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Zoe Gilby, the Jazz Singer with the silken voice

Musicians love life

Photographing the Musicians for the 2017 – 2018 Project

Photographing the Musicians

The current Portraits from the North East project, North East Musicians, continues apace. Recent shoots have captured the work of jazz, brass and chamber groups. Three different genres of music sharing a common venue: Ushaw . Each these shoots has had a four-way outcome: images for Ushaw’s use; selected ones for the performers’ own use; images for the Project’s eventual exhibition and/or the online display and, lastly, photographs for me to work on for my own portfolio.

Anyone who has photographed musicians will appreciate that they all share a common love of music. Very few make shed-loads of money but they are happy to be out there, in the limelight, lost in the shared joy of performing. It is this quality that makes photographing them a pleasure to photograph. Their relationship to music and their commitment to being the best musically that they could adds a sparkle to the photos, gifting every image with passion. The good thing about photographing at Ushaw  is that there is very little separating the musicians from their audience; and the audiences tend to be very knowledgeable. This relationship with the audience adds to the magic. The people who pay their money to come and see them perform become witnesses (even pilgrims) rather than mere casual guests.

So far, I have been granted almost total freedom to photograph what I feel is appropriate. There are restrictions, but they are simple: not to use flash or a tripod during a performance and to think carefully when to change position and how to “read ” the music so as not to distract with excessive shutter action.

There are other advantages when committing to a longer-term project. You come to understand the “structure” of a concert or performance. Like an avid sports fan who can anticipate when the action on the field will become that decisive moment, you can come to know when the ebb and flow of a performance will render the best results. As for coming back to a familiar venue, you come to know its eccentricities and lighting foibles. With a venue like Ushaw, which depends so much on volunteers, you can soon begin to feel part of the fabric of the place. The way these volunteers and staff react to you helps validate your presence; this in turn helps “settle” the performers. Explaining that you are there to support Ushaw’s management adds a further reassurance.

When it comes to the photography I have an advantage with my little Fuji X-E1 in that it is small and quiet. Using prime lenses limits me a little but the familiarity of them, their fast speed (f2 or f2.4) means I can work in lower light. One of the other factors I have discovered is that it is best to set at a high ISO with a fast shutter speed rather than rely solely upon a moderately enhanced ISO and a slower speed. The settings are usually at ISO 1250 (sometimes as high as 2000) and 1/60+ of a second. This seems to work well enough. What I have to watch out for is trusting the autofocus blindly. In some circumstances it will lock onto something shiny like a brass instrument and, with the focal length at f2, what you were originally aiming to photograph then becomes “soft”. In such circumstances I find it better to opt for manual focusing, often leaving it on manual when shooting becomes fast and furious.

Nothing is ever manipulated in the sense of adding or subtracting bits, though I admit to playing with tone and contrast, adding a vignette or sharpening a little. Using prime lenses in a situation where you might not be able to control the background or where you stand then cropping is something I do use. To turn the colour image into a mono I will de-saturate rather than use the PhotoShop Black and White facility. I have Nik on the bottom of the filter drop-down one PhotoShop. However, using Snapseed’s warm tone tool it does a good job of softening a face. Adding a warm glow also applies to the instruments and when the Da Vinci Quartet saw their photographs that was one thing they commented upon. Perhaps that also reflects not only their priority but is a sly way of saying the other aspects of the pictures were… what to say that is polite?

 

Photographs from Ushaw’s Jazz festival 2017.  To enlarge any image please click onto the relevant image.  Thank you

              

 

      

Latest news about our Veterans Project

So far the project to photograph World War Two veterans is going well.  Having a deadline by which to have everything ready does add a sense of urgency.  As I write this we have two months to get everything processed and printed.

How have we done up to now?  More than a dozen veterans have kindly allowed us to photograph them and listen to their stories.  The results are pure gold!  We have stories of humour and comradeship, of near death experiences and pride.

Every visit has results in splendid portraits, an hour or so of recordings and a group of people happy that they have been involved.  Amongst those that have sat for us are veterans of D-Day, men who sailed with the Arctic Convoys to Russia, a Durham Light Infantryman who was captured whilst trying to reach Dunkirk in 1940 and spent the war as a POW, mostly in Poland, and a WRNS who worked on the famous bombe at Bletchley Park.

This project is intended to be as inclusive as possible.  Included in this collection will be a couple of Bevin Boys; those who were conscripted into the coal mines.  It is still a matter of some bitterness for at least one of them that they were given no choice and were not allowed to join one of the services.  The process of selection was simple: one of Ernie Bevin’s secretaries picked a number at random from a hat.  That single number determined if you were to go down the mines or not; if it happened to be the last number on one’s call-up papers.  The Bevin Boy scheme lasted 1943 to 1948 and amongst those so conscripted were the footballer Nat Lofthouse, the actor, Mencap president Brian Rix and the comedian Eric Morecambe.

Knowing that there are others out there who served and yet we have no knowledge of we have enlisted the good offices of Sam Wonfor at the Journal to help spread the word.

To all those who given of their time willingly, a great big THANK YOU!

Portraits from the North East moves on

So far the Portraits from the North East project has held two successful exhibitions, the first at The Alnwick Garden, and at Newcastle Cathedral. The comments we have received have been positive.

“A great exhibition showing North East Success”… a visitor from Sunderland

“Great display – nice to learn about local heroes – more please” … a visitor from Newcastle upon Tyne.

“Inspiring! We are lucky to have these wonderful people in our region.” … a visitor from Norton-on-Tees.

“In a celebrity led culture it is refreshing to see others taking the limelight. Excellent and very informative exhibition. Well worth making trip to view.” … a visitor from Newcastle

The good news is the exhibition will continue touring across the region and will be opening soon in other venues.

More about the PftNE locations and dates will follow in further blogs.

John Cogan

Pictured: the exhibitions at The Alnwick Garden and St Nicholas Cathedral, Newcastle

  Alnwick Garden, Pavillion. Peter Walton  20150517 482  PftNE Exhibition, St Nicholas Cathedral, Newcastle.

Portraits Update, June 2015

This time last year David Trout, Julie Ferry and I were the guests of Bryony Gibson DL and her Pug dog, Tulip. A great deal has happened since then. On Monday, we dismantled the exhibition in St Nicholas’ Cathedral. As I write this we are anticipating news of another North East venue for the next showing.

Our fame is spreading and our aim to record events and people for a North East audience is developing along new lines; specific areas of interest and new projects are being finalised. More coffee will be consumed as we grow as a collective and celebrate the region.

The Portraits group will continue to photograph and exhibit, developing from its humble beginnings into a voice that extols the wonderful variety and skills of people in the North East. More news of this to follow

In the mean time keep a look out for future venues for the original Portraits exhibition: one will be at Blyth’s Arts and Leisure Centre for the whole of October, and other opportunities are being explored. We will keep you posted.

20150517 448 e 

John Cogan ARPS

The Story so Far – reviewed 20th April 2015

The latest additions include:

Lord Walton of Detchant, Dr Kianoush Nazarpour, Dr Richard Kirk, Frank Major MBE, John Mowbray OBE, Susan Winfield and Trai Anfield

Pictured: Lord Walton and Dr Nazarpour on location with PftNE

   20150320 118 Lord Walton  20150313 b 006 Dr Kianoush Nazarpour