I love trying to capture the excitement of performances and the sense of the music, usually at Jazz events. Here are two images of Irish traditional music, taken within 44 seconds of each other: the clear one using flash and the blurred one in ambient light.
Completely opening my photographer’s heart to you, I honestly cannot remember whether the absence of flash in the blurry version was intentional, or a lapse on my part. In my defence, the majority of the dozens of images I shot that night in Carr’s Irish Pub in Paris were taken in ambient light, so as not to antagonise the musicians or the audience. These resulted in many faulted images as well as some “atmospheric” ones and heavily relied on my typical methodology of “feeling” the music so as to time capture at a moment when the musician is relatively still.
I did use flash on occasion, with the intention of providing a record of the event for the musicians, but I frankly found these uninspiring, reminding me of the kind of images anthropologists bring back from a field trip among indigenous peoples. The “freezing” effect of flash is not merely mechanical and optical, but is extremely anti-aesthetic in this case, resulting in the fishy gaze of the lady fiddler.
I have been an enormous fan of traditional music all my life, very likely as a result of a childhood in Scotland with frequent bursts of bagpipes at celebratory occasions and the strong sense of identity that this engendered. It was strengthened, firstly at university in Ireland, where I saw the Chieftains play, long before they became world famous, and in London after graduation, where I was introduced to the incredible live music of refugees from Pinochet’s Chile, such as Inti Illimani and Quilapayun, as well as the posthumous grandeur of Victor Jara.
For whatever reason, traditional music (I dislike the expression “world” music) moves me viscerally, through the range from profound joy to tearful sadness. I cannot sit still when listening, not only because most of such music is deeply rhythmic and often heavily uses percussion to set the beat, but simply because it excites me. It is the one kind of music that will make me get up and dance, particularly to Arab rhythms, I must say.
I admit that it is often simple in form and predictable in performance, but this very predictability of the familiar is what enters the soul and reverberates around a receptive heart – which brings us to how to evoke such abstract notions in a photograph.
The Power Of Blur
I purposely use blur to create abstracts, although as said above, I cannot claim a conscious intent to do this on this occasion. I wonder whether the fact of having been present at the event, knowing the music that was played and having a great love for the genre makes the sense of wild abandon by musicians in a trance more real? I would really like your feedback on what this image evokes in you, or not. The other cultural references add to the effect, for me. The pub environment, casual clothing and half-empty glasses of Kilkenny Ale, dreamily hovering in front of the ecstatic fiddlers.
Counter intuitively, I sharpened the image aggressively in post processing. This was in order to resolve the violins and the bows as much as possible. I had no fear of creating the intrusive artefacts, which this would normally generate, because there are artefacts aplenty due to the slow speed and the rapid movement. I had to play with the contrast and brightness a little because the original was somewhat “flat”, but this was a simple set of adjustments.
Camera: Nikon D800
Lens: 60mm f/2.8D, “Prime”
Focal Length: 60mm
VR: Not applicable
Focus Mode: AF-C
Shutter Speed: 2.8s
Auto Focus-Area Mode: Single
Exposure Mode: Aperture Priority
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
ISO Sensitivity: 800
Mounted on a monopod
I would really appreciate any comment that you would like to leave on the Blog page or Linkedin. I would like to take part in a conversation about it.
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