Culture Vulture: Musicians in the Moment and the Photographers Who Love Them
“Have you ever been to an opening that had this kind of din?” someone asked me.
The honest answer was, “No.” But then, this was my first art opening, let alone the first opening of material created by friends and associates. I’ve been lucky enough to have Andrzej Pilarczyk, Rudy Lu and Al Brooks make my words live on several web sites – including this one -for several years. But “Impasse & Motion: Ten Photographers’ Journeys through Instants in Music” was my first knowing exposure to the work of Lawrence White (a longtime contributor to Rolling Stone) and Joe Putrock (a colleague of curator Pilarczyk’s from The Source and Metroland). And although I know Don McKever and Eric Jenks from the local music scene, Saturday’s opening reception for the exhibition at the Saratoga Arts Center Gallery was the first time I’d ever seen their stuff. Together, it was ten photographers with ten completely different backgrounds, educations, and approaches, but they’re inexorably linked by (in Pilarczyk’s words) “their love of music.”
Now, here’s the thing: Anyone can take a picture of a musician playing, as the idiot at the last show you attended demonstrated by continually blocking your view with his outstretched iPhone. But it takes skill, timing, and not a little luck to catch that musician’s essence in concert. And to catch that self-same musician in that fleeting “Oh, FUCK YEAH” moment when he or she plays something so beautiful and so unexpected? That’s catching lightning in a bottle while you’re handcuffed and blindfolded. You can’t predict it, you can’t expect it, and by the time you realize what it is, it’s usually gone. As White said during his remarks, “These images can be quite temporary.”
All these photographers caught the essence of all their subjects, and how. Lu’s picture of Joe Lovano playing dual saxophones glows with more than just stage light. Joseph Deuel shot a pre-buzzcut, Black Flag-era Henry Rollins at a club date, and I do mean captured: Rollins was shirtless, tattooed, and resembled a wild-eyed, cornered animal. Freddie Mercury’s energy was so huge, Ed Burke captured it from the other side of the Glens Falls Civic Center.
On the flip side, Sylvia Aronson’s candid of the Indiana University African-American Choral Ensemble singing a cappella in an alleyway was a celebration of friends, while Jenks’ snapshot of a Boston street musician resonated with anyone who’s ever been serenaded in a Boston subway station. Pilarczck caught a riveted Richard Danielpour from behind as he sat in a theatre observing the Hyperion Quartet’s rehearsal. It was a man watching art being made, and it made you hold your breath so you wouldn’t disturb him.
White’s individual theme, “Women in Music”, could have been sub-titled “The History of Popular Music” as he went from the 60’s (Grace Slick, Aretha Franklin) through the schizophrenic 70’s (Bonnie Raitt, Patti Smith, Deborah Harry) and into the 80’s and 90’s (Annie Lennox, Sarah MacLachlan). White had MacLachlan in an unguarded offstage moment, while Putrock’s contact sheet of MacLachlan at the microphone showed every emotion on the grid, and was pure portraiture, as was his photo-strip of Phantagram. Putrock also shot B.B. King looking like we know him now (Playing from the chair, hair slicked back, conservative suit and tie), but McKever’s close-up had King deep in the ’70s, complete with pouffed-out Jeri-curl and powder-blue leisure suit.
And sometimes magic happens, and sometimes it gets on film. Pilarczyk’s shot of a snarling, tank-topped Esperanza Spaulding at Central Park is about as far as it gets from the fashion model Spaulding’s sort-of become; Brooks caught Cindy Blackman in a moment of pure, unadulterated ecstasy at the 2008 Lake George Jazz Weekend; and (in a move that shows Pilarczyk’s been a good/bad influence) Lu laid down on the floor to capture Jerry Weldon and Joe Barna in a moment of powerful communion at Flights of Fantasy last year. I missed Spaulding’s show because I put too much faith in an incorrect weather report, but I made the other two performances, and those pictures document the thrill of those moments better than I ever could.
And that’s why the aforementioned din was so loud. It’s a hell of a rush to go into a gallery, look at a picture on a wall, and be able to say, “I was there!” These shows are all grinning memories and torn ticket stubs for us, assuming we still have the stubs or the memories. But for these ten artists (which is what they are), this was a combination of work and love… and in some cases, just love. And sometimes, love is all you need to capture beauty.
Review by J Hunter