New books: INSTAGRAM

THIS BOOK IS A SEQUEL, OF SORTS, TO SQUARE – THE MOST PERSONAL OF THE TRIO OF BOOKS I PUBLISHED LAST YEAR. It might be even more personal; unlike SQUARE, which included studio still life work and by-products and leftovers from travel gigs, this is really a collection of snapshots – photos taken with the most simple, easy to use cameras I’ve ever used: My cellphones.

All of my cellphones, in order

I’m not sure when I took my first cellphone pic. It might have been with the third phone I owned – a Palm Trio built for texting that I never did. I mostly used my phone to take notes for locations; Instagram launched in 2010, but I didn’t open my first account until January of 2015.

I took a lot of time matching shots for the spreads in this book. The shot on the left was taken in an industrial park in a Toronto suburb. The one on the right was shot in Montana. I like to think that they both suggest a bit of a story that the viewer will try to fill in for themselves.

The snapshot of Irving Penn’s painted backdrop, taken during a trip to New York to see his big retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, screamed out for a portrait on the facing page, but I almost never shoot portraits with my cellphone. (Don’t ask me why.) I did, however, have a photo I took of a wooden sculpture – a portrait of an African chieftain in the collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Instagram is full of a lot of types of photos. There are selfies, of course (which I don’t take) and shots of food (which I have taken, rarely.) Most of all, though I think it’s a platform for people to share their travel photos, and I’m no different. This spread suggested itself – two different views of airplane travel, shot from plane windows. Like the two photos below, they’re quick grabs at capturing something ephemeral, and that mix of loneliness and wonder I find so compelling about travel.

Every new generation of cellphone I’ve had has improved camera image quality immensely. Shooting a professional gig on a cellphone is still a bit of a stunt today, but I can imagine a day when it will be completely normal. Perversely, this is why I decided to publish cellphone pics in the book with the highest printing quality (and highest price – $20) of all the books I’ve made so far. I’m pretty certain that the next book I do will move on from magazine to book format, so INSTAGRAM was a tentative test of what I can expect to see.

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New books: JAZZ

I HAVE SOME NEW BOOKS FOR SALE. A year ago I celebrated the end of my old blog and the beginning of this blog by offering three collections of my old photography for sale via Blurb. Back when I published MUSIC, STARS and SQUARE, I had a vague plan to follow them up with another trio of books, the subjects of which I still hadn’t decided upon.

I did, however, have some hope that I had enough material to collect my jazz photography, most of it taken in the late ’80s and early ’90s, into one volume. Going through my files I discovered that, while my photos weren’t exactly a broad overview of the music as much as a snapshot of a particular time and place, they did hold together – for me, at least, as a record of my own enthusiasm for music and musicians I’d just discovered, during a brief but fervent period when I wanted to be William Claxton or Francis Wolff.

My friend Chris‘ criticism of my first trio of books was that the photos weren’t big enough, and that the layouts were static. That was both by design (I wanted the books to have a minimal aesthetic) and circumstance (I had never designed a book before and didn’t want to overreach my level of competence.) So the first thing I did was lay out this live shot of Dizzy Gillespie full bleed over a double page spread, to give myself the courage to try more dynamic layouts and fill the book right to its edges with pictures.

I’m rather fond of this spread. It’s my “drummers layout,” and a showcase for the most recent work in the book – a portrait of percussionist Candido Camero taken two years ago. This is probably the last concert photography I’ll ever feature in a book, but it’s appropriate to the project, even if it’s far from representative of what I really do as a photographer.

This spread is more of a showcase for what I do now – and what I was trying to do back in the late ’80s when I took these photos. The portrait of Steve Lacy on the right is one I think I got right the first time when I posted it on my blog, but the Sam Rivers photo on the left is very much improved since I scanned it with my very inadequate HP scanner, early on in the old blog.

This is my “Brazilian spread” – candid shots of guitarist Egberto Gismonti (left) and bandleader Hermeto Pascoal (right) taken backstage on the same night. This screen shot doesn’t do justice to the quality of the photos as they appear in the actual book; I’m very pleased with the quality of Blurb’s premium magazine products. That said, these might be the last magazines I publish through Blurb – whatever I do next will be a bit more ambitious, and probably be a higher-quality book.

