Getting down to business is difficult for the best of us; making a solid living in any business these days is starting to sound like a country song: “can’t pay my bills, no food for my table, hope you got a way forward cause I just ain’t able.” Fortunately, I am quite able to take care of the tasks required to make a go of it in the big city. I have been able to forge a superb career as an educator at one of the best schools in Canada so the bills do get paid on a regular basis. It never hurts that I also work hard towards becoming a better photographer just in case those bills slip out of control due to unforeseen circumstances. Photography is my art form that I could fall back on in times of need.
One of my favourite aspects of photography is that I am able to work with musicians. Music is a major force in my life, and I know how hard professional musicians have it in these days when bars seldom pay bands to play, and when the tip jar is filled at the mercy of a drunken audience. Musicians provide the soundtrack of our memories. My best memories have come from my past year of living in downtown Toronto, and many of my favourite soundtrack scenes have been scored by local banjo evangelist, Darren Eedens. Working on a new set of promo photographs with Eedens was last night’s business.
Finding ways to shoot compelling portraits is always a challenge. The hard part is not physically taking the photo, but rather finding a way to convey the personality of the subject while still creating a mythical persona is the obstacle. Great photography takes elbow grease and a sense of humour.
For Darren’s session, I wanted to reflect the musician whose music brought me close to the love of my lifetime, while not being so personal that these shots could not be used for simple promo posters as he travels across Europe in the Spring. I needed a few shots where there is negative space that could be filled with text about a show, I needed a few up close portraits that could be used online or in a magazine, and I wanted a few 4×5 film shots for my portfolio and that would stand out from what millions of others in the business have in their kit.
For my first few shots I simply wanted to make Darren feel comfortable with the camera. No small feat when one never knows what the other person is going to hope for, how he is going to dress, and whether photography sessions are old hat for the subject. These shots are good, usable and were generally easy to take technique-wise.
My second set were taken with the Hasselblad CFV 16 medium format back. As one can see from the smooth tones and photographic quality of the first shot, the CFV excels at portraits. I shot tethered to my Macbook Pro with an 80mm f.2.8 CFi lens, and was able to crank out one shot every three seconds with my Profoto D1 lights. It is the type of photograph that stands up against anything else in this genre. It has depth, the lines of the shirt and tattoos flow beautifully, and the eyes betray a million words of love gone wrong and riding the rails.
The third set was shot in 4×5 tim with my 1960s Linhof large format camera. I won’t have those developed until next week, but I expect them to be photographs on a whole other level. The best part of the night was a ten minute jam in the key of G with Eedens on banjo while I banged out a blues on my Martin guitar. The ProTools recording is absolutely beautiful, especially given that microphones were haphazardly set up and we had no plan to even play. Moments like that make work worth the effort.
I labelled last night the Mockingbird Sessions; mockingbirds mimic the songs of others in an attempt to find love. On our morning walk with the dogs we came across a pair outside of the studio, so the message was clear and fortuitous. All creatures sing for different reasons; some for love and others for money.