scene. Among Campbell’s vast collection of subjects were John Coltrane, Art Blakey, Philly Joe Jones and Bud Powell. Campbell—whose work appeared in DownBeat, The Village Voice and other publications—captured an era that was integral to the transformation of jazz. He also photographed rock musicians, including Chuck Berry.
Despite his efforts, Campbell’s work was never appreciated by a wide audience, and after numerous financial hardships and mental health-related issues, the photojournalist passed away in Burlington, Vt., in 2001. He was both homeless and impoverished at the time of his passing.
Twelve years later, Jessica Ferber hopes to grant Campbell the success he never achieved through a comprehensive Kickstarter campaign, which began Oct. 8. To preserve Campbell’s legacy, as well as the legacy of the musicians he captured on film, Ferber has championed the “I Saved Jazz Photography” project. She hopes the initiative will generate enough funding to reach her $23,000 goal. The funds will go toward the publication of a 100-page hardcover retrospective of Campbell’s work, and will also support the art and music programs of Burlington City Schools.
Ferber initially heard about Campbell when one of her college professors requested that a student research a pile of images that the photographer had left behind at the homeless shelter where he was living at the end of his life. Ferber was immediately intrigued by her findings and, after trying to locate the heir to the photos, has since been representing the collection for the City of Burlington.
“I thought Kickstarter would be a promising avenue to get funding to publish a respective anthology of [Campbell’s] life work,” Ferber said. “But more importantly, this campaign has given me an opportunity to share Campbell’s story and photography with a number of different audiences, because it appeals to jazz enthusiasts, photographers, historians and New Yorkers.”
Ferber, a University of Vermont graduate who studied photography and sociology, said it was Campbell’s ability to relate to his subjects that sparked her initial interest in the project.
“He played music with them and was in their homes and studios,” Ferber explained. “They shared cocktails and stories. He operated on both sides of the lens. It wasn’t just a job. He blended in whatever setting he was in and made people feel comfortable.”
After the book is published, Ferber hopes to take the anthology on the road. She plans to share the work in venues and galleries nationally.
“In addition to being an astute artist, [Campbell] represents an important reminder to us all,” Ferber said. “Life is fragile, and there are no guarantees. I look at the people who have lost everything, like Bob, and wonder what their story is.”
For more information on the Bob Campbell project or to make a contribution, visit the official Kickstarter page. Donations will be accepted until Dec. 7.