First, I photographed all 24 hours and 25 performances in the 2018 Jazz Ramble.
Then I sat in front of my computer screen for another 24 hours: reviewing, grouping, rating, and adjusting selected photos and tagging metadata to produce a set of photos that was acceptable for publishing in OttawaJazzScene.ca’s photo gallery. Thankfully I did not have to complete this photo editing in another single 24-hour session! My eyes couldn’t have taken that.
I made 1211 photos at the event. Of those, 225 photos were published to our photo gallery, in addition to 24 other photos that were tweeted.
People ask me at a jazz event “Are you getting any good photos?”. My honest response is always “I don’t know.” I cannot reliably tell by looking at the tiny screen on the back of my camera. And if I spent much time looking at my camera I’d miss other memorable moments during the performance.
Here’s how the images in OttawaJazzScene.ca’s 2018 Jazz Ramble photo gallery actually progressed from the stage to your screen, without being viewed on my camera’s display.
Let’s start with staying awake for 24 hours while working almost continuously, tweeting and photographing. That was actually not a big problem for me this year. Maybe that’s because I had a decent 4 hours of sleep the night before (seriously – I couldn’t sleep until 4:30 a.m. and was up again at 8:30 a.m. Bleah.) In 2016, I was finishing details on my concurrent photo exhibition and so I only had 3 hours sleep.
It was very hard to stay awake from 3 a.m. to about 7 a.m. in 2016, but this year I sailed through. The interesting and engaging performances certainly kept me alert. OttawaJazzScene.ca reader Marcia Rodriguez talked and walked with me between sets in the late early hours, as we helped keep each other awake. I also ate better than in 2016, snacking on good old raisins and peanuts (cyclist fuel!) instead of crashing on caffeinated, sugary drinks. I was tired at the end of the Ramble but not nearly as unconscious as I was in 2016 at 5 a.m.
Clutter! Did I mention clutter? The Record Centre is a busy place, stuffed full of wonderful albums and vintage hi-fi gear. To be fair, I can’t call bins of records and music event posters on the wall “clutter” in a record store. They belong there and are part of the event. (I will always call mic and music stands “clutter”, though.)
I incorporated an interesting painting of a prior performance there by Jesse Stewart, David Mott and William Parker, and posters into my pix. I played with record bins, in one image associating one musician with “A” (side) and other with the “B” (side) of a vinyl album. Record rails on the walls often served as useful lines to visually connect musicians and listeners. I reached out to the sidewalk to include the curious listeners being drawn in by the music. And I composed photos to hide annoying elements behind musicians’ heads (bonus points if you can identify any of these persistent visual distractions out to me!) And chop chop! Every photo was cropped to eliminate visual distractions. The world does not naturally exist in a 3/2 aspect ratio.
An event that runs for 24 hours and has a large, south window right next to the stage receives the full range of daylight – and streetlight. The outside light was always, if slowly, changing. Unfortunately, the outside light was also often dissonant against the powerful indoor flourescent lighting (which also had a nasty green tinge). Think how “cool white” (5000 – 6500K colour temperature) and “warm white” (3000K) lights clash against each other in your house. Subjects were lit both by blueish daylight and orangey indoor light. The overall effect was not appealing to me. I spent a lot of time trying to balance the colour casts for a more natural appearance. But their will was strong and it was not always possible.
Some photos inspired me to smile after three minutes of adjusting. No photos were acceptable straight out of the camera. And I was still fiddling with many others after 15 minutes, fine-tuning the crop and making tiny brightness adjustments. Perhaps other photographers can work faster. But I need to look at and truly feel a photo as I adjust it - and absorbing how I feel about it can’t be rushed. Other visual artists need this reflection time too; see my interview with Kate Oakley about “Waiting for the paint to dry”.
Despite all this photo fiddling, my manipulation was limited to the professional and ethical requirements of photojournalism. Nothing was visually created (“cloned”) or erased within the frame. The purpose of all my photo adjustments was simply to recreate an image that another listener would say looked like what they saw. The effect that I most frequently applied was simply brightening the image. Because of the demands of my photographic style and the limited available light (especially when the nearest lights were turned off at midnight!) many images could not be fully exposed in the camera. They needed a boost to better show what the amazingly sensitive human eye could see.
All photos were tagged with metadata: the textual descriptions of the group’s name, musicians playing, location. You can, for example, enter a musician’s name into the photo gallery search box to find the photos they appear in.
I’ve been asked what instrument I play. I play the camera. And again I felt like a musical improviser during the Jazz Ramble, listening, seeing, reacting, and creating. My fingers were constantly flying over my camera’s wheels and buttons: focusing and refocusing, opening and closing the aperture (iris), increasing and decreasing the shuttter speed, and optimizing camera sensitivity (ISO) for the lowest noise, best exposure, and desired depth or shallowness of focus, all while composing the desired image from different points of view (and did I mention hiding clutter behind musicians?) The challenging lighting conditions photographing live jazz require all-manual camera control. There’s no way that a camera in automatic mode can reliably produce the images I am trying to create in seconds, any more than a saxophone can play itself.
I hope you and I will both be there to keep each other awake at 4:32 a.m. at the 2019 Jazz Ramble!
OttawaJazzScene.ca would like to thank several anonymous readers and Linsey Wellman for donating to help make our 24-Hour Jazz Ramble Reportathon possible.
OttawaJazzScene.ca is made possible entirely by reader donations. Your support matters. Please consider making a donation in support of our 2017-18 season today so we can complete it successfully without a loss. Thank you.