A retrospective exhibition of jazz Photography by Francine Winham'
opens on 12 November at the Luke & A. Gallery of Modern Art.
Francine Winham was in the centre of the vibrant energy of the New York jazz scene in 1960-70s. "New York was the heart of the jazz world at the time - it was very exciting. You could go down to clubs like the Gate or the Village Vanguard and see all the great names performing live - Davis, Monk, Coltrane, Brubeck, Sarah Vaughan, Nina Simone - the list was endless."
Winham began shooting the stars she had long admired, selling the results to magazines such as Downbeat and the Village Voice. "Jazz clubs were perfect for me. I liked to get close, really close, and see the expression on a performer's face. That's what really interests me, the intimacy." The results were full-frame facial shots, isolating the subject from their surroundings and capturing the intensity and drama (or comedy) of the moment.
It was during this time that Winham developed what she called her "fever" technique. By holding the shot still for half a second and then moving the camera, she created a blurred free-form image that mirrored the dynamic improvisation of the performer (a technique later imitated on jazz record covers and in magazines).
Among the photographs of jazz musicians made with the 'fever' technique are some of the famous musicians from Duke Ellington's band; Dizzy Gillespie, known for his strangely shaped trumpet which he had specially made for him and which became his trademark and Humphrey Lyttelton. Vintage images of live performances of Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington taken at Newport Jazz Festival in 1965 and 1966.
Away from the jazz clubs, 60s New York was a hotbed of political unrest: anti-war demonstrations in Central Park, civil rights marches in Harlem. Winham covered these events with her journalist boyfriend Jo Gumede. A former boxer forced to leave South Africa for his opposition to apartheid, Gumede introduced her to his circle of fellow South Africans living in exile, including musicians Hugh Masakela, Jonas Gwanga, and Dollar Brand (later to become Abdullah Ibrahim), and the singer Miriam Makeba.
Chris Blackwell was also in New York at the time and employed Winham once more (this time purely as a photographer!), taking her venues such as the Apollo Theatre in Harlem to photograph new acts that had signed to his label. Winham captured acts such as The Soul Sisters and a diminutive teenage prodigy who gave Blackwell his first international success - Millie Small. "When Millie sang 'My Boy Lollipop' it became a huge hit. Chris hastily organised a whistle-stop world tour lasting several months and asked me to go along as official photographer, but also partly to chaperone Millie (she was only fifteen!). We went everywhere - South America, Australia, Japan, Europe - and everywhere Millie was greeted by huge crowds verging on hysteria. I'd never seen anything like it."
Every picture is infused with mood and sensuality, living legends in mid-flow, singing, puffing and sweating their way through performance. "What I like about jazz singers and musicians is that their love of the music is combined with a kind of humility. They can't describe why they feel happy or sad, it just overwhelms them".
In the late 1980s she was working for the newly created radio station Jazz FM. "I think it was the idea of being involved with the UK's first station devoted entirely to jazz which drew me back. I organized an exhibition to launch the station entitled '100 Years of Jazz' and began attending the festivals again, this time in Europe at Maastricht and Nice, as well as the Soho Jazz Festival. It was a strange feeling of nostalgia shooting again some of the old stars I'd shot in the 60s - to see how they'd weathered the years. But there were exciting new talents emerging as well, such as Steve Williamson and Courtney Pine".
Francine Winham about her 'Jazz Fever Style'.
"Taken in the photographer's pit at Newport Jazz Festival, Rhode Island. In those days photographers could photograph for as long as they liked, there was no restriction on the number of songs or the amount of time that cameras could operate. This allowed me to experiment whilst the music was actually going on.
In order to find new ways of photographing music I decided to try a very long exposure. The longest my camera could do automatically was one second, which meant I had to have a very small aperture (f 22) to compensate and keep the right amount of light coming into the lens. Although I wanted movement to compliment the music I also wanted sharp or recognisable images of the faces of the musicians. I came up with the idea of holding the camera still for half the exposure (i.e. half a second) and then moving it, either backwards, sideways, in a curve or a wiggle. This was all very hit and miss and I didn't know quite what to expect. And how to time half a second?
Well I had to waste a frame to do that. So I shot off a frame and listened to the time of the sound sch-sh-sh-sh-sh-sht of one second. I held the camera still for sch-sh-sh then moved it for what I hoped was the remaining half when I took the pictures.
This picture of Paul Gonsalves was one of the first I developed and I was quite pleased with the result. You can see that one of the two pictures of his is sharper and has less movement."
Francine Winham • Short Biography
Francine Winham was born in London. Her career as a photographer began in the early 1960s, shooting album covers for music impresario Chris Blackwell. In the mid 1960s she moved to New York, initially working for montage photographer David Attee before branching out on her own as a freelance photojournalist. She began photographing jazz musicians and singers in the clubs of New York and at the Newport Jazz Festival, her work being published in magazines such as Downbeat and the Village Voice. In the 1970s she returned to London, attending the National Film School in Beaconsfield and subsequently working with the Women's Film Group before moving on to her own projects in the early 80s. The late 1980s saw her return to photography, working for the newly created radio station Jazz FM and organizing the exhibition '100 Years of Jazz'. She began attending the jazz festivals again, this time in Europe at Maastricht and Nice, as well as the Soho Jazz Festival in London.
Exhibitions in London, Athens and New York have brought her photography to a wider audience, and though Francine continues to work in the field her new passion is singing. In 1991 she began training as an opera singer and has performed in productions both here and abroad.