On the Arts, Photography and Jazz


I often try to fi nd signifi cant parallels between jazz and photography. To begin with, both forms of art began at about the same time, in the early 1820s, albeit in different ways. Jazz began in New Orleans, with West African rhythms and simple, homemade instruments used in spontaneous improvisations by the enslaved black workers, for their own personal entertainment on their days off. Photography began more out of scientifi c curiosity… as a way to permanently fi x an image onto a surface. It quickly transformed into a method to document, and then capturing for posterity, and fi nally into a means of self expression.

In its technicality, both forms of expression need to adhere to certain basic rules while moving away from other guidelines. Both emerge from personal interpretations. The sheer range of emotions that can be conveyed by both arts are similar, and in both cases, they have formed genres and sub genres. Genres in jazz, more often than not, are based on emotive quality and on underlying rhythms. Photographic genres are related more literally to the content in the image, or by the objective with which images are made. More than other types of music, I have always found jazz to somehow connect with the commonness of everyday life… with the average person… just like photography is capable of doing. I fi nd jazz to be very colourful in its rendition. Oddly enough, I even fi nd the ‘blues’ to be ‘monochromatically’ moody. Perhaps this could be the reason why there are so many references to photography and pictures by various jazz artists in their music and lyrics. And just like photography, not every jazz lover can appreciate all forms of jazz.

It still requires a highly practised, extremely evolved sensibility to produce a piece of good jazz music. Making a single image used to require that level of rigour and knowledge. Digital photography has now put the power of instantly recording a moment into the hands of the common man. But just as a blast, even a singularly musical blast, from a trumpet cannot be jazz… merely releasing the shutter after confi rming focus cannot be photography.

This article originally appeared in the November 2014 issue of Better Photography.