Thursday, March 29, 2012

music and photography

I’ve been intrigued lately with connections between music and photography. It’s well-known that Ansel Adams had to make a choice, early in life, between a career as a concert pianist or a photographer. He chose photography, but his musical background shows in a much-quoted line from him comparing a negative to the score and a print to the performance. Edward Weston said that he knew he’d got things right photographically when he heard a Bach fugue in his head; for Minor White, it was Bartok.

There are many other types of artists, too, who saw their art in terms of music: Whistler, with his ‘Nocturne’ series of paintings, and Goethe, with his view that architecture is ‘frozen music’. (I love that last one – I sometimes look at a building and wonder how it would sound.) And many well-known musicians have produced equally impressive visual art: for example, Jimi Hendrix, Berni Taupin, Bob Dylan, Freddie Mercury, Janis Joplin, Leonard Cohen, Miles Davis and Kurt Cobain are or were all talented painters.

There are obviously some big differences between music and photography – the most obvious one is that music takes place over time, while photography concentrates on one moment. But there are some strong similarities too. The range of light to shade in a photo is like the range of high and low notes in a piece of music, and good photographs almost always have rhythm and repetition in them, just like music. You could even see the subject of your photo as the melody and the background as being like the underlying structure of the music, which isn't noticed so much but which is needed to support and enrich it.

Music can be said to have colour and feeling, just like photography, and if you’re into physics, sound waves and light waves behave in similar ways. And importantly, both music and photography are a mixture of the technical and the artistic. While a photographer or musician needs to master their camera or instrument in order to produce good work, a perfectly played piece can leave you unmoved, just as a technically perfect image can be empty and soulless.

If your photos were music, how would they sound?

Nowhere does the idea of architecture as frozen music seem more appropriate to me than inside a cathedral, with its rhythms and patterns of light and dark. And in Cathy MCC's image below, music came along in the most unexpected of places when she spotted this dried-up grass in the shape of a treble clef.

gilly of the camera points both ways

music everywhere
music everywhere by cathy mcc


Kirstin said...

Oh Gilly, how I love this post! I am going to try thinking of which piece of music I would play as I take pictures today. Brilliant!

Susan said...

You know this makes my mind think-about many things. I love the way you chose to interpret music with your image.

Anna said...

Gilly, your knowledge of art, music, and even science, shines through in this impressive post! And your capture is a stunning piece, too! Cathy's unusual find is the perfect ending note.
In answer to your question, I would hope that a few of my best photos would be like harp music - beautiful, intriguing, and timeless.
Thanks for the wonderful post.

Meghan @ Life Refocused said...

What a fabulous post. I feel like I learned so much. Both of these images are breathtaking!

cara said...

i did not know that about Ansel Adams. What an interesting and educational post Gilly. Thank you!! And such a beautiful idea "if your photos were music, how would they sound?" that could keep me thinking for a while!

seabluelee said...

I love what I think of as "high church" music, and your cathedral image calls to mind gorgeous choral voices soaring to fill that space. And that little treble clef, perfectly framed by pale leaves against the dark tree - that's pure music all by itself. Lovely photos and post!

christina said...

this is such a beautiful post, gilly. i always learn so much, from your posts.

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