Project Description

Joel Brodsky created the most famous portraits of Jim Morrison – instantly recognisable images capturing the self styled Lizard King at the peak of his powers.


In 1967 at his New York studio, Joel Brodsky created what have now become the most recognisable portraits of Jim Morrison – capturing the self styled Lizard King at the peak of his physical and artistic powers. The Doors were poised to release two magnificent albums that year, their self-titled debut, The Doors, and, to many ears, their finest album, Strange Days. ‘Iconic’ is an overused word in the context of celebrity portraiture, but is bang on the money when used to describe Joel’s famous portrait, “The American Poet”, showing a bare-chested Morrison with arms spread out, staring into the camera. Joel Brodsky’s photographs appeared on the covers of The Doors first two albums, and subsequently on The Soft Parade and many Greatest Hits compilations.

Joel passed away unexpectedly in April 2007, but his legacy lives on. Joel’s estate have authorised the creation of spectacular large format limited edition versions of Joel’s classic portraits, with an image size measuring a staggering 50 x 50 inches ( 125 x 125cm ). Smaller sizes are also available.

Joel’s archive contains a comprehensive archive of blues musicians and artists who recorded on the legendary Stax label. Many of Joel’s most important Stax portraits are held in the permanent collection of the Stax Museum of American Soul in Memphis.

About Joel Brodsky

Born, bred and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Joel Brodsky attended Syracuse University where he took a course in photography. After graduation he worked at a local camera store acquiring the cameras he later went into business with. He served a stint in the army, and then worked as an assistant to one of New York’s top fashion photographers. In 1967 he opened his first studio and, after a period of mild starvation, he made his first music photographs as a favour.  They were used on an album cover, and he was on a roll. His fourth cover shoot was for The Doors self titled debut album and this photograph was nominated for a Grammy. He went on to photograph many diverse artists from Aretha Franklin to Judy Collins, from Iggy Pop to Isaac Hayes and from Country Joe and The Fish to Gladys Knight & The Pips. Among his last album sessions was wth Kiss in 1975. After losing his patience with musicians and frustrated by the reduced size of album artwork brought about by the introduction of CDs, he went back to fashion and beauty advertising photography.

Photographing The Doors

Most of Joel Brodsky’s photographs are the result of two studio sessions with The Doors in 1967. The first produced the Grammy nominated back cover photograph used on their first album, The Doors. This was a quadruple exposure combining portraits of the individual group members, a technically advanced piece of camera work long before the introduction of Photoshop editing software. This first 1967 session, in his Manhattan studio, also produced the photograph that was used on their fourth album, The Soft Parade, and many well known photographs of both the whole group and Jim Morrison alone (with his shirt on).

Joel also made the Strange Days album cover photograph, which features a group of circus performers dancing in an alley. The Doors don’t appear in person on the Strange Days cover – they are featured in a poster on the wall behind the circus troupe – this poster image is also by Joel, and was used on the back of their debut album. The concept for Strange Days started with The Doors’ suggestion of two dwarves holding a mirror with their reflection in it. Joel embellished this original idea with a nod of thanks to Henri Cartier-Bresson and Federico Fellini’s surreal 1954 circus road movie La Strada.

The second studio shoot was probably the ultimate rock ‘n’ roll photo session. Initially a group session, this gave rise to classic group portraits – one of which was used on the inner record sleeve of Strange Days. Later in the session, Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger and John Densmore left Joel alone with Jim to make the classic photographs of a shirtless Jim Morrison that are known the world over. Strangely, Oliver Stone decided to portray Joel as a beautiful woman played by Mimi Rogers in his 1990 Biography movie ‘The Doors’. Joel’s photographs from this second studio session were eventually used on nine Doors album covers (and counting).

Joel Brodsky recalled his most famous shoot in a later interview : “The Doors were among the brighter groups I’d shot at that point. They had a visual orientation and seemed to understand the potential of a good photo session. Initially, there seemed to be a little jealously that Morrison was being put so up front in the photos, but basically the others understood that Jim was the sex symbol and an important visual focus for the band. After we’d done group shots, I shot some individual pictures of each member, saving Morrison for last. I knew I was going to be spending the most time with him, so I didn’t want them to have to sit around and wait too long. Well, while this was going on, Jim was drinking quite a bit. So by the time I got to shooting the individual shots of him, Morrison was pretty loose. The ‘American Poet’ shot was pretty near the end, I think. He wasn’t a wild drunk – actually he was kind of quiet – but his equilibrium wasn’t too terrific. Still, he was great to photograph because he had a very interesting look. It seemed like a good session to me, and then a week later, we ran one of the photos in The Village Voice. The story I’ve heard is that they got something like ten thousand requests for the picture. You know, Morrison never really looked that way again, and those pictures have become a big part of The Doors’ legend. I think I got him at his peak.”


Exhibitions featuring Joel Brodsky

Scaling the Lizard King
21 April 2007 to 3 July 2007