During November 2019 I documented my 12th annual EFG London Jazz Festival as official photographer.
I really look forward to the festival, produced by Serious, not only for the great range of photographic opportunities to shoot but also the aural beauty and expansive sonics on offer. Yes, the headline acts (over 350 shows across 70 venues for 10 days) grab the news and popular review sites but often it is the ‘hidden’ and seemingly low key performances that stay with me long after the venues’ backlines have been packed away.
This year saw seasoned top US performers such as Cécile McLorin Salvant, Herbie Hancock, Iggy Pop, Rhiannon Giddens and Christian Scott sit seamlessly with the UK’s thriving live scene including Steam Down, Binker Golding, Laura Jurd, Soweto Kinch & Rosie Turton.
The diptych shows Tomorrow’s Warriors *new blood* Cassius Cobbson killing it at The Crystal.
Stubbleman’s arrangements and musical contraptions built in the Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room was a perfect example of a hidden gem. Calm, ethereal and complex - Pascal Gabriel’s solo project layered modular synthesizers, live piano, bass, and self-made automats and drones to create a dreamlike journey into America’s heartland.
Above is a 30 second exposure of Stubbleman’s performance.
Gazelle Twin + NYX Electronic Drone Choir completely subverted the Queen Elizabeth Hall by performing Deep England - an eerie, beguiling and thoroughly brilliant soundscape of protest, anger and comment about society’s current unease and panic. Visually arresting too, I loved the experience and if you want an entry / sampler, then check out Pastoral & Void.
Another highlight arrived at EartH in Hackney, where Soweto Kinch’s ambitious The Black Peril debuted, combining a forceful mix of live music, film projection and mesmerising choreography. Deeply political and somewhat timely to say the least, the narrative centred around Great Britain’s 1919 ‘Red Summer’ and proves that we really do not learn from history. I hope the production will resurface and reach a wider audience.
On a purely technical, image producing level, much has changed since I started shooting the festival 12 years ago. Back then I was running around with Canon 5D and a couple of primes, seeking compositions and observing the flow of the performers and what the light technicians shone. Megapixels aside (which I’ve never been fussed about at all) the refined development of the 35mm full frame sensor has allowed me (with each generation of the 5D) to capture more movement, with more depth of field, in darker venues, year on year.
In 2018, I moved from Canon to Sony for my 35mm digital system and coupled with just 2 lens (GM 24-70mm & GM 70-200mm) I’m astounded by the levels of detail and file quality, especially in the shadows. Furthermore, the 2 G-Master zooms are optically staggering, equal or exceeding the most up-to-date primes.
Yes, I still use a tripod for much of my live performance work (obsessed with framing and compositional elements) and still not dare go to silly ISOs (regardless of internet hype) but being able to shoot happily at 6400 opposed to a controlled 1600 max allows for more opportunities, simple. Thrown in the rudely usable 12,800 ISO as a back against the wall ‘gotta get that moment’ option and one can really question where sensor tech, coupled with image stabilisation for live / event photography can go?
Ultimately it doesn’t matter, as you still need a performer to offer those magical moments and an understanding of one’s shooting environment, which above all, is the key to noteworthy, engaging photography.
You can see more of my pictures that were published during the festival.
The EFG London Jazz festival returns in 2020, from Friday 13 to Sunday 22 November and I look forward to my 13th year trying to pair the sounds with still images :-)