Stuff I think about

Photography from the perspective of music

Posted in Uncategorized by Billy Soh on September 23, 2009

One way of looking at the role of a photographer as a creator is that from the role of a musician. A musician, naturally, performs music. Likewise, a photographer produces images.

What a musician can make out of his performance relies on his skills on his instrument as well as the material/work that he’s going to perform. Similarly, what images a photographer can produce shows the depth of his mastery over his craft, as how a musician shows the depth of his knowledge of the music he is performing.

Take for example,  JS Bach’s well known Prelude in C Major BWV 846; any musician is able to perform it, as any photographer is able to use his camera to produce an image of an object, for example, a transparent glass bottle.

The late pianist, Glenn Gould, plays it with marked semiquavers in the right hand, rather quirky-ly.

Pianist Konstantin Lifschitz plays the repeated motif of every bar of this Prelude with a softer and lighter touch to create a dynamic contrast. The phrasing is also different.

In the equivalent of photography, a subject equivalent could be looked at in a different manner with the manipulation of light and exposure to bring out different details of his subject.

(pardon me for this part of compare and contrast, I am still in the process of creating the images to illustrate the point photographically)

However, composer Charles Gounod wrote another theme, which we know as his Ave Maria on top of Bach’s Prelude BWV 846, effectively making a new work of art from the already existing work.

Shown here is an arrangement of the work for flute and piano.

In a photographic equivalent, a new piece of work is being produced from the subject, adorned with new elements. Take for instance, the glass bottle, was then being photographed in the hands of a beautiful woman of that particular cultural period. In today’s technology, you can simply montage an existing image of a glass bottle into the hands of a beautiful woman of this cultural period.

In the context of producing an image, the glass bottle could be shot as it is, with existing light, as a piece of music could be performed as it is running through the notes, phrases and dynamic expressions, everything on paper, and the rest is up to the mood of the musician when he is performing the music. On days with good available/natural light, a nice and decent image of the glass bottle may be produced with good tone without much consideration. On days with a fine mood, a musician finds performing music much a breeze, the music performed sounds good rather effortlessly.

When a musician examines his music, he not only learns the notes, along with that he finds places to examine the shape and form as well as the harmonics hidden in it. Through the understanding of the qualities of his subject, here the piece of music that he is performing– gives him the authorship to make the performance uniquely his.

In popular music, bands and musicians have performed countless covers of certain songs, all with a different feel and sound to it, similar to the performances and recordings of classical music, giving them their authorship over the performance.

Similarly when a photographer examines his subject, in this case, a transparent glass bottle, he studies the qualities of the form as well as the optical qualities of the glass bottle, how it reflects and refracts light, only then he could determine how to manipulate the light to change the shape and color of the reflections and refractions and so on. With the mastery they have over their media and understanding of their subjects would they be able to create a performance or image with a lasting impression.