The Unclosed Eye: The Music Photography of David Redfern
Jazz: A Visual Journey
In the interest of Brill-like full disclosure, I must open this review by saying that I own two photographs by David Redfern: one of Bill Evans (black & white) and another of Jimi Hendrix (color). Of course, this says as much about his range in subjects as it does my taste in music. Indeed, the London-based Redfern has been shooting musicians of nearly every ilk for over 40 years. Well printed and designed, this cocktail table-style book documents his career in music photography with a strong emphasis in American jazz and blues, yet with plenty of go-go girls and rock icons to boot. Most of the pop images are from the ’60s, including early shots of the Rolling Stones, Who, Led Zeppelin, et al. Redfern was also one of the lucky (or unlucky, as he describes the experience in the book) photographers to go along with the Magical Mystery Tour, albeit in a separate bus. Primarily a live concert photographer rather than a commercial session portraitist, Redfern goes for the in-the-moment shot and often succeeds in capturing the essence of the person, place and time. His chilly but revealing head-on portrait of an equally chilly Ben Webster is riveting and may be the most memorable image in the book. The often-stunning photography is accompanied by very personal and witty remembrances by Redfern, who hasn’t been afraid to mix it up with his subjects. His hilarious tale about shooting the Chairman of the Board and entourage in action may alone be worth the price of the book. If your taste in music is anywhere nearly as well rounded as his (or mine), then you’re sure to enjoy these images. And I’m not just saying that to get another print, say of Miles Davis or Bob Dylan or Thelonious Monk or Tina Turner or...
I don’t own any photos by Herb Snitzer, but I’d like to. His book, which is his first dedicated to jazz, is much less lavish than Redfern’s, yet contains exceptional black & white images of jazz and blues artists—from the obscure to the legendary, taken starting in 1958 until the present. The square-formatted book is organized with one artist per spread, along with Snitzer’s brief anecdotal memories of the subject or session. The simple layout is unlikely to win any design awards but it does allow for attractive white space. There are some unfortunate misspellings of artist names (Cleo Lane, Nat Adderly, Baba Olitunji, etc.), but since when are photographers or designers known for their precise spelling? In the end, as in all photography books, the images provide the meat and potatoes. I prefer the more gritty realism shots (like Trane in a dressing room or Rollins hustling to the gig through what looks like a garage) to the close-up portraits, but even the latter feature unusual angles. Long ago, Nat Hentoff called Snitzer’s photo of Lester Young on the street outside the Five Spot, lit only by the light from the café window, “the quintessential Lester Young photograph.” Thankfully, that and many other quintessential photographs of jazz legends appear in this collection by one of the music’s most talented lensmen.
And for my final disclosure, both of these photographers have been featured in JT in our special photography sections—along with more than 40 other photographers.