Finally, there’s my “Jane spread” – photos of my dear friend Jane Bunnett, one an outtake from a record cover session in the ’90s, the other a candid shot taken in the recording studio for the same record. The third shot is of the late Pancho Quinto from Grupo Yoruba Andabo in the Havana studio where Jane recorded Spirits of Havana, a very big record for her, and also one for me, as it was my first time in Cuba. I’ve dedicated JAZZ to Jane and her husband Larry (along with a few other people) since they played a huge part in helping me understand the music and in developing my work.

So it was especially lovely when Jane offered to play at my book launch party this past weekend. Along with pianist Danae Olano from their group Maqueque, Jane picked out a series of numbers by musicians like Frank Emilio Flynn, who was featured on the cover of last year’s photozine MUSIC, and Don Pullen and Dewey Redman, who both appear in this year’s JAZZ. I probably wouldn’t have met or photographed any of them without Jane, who prompted me to talk a bit about each musician between numbers. It made the whole event extra special – I wish you could have been there.

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Lost & Found: Beastie Boys 1986

Beastie Boys, Toronto, April 1986

HERE’S ANOTHER BUNCH OF NEGATIVES I NEVER THOUGHT I’D SEE AGAIN. These old pics of the Beastie Boys were in the same old file folder, buried behind old receipts and tax stuff, as the photos of the Minutemen I featured here a few weeks ago. More juvenilia, back from when I was still learning how to use a camera.

These are not great portraits. They’re not even particularly good snapshots. But thanks to my new Vivitar 285 flash, bought at B&H in New York City the previous fall, they were at least properly exposed – if you like the look of direct flash, which I don’t, and didn’t, even then.

So why even bother posting them? Well, they might not be great shots, but if I’ve learned anything from putting old photos online, almost any picture becomes history when even a minority of the audience for it wasn’t born when it was taken. Especially so, I suppose, when someone in the photo is no longer alive.

Beastie Boys, Toronto, April 1986

I shot them just before they went onstage at their first ever Toronto gig, at a tacky new wave disco in Yorkville called the Copa. I was double-dipping – these shots would end up being used by both Graffiti magazine and Nerve. According to the recollections of Perry Stern, who was writing the Graffiti piece, he’d spent much of the day before the show with them, walking up and down Yonge Street trying to buy amyl nitrate poppers, which they’d heard were legal in Toronto. (Apparently not, as far as Perry could tell.)

They were boisterous but likeable goofs, according to Perry, more than living up to their budding public image, which would become gold-plated with the release of Licensed to Ill a few months later. Their madcap antics would deflate a bit a few minutes after I took these photos, when they went onstage and threw around some beers that broke one of the neon “sculptures” hanging over the dance floor at the Copa. (An incident I’d completely forgotten about until Perry reminded me the other day.)

But cracks were starting to show, even then; a friend from Nerve who was hanging around when I took these shots recalled one of the Beasties – MCA or maybe Mike D, I can’t remember – suddenly sitting down, exhausted, and mumbling to himself “Man, I gotta get so stupid to do this shit.”

As Michael “Mike D” Diamond remembered in the recently-published Beastie Boys Book, a memoir written by himself and Adam “Ad Rock” Horovitz:

Over the course of those months on the road, we went from being like, This is the most exciting thing ever, I can’t believe we’re actually rock stars to thinking, God, people really expect us to be these idiot caricatures of ourselves night after night. This kind of sucks . . . We didn’t see ourselves having to act out a role, having to go onstage and be the three guys who throw beer and have a giant dick for a prop. And it had never occurred to us that it would start to be demanded of us. We honestly just didn’t know.

Beastie Boys Book, p. 229
Beastie Boys, Toronto, July 2006

I would meet up with the Beasties again, twenty years later, working for the free national daily. Of course, nobody thought they’d have a career that would last two more years, never mind two decades. Adam Horovitz was still the cut-up in the band, mugging for my camera, while Michael Diamond had lost the baby fat in his face and Adam “MCA” Yauch (1964-2012) had become the group’s thoughtful conscience – not that we suspected the Beastie Boys had, or even needed, a conscience thirty+ years ago. The very idea would have been considered absurd.

Beastie Boys, Toronto, April 1986
Beastie Boys, Toronto, July 2006

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