Tucked away in a small part of Prague known as Kampa Island, you will find The John Lennon Wall. A place where many flock to for reasons known only to them. Some come to look, others come to add to the graffiti. But most it seems, come to take selfies. It's a strange old world! **Click on the pictures below to see larger versions.
I recently had the pleasure of photographing saxophonist Bob Reynolds for a book I've been working on for some time now. The book is about jazz musicians and without giving too much away at this stage, it's a mixture of portraiture, documentary and some live performance stuff thrown in for good measure. At this point in time, the project is solely funded by me, which keeps the progress at a steady pace due to the cost of travel and accommodation.
Bob was currently on his European tour to support his latest CD called Quartet, so I reached out to him as he has been on my hit list for a while. Manchester was the preferred date, which suited me fine as it's only a three and a half hour train journey from where I live in Scotland. A journey that turned out to be really great on the TransPennine, with stunning scenery on a lovely sunny day. I love to travel by any means of transport, so the journey is part of the enjoyment.
After arriving at Manchester Piccadilly station, I headed for the hotel (via The Real Camera store to drool over a couple of tempting Leica's (M6 and M7). Credit card still intact and a little lump in my throat, I had lunch at the hotel before making my way to the oddly named venue Band On The Wall to meet Bob and the band.
After the usual meet and greets, I set up my small traveling portrait rig, including two light stands three flashguns, a trigger, and two double-fold umbrellas. The weak part of this travel portrait rig is the background. None of my Lastalite/Manfrotto collapsible backgrounds fold small enough and I can’t find a small headshot background to suit anywhere. So I'm using a small collapsible reflector that my friend John Summers gave me and I clamp a piece of black velvet material to it. It's a bit time consuming and doesn’t look very professional. But it gets the job done
With the portrait shots complete, we went downstairs and I made a few documentary-style pictures in the dressing room as Bob selected a batch of possible reeds for that night's gig. I moved around the room, making sure I had plenty of variety in my shots, changing angles, shooting from a low angle, getting something in the foreground, shooting into mirrors etc. I was shooting in RAW+JPEG but I shot a few B&W JPEG's to let Bob see a few pictures on the back of the camera to give him an idea of how they might look.
After a quick trip back to my hotel to drop off my lights and stands etc, I headed back to the Band On The Wall to shoot the gig. The venue was packed so I had limited space to move around and switched from primes to a couple of zooms for that reason (24-85mm and 75-210mm in 35mm terms, both f2.8). It wasn’t the brightest venue I've shot in, so 1/125th sec at f2.8 meant my ISO was around 3200 for the centre of the stage and anywhere between 6,400 and 12,800 for the sides.
The gig was very special in my opinion. The energy between musician and audience was something that you don’t always get with jazz gigs, and it was great to see a younger generation of jazz fan so enthusiastic about the music. Bob also plays in the band Snarky Puppy and obviously has a following that includes quite a few Snarky fans as well as his own fan base, which is no doubt expanded with the popularity of Bob's highly addictive vlog on YouTube.
Pianist Oli Rockberger dept for Ruslan Sirota on the first few gigs of the tour as Ruslan was busy being the best man at his friends' wedding, but Oli played as though he had been a part of the quartet for years (he and Bob went to Berkeley at the same time). Most of the tracks on Quartet are pretty laid back, so it was great to see Chaun Horton being able to let rip on the drums on some really funky numbers, which were made all the funkier with Janek Gwizdala on the bass. Janek also has a great vlog on YouTube, which is based on the bass (see what I did there), but like Bob’s vlog, is enjoyable to both musicians and non-musicians. Janek is a joy to watch on stage. His bass playing is extraordinary and his use of effects pedals is a lot of fun, especially when a looper pedal is involved.
But the last word has to be on Bob. A fine musician/composer with an equal gift of a warm fat tone on the tenor sax with a great technical ability. One minute you’re listening to a beautiful ballad on the bottom end of his Selmer Mk VI and the next you’re being bombarded with amazing altissimo dexterity that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up.
Bob is exactly what you see on his vlog, a really nice guy with a lot of time and respect for others. This shoot was a real pleasure.
I was honoured when the good people of Fujifilm asked me to be part of the Pre-Production testing of the new X100F camera. As a documentary photographer, I've been working on a long term Jazz project for the past 3+ years which has gained a bit of attention recently. It also seemed like a good subject for this X100F assignment, which I had to produce still photographs and a short film.
