It was the early 1960s. The British Invasion had yet to infect America's teens with incurable Beatlemania. Here in Tacoma, kids had an obsession of their own, though. They couldn't get enough of local garage-rock legends in the making, the Fabulous Wailers, and their addictive party jam, “Louie Louie.”
What would later be dubbed as the “Original Northwest Sound” was in full swing. And the seemingly unlikely person who documented that golden age of regional rock was Jini Dellaccio, a self-taught photographer who was old enough to be many of those early rockers' mom.
“She was one of the pioneers of rock n' roll photography,” Seattle radio legend Pat O' Day declares near the beginning of “Her Aim Is True,” among the most buzz-worthy films being shown at this year's Tacoma Film Festival. “It's also safe to say she addressed it in a brand new way, different than (Annie) Liebowitz and different than anyone else.”
“Her Aim Is True” will be screened at 6:45 p.m. on Oct. 5 at Tacoma's Grand Cinema, 606 S. Fawcett Ave. It details how Dellaccio captured some of the most enduring images of early Northwest rock, from that iconic black-and-white portrait from the Sonics' “Boom” album – shot near Dellaccio's former home in Gig Harbor – to early concert shots of the Yardbirds, the Who and the Rolling Stones.
Dellaccio's work is bold and visionary, an evolutionary leap in the art of rock photography. Yet the 96-year-old trailblazer is not nearly as well known as Jim Marshal, Charles Peterson and other celebrity rock photogs that followed. British director Karen Whitehead hopes her film will help change that.
“Her work is beautiful. I think she's an undiscovered American master,” said Whitehead. “When I found out she was 92 and very active and had a story to tell, I decided someone ought to tell her story soon. Then I realized there's just such a rich story of the Northwest music scene, but I very much wanted to see it through Jini's eyes.”
The film is an excellent document of Northwest rock in its infancy. Providing context to Dellaccio's story, we see bassist Buck Ormsby revisit Tacoma Armory, a site where two of his bands, Little Bill & the Bluenotes and the Wailers, threw teen dances in the late '50s and early '60s. Later, O'Day recalls putting on some of the area’s first big rock shows at Seattle's Coliseum.
“We needed somebody taking pictures at our shows because we're doing some things that are just extraordinary,” he says. “The newspapers have a few pictures, but they're not appropriately recording those moments.”
History lesson aside, Whitehead hopes viewers will be inspired by Dellaccio's enthusiasm for her craft, the people she photographed and for diving into the unknown.
“What I was drawn to was this idea of this woman who was doing it when no one else was,” Whitehead said. “This is a woman who – at 17, graduating high school in 1935 – went on the road as a jazz saxophone player. Who was doing that? Not many women.
“Then the way she took on photography: She was always reinventing herself, and I felt strongly that that is a story of great inspiration to anyone interested in following their dreams and creativity. It's a great life lesson that is relevant today.”