Music is my favorite of all the arts. Perhaps it’s a sentiment that doesn’t serve my self-interest much, as my only achievements in the arts have come through photography. The fact that my creativity has come by way of visuals has not been from lack of attempts in the audio world. Ten years of playing the piano as a child has given me the gift of being able to play one verse from Beethoven’s 5th at a cocktail party.
In many ways, I feel that fate decided that I didn’t need to take guitar lessons and that instead I needed to practice composition using a viewfinder. This is why I was so excited to be able to make a series of photos about musicians. As they played guitar, I felt like I was there with them. While they were both models, they are also active musicians, so the finger placements and passion shown in the imagery is real. The studio was filled with everything from AC/DC, Disturbed, Fall Out Boy and Pantera. As if all the music I was listening to during a shoot were being broadcast.
It wasn’t untill we wrapped for lunch and I sat with the musicians and talked about what drove them that I found the correlations between photography and music are more similar than I thought. It wasn’t necessarily performance or being seen that mattered to them, but rather the need to have an expression, just like I have felt about photography. In many ways a career in art starts as one that is extraordinarily extrospective, but as one progresses through it becomes introspective, yet on public display.
Normally on a photo shoot I only take a few minutes off for lunch, as I don’t really like to eat during a shoot for fear that it’ll slow me down behind the camera. I am fortunate to have an assistant that always has Snickers with me so I’m not hungry. However, on this shoot, things were a bit different as the conversations I had with the models made me think even harder into how I could express what they had just talked about with my camera. At the end of a shoot of jamming and rocking with crazy intensity, I asked the male model if he would stay behind for one shot as I wanted to show visually how much his guitar meant to him. This was not a staged, forced or planned moment. It was natural and touching in so many ways. I was able to see that his guitar was as important as his breathing.
As photographers, we have many different approaches to the same art. And just as we go into our workflow of creating differently, many of us also view photography’s place in our lives differently. For me, I’ve found that I need to create. It isn’t about money, publicity or fame. It’s about making sure I have the opportunity to show the world what I see before my time is over.
Returning to my initial statement though, I sincerely don’t believe my commercial photography would be what it is without music. To say I am obsessed with music is actually quite an understatement. Music is my life. It is the inspiration behind every athlete or celebrity I have photographed, every fighter jet or freight train I have shown. Each of the images has songs, scores or chords that were part of their creations. With the breadth of my music catalog being so random, I thought I would share some images they’ve created along with the music that I was listening to at the time. Although I’m not sure if it helps anybody gain an insight into my creative process but I do hope that this will help you see how we all are more alike than we realize.
The first image is one of the more recent train shots I did. It has the leaves that my dog Riley used to lay on blowing in the wind as an orange locomotive passes. For this one I was listening to Nocturne No. 2 in E Flat (Op 9 No. 2) by Chopin. I had been going out to the tracks to create a series to remember Riley, and that song was the last one that he and I ever listened to. Although it was hard, I decided to keep the emotion strong so that my feelings of love for Riley were reflected in the image.
The next image is one that I shot of a tribal dancer in the studio. To see if I could imagine a frame for this scene, I went into the production and listened to Native American music. To be honest, nothing really materialized in my mind until the model came to set and told me that when he dances at home for practice, he listens to metal. So we created this image while listening to Disturbed in the studio.
The next image is of Dwyane Wade, photographed for Li-Ning in Beijing, China. While my job has always required me to travel, being in China always felt like I was on the other side of the world from my family. I used to take breaks on sets and then walk the length of the closed-down gym for production. I would plug in my headphones and listen Georgia on My Mind by Ray Charles while I was walking around. It has been a strange habit for me to listen to this song every time the pilot announces that we are about ready to land. It makes me feel at home.
For this photo of the SR-71 Blackbird, I’d been spending a lot of time listening to German metal. It was the best balance I could get between symphony and pure metal, and I felt the right mood for this dark military aircraft photo. Sacred Worlds, by Blind Guardian was the song I played before and during the shoot.
And finally, for this image of the football player kicking the ball, I had been listening to Moonlight Sonata (1st Movement) performed by E.S. Posthumus. This song was a standout. It had an interesting flow and wasn’t interrupted by drum beats. We wanted to demonstrate musically what I thought of the song through the visual representation of an athlete.
Whether you are a musician that sings about frame lines (I’m looking at you, Jack Johnson), a painter that conveys a harmony through your brush strokes, or someone that took way too many unsuccessful piano lessons — I challenge you to embrace the notion that all art is more than just an expression, but a feeling that can inspire further creation.