I’ve worked with the supremely sonic Beats & Pieces big band for a number of years to develop visual narratives for their album artworks, tour posters, social media feeds and press kits. Big bands are by nature, big on numbers, and with 14 members at any given time in Beats & Pieces, photographing concepts that prove practically flexible enough for a myriad of different media formats is rather tricky. Although democratic as a creative force, the ensemble is led by the group’s director Ben Cottrell and he is very aware of the group’s size and realistic limitations, so his super collaborative mindset allows us both the freedom to try different photographic ideas.
One of the ideas Ben and I have looked at is to try and inject a suggestion / vibe of human automation into the band. During one of our shoot days, we tested one of these variants in a converted warehouse space in Manchester’s old quarter. Upon arriving on the 2nd floor, I noted a very ugly industrial carpet that seemed to move a little underfoot. Pulling a large section up revived the old warehouse floor and the letter ‘C’ marking well used concrete (I later learned that the building was a large tobacco storage facility). This discovery created a vision of a factory floor and the presence of automated humans coming off the assembly line. Without props, wardrobe or make-up, we decided to see if the 14 members could act out, dare I say it, a replicant vibe.
To ensure a constant production line-like quality, I set up a 3 light set up to shape the frame and add a little contrast, pulling their faces out of the glum, yet keeping the scene looking natural and still. Marking the floor for identical body, chair and instrument positions completed the flow of photographs.
For an impromptu test dummy trail, Ben and I were pleased with the results and may well return to the idea with more precise and prepared production values. It is healthy to experiment and our afternoon in Mancester certainly mirrored the improvisational element all 14 members of Beats & Pieces carry out in their daily musical journeys.
Head over to the big band’s online portal beatsnpieces.net where you’ll find a treasure of merch and music spanning more than 10 years.