David Bailey once articulated, "It takes a lot of imagination to be a good photographer. You need less imagination to be a painter because you can invent things. But in photography, everything is so ordinary, it takes a lot of looking before you learn to see the extraordinary."
Jazz today has many facets with which to experience the genre, the music, the history, and the characters. However, through the lens of Barcelona native and photographer, Lourdes Delgado, we see the roots and lifestyles of those who make up the civilization of jazz. That’s what is so extraordinary. All be it so still, so inactive in a way, the lens enlightens us to stories no one could begin to express with sound. With her "Jazz in New York: A Community of Visions" exhibit, Ms. Delgado touches upon the hidden entity [lifestyle] in jazz today with black and white elegance. As Ms. Delgado states, "What I went after was an analysis of how they live. Most jazz musicians live humble lives compared to other professionals. At the same time, they seem content with what they have. Their example challenges the materialistic ideal of our society. "
As for the exhibit, the concept is a photographic pictorial of how those in the world of jazz live. Allowing public admission to perceive the true lifestyle of those in the circle of jazz, whether a musician, producer or promoter, it's these lives that shape the jazz industry. Such symbolic personalities such as Dave Douglas, Regina Carter, and Reid Anderson adorn the gallery. Founder of the Newport Jazz Festival, George Wein, is featured along with New York Times critic, Ben Ratliff. The spectrum of personalities is diverse and extremely intriguing. Ms. Delgado puts it in perspective, "My project started as a document of friends. As I was photographing them, I realized that the images conveyed much more than personal memories. It was then I decided to ask as many jazz people as I could, regardless whether I knew them or not."
The romance of black and white silhouettes has always allowed for numerous interpretations in photography, but in jazz, we envision through the talents of Ms. Delgado and her subjects, the actual lifestyle of those engulfed in the genre. So diverse is Ms. Delgado’s work that she puts to rest the perception that all who are involved in jazz are mystifying or labeled an outcast. With over 250 portraits," Jazz In New York: A Community of Visions" covers the various areas such as gender, background, economic level, and age. Frozen on film, these lives collectively have only two things in common: life and jazz!
Using a large format camera to create these images, Delgado not only focuses in on the subject, but that which surrounds them; the light that sets a certain mood, furniture offering the lifestyle to which they live each day, and the person who ties all the pieces together, as the notes do to an arrangement. "My goal was to portray them in a very broad sense. My portraits combine the intentions of an artist, a preservationist, and an historian."
Ms. Delgado put the process in perspective; "I wanted the subject to feel comfortable since I was photographing them in their home. Also, I wanted them to show themselves the way they wanted. This is why I decided to use Polaroid’s. They could preview the image prior to the final shot."
During the process only one image is taken, to be more precise, two negatives of exactly the same posture and expression of the subject are developed. The reason is really obvious as Ms. Delgado elaborates, "As in jazz, I accept the result with its achievement and mistakes. This allows for spontaneity, honesty, and immediacy not found all that often in posed portraits." This sanctions the character and lifestyle to evolve through the film, thus a few imperfections, if any, allow for reality to surface. An extraordinary concept of fashioning a film portrait!
In spending time with Ms. Delgado, I began probing as to why the centerpiece of this photographic arrangement is jazz. Spending more than four years collecting and designing what she wanted to display, I was curious of her observation of the personalities entrenched into all the facets of that world. Her thoughts were very focused and philosophical. "Jazz is where everyone has something to say. It’s not about being famous, and everyone brings something to the table. Everyone truly has a voice in jazz," Ms. Delgado notes.
What was even more engaging was what Delgado found that may have been common to some during her time spent in their space. "As for common traits, each one was so different. They are all in the moment. They seem to keep tuned to what is going on in that specific time and space in their lives. Yet, they did enjoy the process of what we went through during the sittings. It was not all about the final result, the picture itself," she explains, "One wonders if they are so mysterious? No! To me they seem so very normal, extremely grounded." As in their music, so are they in life. Each one has a different composition and arrangement set to their lifestyle."
To expand on the points of Ms. Delgado, I viewed many pieces of her work, in particular that of swing drummer Eddie Locke, French pianist Jackie Terrasson, saxophonist Wayne Escoffery, and vocalist Carolyn Leonhart. The quality was just elegant and as previously stated, at each glance I got a feel for the artist’s life outside the studio. Each film is a powerful and telling narrative.
With the photograph of Escoffery and Leonhart, I sensed serenity and eclectic adventure. With the weights to one side, health appears to be part of their life. Casual order leaps out at the viewer when looking at the Terrasson lifestyle through the lens. Taken in his kitchen, you sense that comfort is always on the menu when not manipulating the keys. Historical interest captures my thoughts with Locke, looking at many years gone by in his office, seemingly at peace with himself and what he has accomplished. Visions and perceptions perhaps, however, it is what it is. Lourdes Delgado wants the viewer’s mind to react and work. As she points out, "The connection they get from my work is up to the observer only. It’s different and will be for everyone." This she has so genuinely and with vision succeeded in accomplishing.
Ms. Delgado’s expectations are unlike other artists as they are realistic. As for goals, "Getting a book published and more exhibitions. It’s [exhibitions] small right now - twenty pictures or so. I am hoping to grasp the curiosity of those who want to see." Delgado’s project "Jazz in New York: A Community of Visions" should wind down around May 2005. Then the public will have the full scope of years of her work. She is hoping that when the book becomes a reality, it will hold over 170 of her photographs. This, including testimonials and essays, will make it in to many jazz enthusiasts’ collections.
Ms. Delgado soon will be exhibiting in other areas: The Jazz Gallery in New York (May and June), Brooklyn Music School in Brooklyn (3 days in June) and WBJO in New Jersey (October and November). The public is taking notice and soon her work will be on stage for all to experience.
Jazz needs more of a conceptual art form as in documentation, not just sound. Sound is the product, the outcome, but the process, along with the sculptor [photographer], unleashes and defines the roots of the sound. That is Lourdes Delgado. She brings to the forefront the lives behind the notes, arrangements and compositions. Her frozen images help the public to understand the emotion and lifestyle of those who are sometimes so sadly misperceived.
Be sure to visit Delgado's jazz photo exhibit at www.photographychannel.tv Karl Stober is an international freelance columnist and broadcaster who can be reached at
. Karl can also be reached at 1-802-380-6065.