Maybe it’s just me, my peculiar life and perspective, but I was just reminded by an article about jazz in the New York Times(Home Life With Mikes: A Jazz History by Nate Chinen, February 17, 2009) that included a part of W. Eugene Smith’s life defining a connection between music and a photographer. I suspect the connection is enhanced in my mind in part because in high school my ambition was to be in music as a singer, and I participated in several choral groups as well as took voice lessons for a couple of years. After high school four years in the military intervened and provided the opportunity to become interested and get into photography. I was not sorry I got detoured because having a deep voice myself, and baritones became eclipsed in those years by singers like Johnny Rey and his pop song “Cry”. Regardless, even though I embraced photography completely, I still enjoy music, especially jazz.
Never the less, my life as a photographer has included a lot of other photographers who have a significant connection to music. After finishing college and photo school, my first close association professionally with another photographer in Hollywood was with Frank Bez, who before he took up photography was a band leader. Probably his musical talent was one of the chief reasons we worked together a lot doing the pre-cursor to rock video for Elektra Records over a four year period. And incidentally, since Frank retired from being a photography studio owner, he has returned to his first love, music.
Then just a few years later and shortly after I joined the staff as an editor at Petersen’s PhotoGraphic, part of my job was to find photographers to feature and publish their work in the magazine. One former Life magazine photographer, who was then working out of Phoenix, Arizona doing corporate report photography called me. Apparently during the years he did magazine photography he covered the music beat in New York and had a large collection of images of most of the jazz greats he wanted to get published in a book. After a few phone conversations, fascinating to me at least, I found I really could not take on what he wanted accomplished, and the connection was broken. But I never forgot another photographer and another connection to music, although now I have forgotten his name.
In the same time frame I became acquainted with Oliver Galiani, a South San Francisco fine art photographer and workshop teacher. Although I never mentioned my early desire to be a singer, his history must have contributed to the bond between us. Being some years my senior, he had been a music student, a violinist interested in chamber music until he was drafted into the Army in the 2nd World War. While in the Army he took up photography as a hobby as it was an activity that posed no threat to his hands and playing the violin. Sadly however his war experience in the South Pacific seriously impaired his hearing and closed off any chances to further a music career. So when the war was over he eventually established a career in photography after earning an advanced fine art degree at a San Francisco college. You only have to know Oliver Gagliani’s photographs to understand there is something musical and lyrical in his spirit and sensibility.
Of course the best known photographer of fine art images on the West Coast was Ansel Adams. And the fact before photography he studied to be a concert pianist, and never gave it up entirely frequently entertaining guests in his home in Carmel at his piano. Adams actually initiated a personal contact with me after I wrote a very critical article about how the followers of the Zone System had made it some kind of mystical cult. When the call came in I thought I was going to get a verbal thrashing, but to my surprise he liked the article and agreed photographers were being misled and diverted from what he had intended, that the Zone System was something he had devised to make photographic densitometry easier to understand and comprehend. Sadly our paths crossed seldom after that other than a few more phone calls, but I did get to know three of his former assistants better in my capacity as a magazine staff editor while I was at Petersen’s.
In the last few years one of my readers and frequent e-mail correspondent is a working musician who does very competent photography and would like to make his living as a photographer rather than a musician. Currently he works on a high-end cruise ship, a situation some would find rather ideal for a serious photo enthusiast, but when you make music for others for pay, it’s very much like making photographs for others for money - the grass is always greener on the other side.
I am a curious person, and frequently wonder from what I have come to know are these photographer/music connections the expression of a common natural thread of human attributes, or just chance coincidences?