Rather than bring someone up from the south all the way up to Scotland, I suggested to Fuji that I would make the video in partnership with my good friend Steven Hawkes. An interesting fact is that I met Steven because of the original X100. I had reviewed the X100 on my blog and posted many pictures and articles. So when Steven searched the internet looking for information on the camera before he bought one, he found my website. But instead of using the comments section or emailing me, he decided to use the phone. It turned out we were only a few miles from each other, so I asked if he would like to see the camera in the flesh and we met for a coffee. He did buy the X100 after that and we stayed in touch and became really good friends, meeting for coffee often and even going out shooting now and then.
Steven also has a health obsession for video and shoots corporate promo films, so he was the obvious choice when it came to shooting the X100F film.
Tommy is a jazz saxophonist, composer, band leader and educator. He is Head of Jazz at The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and has a list of accomplishments that defy his age. Without Tommy, my jazz project would probably never got off the ground. I was honoured to have been part of his recent composing and recording project with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, producing pictures for the CD and even on the front cover of Jazzwise magazine.
When I told Tommy that I wanted to make a film based around jazz for a pre-production camera, he planted the seed in my brain to use The Hamilton Mausoleum as the location. I had been thinking more about one of Tommy's gigs, but the Mausoleum was a terrific idea. Tommy has a connection with this iconic building as he recorded an album called 'Into Silence' many years before. The building has one of the longest reverbs in Europe and that made it the perfect place for a solo saxophone piece.
I contacted the extremely helpful folks at The Hamilton Mausoleum the next day and got things rolling. I wasn't sure if I could hire an iconic building like this, but I did and it didn't break the bank either. Even before there day of the hire, Steven and I would meet outside the Mausoleum and shoot all the external scenes that feature in the film. It was winter and frosty outside. We froze our asses of during these shoots, but it was Tommy who suffered the most for our art.
On the day of the shoot, the interior of the Mausoleum was colder than it was outside. I was like being in a fridge and Tommy wore a suit and a pair of leather shoes. I also play saxophone, so I can testify that when it's cold, a sax is not an instrument you want to be holding! Tommy's feet and hands must have been extremely painful for the two hours we kept him there, but he's a pro and didn't complain once.
EDITING THE FILM
Editing proved to be a difficult job. Unlike a regular video edit where you cut to a piece of music used in the background, Tommy played live, so what you see and what you here are from the same shoot. Editing to live music is filled with many problems. But I think Steven and I pulled it off and we're both happy with the results. But the most important people I hope are pleased with the film are of course Fuji and Tommy. Steven and I set out to make something a little different from the average promo film. We think we have, but the viewers will decide.
A few pictures of Turin Brakes performing at Belladrum (Tartan Heart) Festival, near Inverness, Scotland last weekend. I didn't even know the band were on the bill until just before their set, but they were fantastic! It's hard to believe that such a powerful sound comes from just a four piece band of two guitars, bass, drums.
shot with the X100T and the X-Pro2 with the 35mm f2 or 56mm f1.2
Last week I had the pleasure of photographing The Arild Andersen Trio during the Scottish leg of their current tour. The Trio consists of Norwegian bassist and composer Arild Andersen, Scottish tenor saxophonist Tommy Smith and Italian drummer Paolo Vinaccia. Although Paolo is Italian, he has actually lived in Norway for the last couple of decades. I photographed a gig at The Queen's Hall in Edinburgh and then again a few nights later when they played a private gig for a the music students at The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland which is located in Glasgow, where Tommy is Head of Jazz. The picture at the top of this post was shot with my trusty Fuji X100T using the daylight balanced florescent lighting on the ceiling of the room. The picture has a slight crop to straighten it up a little, but other than that it's straight out of camera. All other pictures were taken with a couple of X-T1's.
If you haven't seen or heard this trio and you like jazz, I would highly recommend you do so as soon as possible. With beautiful compositions and double bass from Arid, not only that, his use of effects and loops help expand the normal constraints of a trio. Paolo's drumming and percussion is unique and he can take the band from a whisper to a full out onslaught and then back again. He can produce sounds from a cymbal that I have never heard from any drummer and on top of that he's a really nice guy that knows his cameras. Last, but definitely not least is Scotland's jazz legend Tommy Smith, fresh from receiving The Houses of Parliament jazz award for teaching. Tommy is a world class saxophonist and composer who has created a thriving jazz scene in Scotland and is largely responsible for the talented crop of young jazz musicians coming up today.
I've also been shooting some pictures for Tommy's next CD with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. More about that coming up in the next couple of months.
