Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Greetings From Tim Buckley

Between 1965 and 1972 there was an amazing transformation in popular music, brought about by the appearance in those seven years of some of the major musical talents of the twentieth century.

Bands like the Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Jefferson Airplane and Santana, to name just a few, came at us with a full body slam.

A number of performers presented us with a different music, rich in subtle emotion and poetic image. Of course we interpreted the wild imagery as psychedelic in origin, a disservice to their talents and proof of our naiveté, but hey, it was the Sixties.

Poetry was being smuggled into our consciousness through popular music.

Singers such as Tim Buckley, Phil Ochs, Judy Collins, Leonard Cohen, Jim Morrison and Bob Dylan all performed music with mystical lyrics and a sense of longing. Some of them, like Ochs, Collins and Dylan, came from a folk music, protest song background, but albums like Ochs's Pleasures of the Harbour, and Collins's Both Sides Now turned away from that towards a more experimental and esoteric meaning. Dylan gave one song, his hypnotic Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands, a whole album side.

The standout for me is Tim Buckley. This man produced music that still thrills. In songs like Pleasant Street, Chase the Blues Away, Sweet Surrender, Song to the Siren, Phantasmagoria in Two, Carnival Song, No Man Can Find the War, Morning Glory, his voice has an impressive range from high falsetto to deep growl, his tone has a sweetness and purity, his emotion is often one of a deep yearning. Let me limit myself to saying, before I descend into shameless hyperbole, that his voice is magic. 

My poet friend Martin Singleton and I were lucky to see him at the Riverboat in Toronto in 1969, a show I had high hopes for, but for some reason didn't impress me that much. Buckley often threw his fans off with sudden changes in direction. I do remember how surprised I was that such a powerful voice came from a small man.

Tim made his first album at the age of nineteen, and made eight more before his death at twenty-eight of a heroin overdose. HIs son Jeff made one album before his death from accidental drowning at the age of thirty in 1997.

I recently saw a film called Greetings From Tim Buckley. The story jumps between two time periods, one in the late Sixties portrays Tim, the longer interval in the Nineties explores the life of his son Jeff Buckley, who saw almost nothing of his Father. The main focus is a Tim Buckley memorial concert in New York City (which actually occurred on April 26, 1991), in which Jeff reluctantly performs and which forces him to confront his feelings about his deceased father. An aspiring singer himself, one of my favourite scenes shows Jeff jamming with a guitarist who offers some new guitar licks he has been working on and Jeff begins to croon over top of them. The movie makers allow those of us familiar with Jeff's only album to realize for ourselves the song will later become the ecstatic Grace from his critically acclaimed album of the same name. A wonderful moment.

It's a good little film, although I grew somewhat tired of the actor playing Jeff doing "brooding and conflicted" while he showed off his handsome bone structure. A number of Tim's songs are on the soundtrack and their unexpected appearance each time gave me goosebumps.

A book called Dream Brother: The Lives and Music of Tim and Jeff Buckley, is on my To Read list.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

How Real is a Photograph ?

A photograph is not reality.....

Any photograph is a deviation from reality. We accept its flat, two dimensional nature, and that it has been selectively cropped; that you can't have a photo without this, or that we accept it, does not make it less of a distortion. Similarly we accept black and white photos as legit, even though taking all colour out of a scene is an extreme manipulation.

There is a story that a man once said to Picasso, "I'd like to show you my wife" and produced a snapshot of her, to which Piccaso responded, "She's very small, isn't she".

Things that are accepted imperfections of the optical side of photograph are also approved, such as lens flare, wide angle distortion of perspective, or the softness of the out-of-focus area of a scene (something present in our own vision, but usually avoided by our pinpoint attention and our brain). Some of these optical phenomena are actually used by some photographers for a purpose, as if, in our image saturated world, they have become phenomena in the natural world as well.

There are no rules here.

In a photo community I am part of, individuals sometimes describe a photo as "SOOC", which means Straight Out Of Camera, in other words, "this is one photo, believe it, I didn't mess with".

One of the key areas I like to adjust is the sky. I like to deepen the blue. I want the sky to somehow have a sense of mystery, to be somehow beyond the objects in the lower part of the picture. I love this dichotomy between the down-to-earth particular and the nameless unbound. This is what I feel when I look at a scene, that's the feeling I want in my photograph, and so I deepen the blue. If it's a black and white I can sometimes take it to something close to black along the top.

A photograph is reality......

And yet, even with all I've said, a photograph has power because we see it as a representation of the real. The sailor kissing the woman on VJ day in Times Square is an image with a significance no painting could have hoped to achieve, even considering that there is controversy about how spontaneous it was. It's as if we're looking back in time and experiencing that exact moment.

The photo collages of Jerry Uelsmann, combining straight images with solarized or negative images, have a fascination because they play with this real/unreal conflict.

I find myself creating two kinds of images. One is the obviously manipulated, such as the photo above. With the other kind of image I may take liberties with the appearance or content of the photo, but I am not happy if the photo does not look real, something anyone would feel they could see in their own world. 

As a photographer, I warn you that any of my photos that you view have without doubt been manipulated. How and to what extent is my concern. How real they are is something I'll let you worry about.