Many jazz photographers — even some with grand reputations and extensive bodies of work — fall into cliched, formulaic photographs. You know the familiar ones: the trumpeter or clarinetist with horn held to the sky, brow furrowed, sweat in profusion.
Every photograph, for them, has to have the admired individual playing, exerting, on the wing. All well and good, but once you establish that X plays the tenor saxophone you don’t always have to show her with it in the middle of a complicated twisting phrase. I don’t suggest that photographers should be forbidden to take the usual shots, but that the usual shots usually produce the expected results.
Polish jazz photographer Piotr Siatkowski is one of a small number of artists (another one will be the subject of a posting soon) who have understood this perspective, that the musician might be an intriguing human study even he or she has put the horn down for a moment, perhaps to face the camera or to be caught listening to someone else in the band or simply musing. He has captured Hank Jones, Maria Schneider, Johnny Griffin, Don Cherry, and many musicians whose work I do not know but whose faces I find arresting.
Piotr’s photographs — justifiably praised — can be found at his site: http://www.slojazz.net/., and I asked him if he would tell me something about this portrait of cornetist Wild Bill Davison:
Piotr tells me, “As far as I can remember, I took this picture of Wild Bill Davison around 1979. He lived in Denmark at that time and he was visiting Poland for a couple of gigs, being backed by a Polish group (most probably Old Timers). I met him the next day after he had played in Krakow, for an exclusive photoshoot and an interview. He was extremely nice and friendly. It was very easy to arrange the meeting. At those times you had no restrictions, rules, and regulations that you do now. I think he was also happy that I was so interested as his kind of jazz was a bit neglected then, to say the least.”
On first glance, this looks familiar. Wild Bill is in mid-phrase, head at its usual angle, his pinky ring a proud ornament. But one is drawn to Davison’s eyes: shaded, pensive, even sad. And Piotr has drawn an invisible line from those eyes to the bell of the horn, suggesting something deep, beyond words, about the distance the impulses had to travel from Bill’s nights of playing to the sound that would emerge . . . and that although the sound was brash and joyous, there was melancholy behind it, perhaps the sadness of someone who felt neglected by the larger world. The portrait isn’t stiff or studied, but it opens up to suggest things deeper than mere surface.
Visit http://www.slojazz.net for more evocative art — Piotr is also a fine jazz chronicler with words: he is doing noble work!