GIG AT THE QUEENS HALL IN EDINBURGH (Above)
PRIVATE GIG FOR THE MUSIC STUDENTS AT THE RCS GLASGOW (Above)
If you enjoy shooting music, or if you haven't tried it yet and don't know where to start, Flemming Bo Jensen has the answer. Flemming launches his new ebook available now called 'Get In The Loop - How To Make Great Music Images' and man is it worth the money! At 220 pages long and only $6.99 (USD) it's a no brainer. Flemming has done a first class job on the layout too, which makes it a really enjoyable read that's packed with information on how to do music photography.
Get In The Loop is also under the banner of Kage Editions which is our Kage Collective publications side. I know that Flemming has slaved over this ebook for many months, with a lot of help in the editing department from Charlene Winfred (our Singaporian Kage member).
So as it's comming up for Christmas and you know you need something informative to read, why not download Get In The Loop. Then feed your brain and maybe start a personal project in 2016 on shooting music with what you learn? If you're still not convinced, try reading my post on the Kage Collective site titled The Value Of A Personal Project.
My good friend and Kage Collective accomplice Patrick La Roque never ceases to amaze. Can there be no end to this man's talents? Just where he finds the time, I don't know. But on top of everything else, he's only gone and produced an outstanding multimedia extravaganza called 'These Kings. These Subterraneans.'. Not only is this Patrick's second e-book (1 eye Roaming is HERE), but he's also wrote, recorded and performed an album of music to go with it. This isn't just a bit of music that's been thrown together to go with some pretty pictures. The album stands up on it's own with content and production that would sit well on any music store.
But let's not forget, Patrick is a photographer and if you follow his work you will know he has a unique style and vision. He also has a gift when it comes to words. A modern day poet who starts where Jim Morrison left off with American Prayer, takes up the torch and runs. These Kings. These Subterraneans was born out of a difficult family situation that Patrick has been going through for a while and that's what makes this work so strong.
Click HERE to visit the dedicated page on Patrick's site where you can find out more and download the full multimedia content. Incidentally, this is the first project out under the new Kage Editions umbrella.
I've been shooting Project Jazz now for over two years. The project started as a one-off shoot with The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra to feature as a story on The Kage Collective website, but it quickly grew legs as a long term project with no end. My love of jazz and mutual interest with orchestra leader Tommy Smith in documenting the scene has just naturally evolved into something bigger and more important than originally planned.
One of the offshoots from doing all this work with the jazz orchestra is to have my pictures used in promotional pieces and album covers. I covered the recording session with the SNJO and saxophonist Bobby Wellins for the Culloden Moor Suit CD and those pictures were used on the inside cover. More recently the live recording of guest pianist Makoto Ozone was released as a CD with the strange title of Jeunehomme. My photographs from that concert were used exclusively for the CD. I used two copies of the CD for the photo below. The CD is on sale HERE
The cover shot was taken with the 56mm lens at f1.2. I focused on Makoto's hands because he is a pianist and those fingers are where the magic comes from. I had already shot saxophonist Courtney Pine from the same position the month previous, so I knew I could get enough shallow depth of field creaminess at f1.2 to make his hands stand out.
There's a lot of work involved in shooting these gigs and spending days in Lightroom editing, but it really is a labour of love and something I see as important. I've stood alone backstage with many amazing musicians just before they walked on stage, and I've been a fly on the wall to some great musical moments and it's all down to a camera.
This is the only wide angle shot from Jeunehomme. It was taken with the XF 14mm f2.8, a lens that I no longer own as I upgraded to the newer 16mm f1.4. I'll miss the 14mm, but I need the faster lens more than I need that extra couple of mm. Plus, the 16mm comes in at 24mm in full frame terms and that's a focal length I've always liked. My last shoot with the 14mm (the day the 16mm arrived) was actually at the recording session with The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra for Tommy Smiths latest project. More on that very soon.
I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Michael at INSTRUMENTAL recently. The interview was about Project Jazz, my long term project to document today's jazz scene. Michael asked a lot of great questions that forced me to think a little deeper than I had about this project. I also had to go through the jazz pictures that I've shoot in the last 12 months and look at them from more of a portfolio point of view, rather than during the editing phase. I'm very pleased with what I have so far and I can see a nice body of work coming together.
My aim with Project Jazz is to carry on the tradition of shooting black and white photographs of jazz musicians in the same way as the great players of the 40’s, 50's and 60's were captured. If you haven't had the chance to see some of these pictures, you can have a look HERE and the Instrumental interview is available HERE.