An instant in music: Photographing musicians

When selecting the photographers whose work appears in “Impasse + Motion: 10 Photographers’ Journeys

Andrzej Pilarczyk has a passion for music and music photography.

Pilarczyk, a 20-year veteran photographer, has spent years collecting music shots, clipping photos out of local and national publications. Go to a show at one of the area’s venues, and you might see him close to the stage, crouched down low, with his camera in hand, waiting for that perfect moment when the band launches into an impassioned bridge or chorus.

So naturally, he knows a thing or two about good music photography. But when selecting the other nine photographers whose work appears in “Impasse + Motion: 10 Photographers’ Journeys Through Instants in Music,” which opened yesterday and runs through Saturday, July 30, at the Saratoga Arts Center Gallery, photographic skill wasn’t the only thing he looked for.

“My criteria was, not only were they good photographers — I didn’t care, I could have gone beyond the region, but they were people I knew, and all of them had passion for music,” Pilarczyk said.

It’s not about cameras

“Meaning, when I saw them, we weren’t talking about camera gear; we were talking about, ‘Hey! Did you see so-and-so play?’ The key is, I love music. Sometimes, someone will say, ‘Oh, I’ve got a new camera, take a look.’ But the camera was a tool.”

‘Impasse + Motion: 10 Photographers’ Journeys Through Instants in Music’

Where: Saratoga Arts Center Gallery, 320 Broadway, Saratoga Springs

When: Now through Saturday, July 30. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.

How Much: Free

More Info: 584-4132,

This passion shows through in the exhibit’s photographs — like Joe Putrock’s shot of Rancid guitarists Tim Armstrong and Lars Fredrickson shredding through a set at Saratoga Winners in the 1990s. It’s a blur of mohawks, guitars and studded punk outfits.

“Rancid, they’re gonna do whatever they want, and they were obviously into it — throwing guitars around, moving, singing,” said Putrock, who has been photographing concerts since 1990 for such publications as The Times Union, Source Magazine and Metroland.

“At Winners, there was never great light, so you had to shoot at a pretty slow shutter speed. And actually that adds to the photo — the other photos were sharp, but not as great; it just looks like a photo of a guy playing guitar. That one, you can see that they were literally just wailing at it.”

On the other end of the musical spectrum, there’s Lawrence White’s shot of Aretha Franklin, taken during the early ’80s at her comeback concert at Radio City Music Hall. She hadn’t performed prior to that date in many years, and the shot captures her singing midnote. White, who got his start in photography in the late ’70s working for Rolling Stone and is currently chief photographer at Saratoga Living magazine, was allowed to photograph two or three songs, to his surprise.

“Her management company had been so kind to me and open to me, and they allowed me in,” White said. “When she came out and took the stage — oh man. I mean, you just, you want to wire your jaw shut so you don’t trip over it. She was unbelievable; she was at that moment amazing.”

All 10 photographers exhibiting in the show — Pilarczyk, Putrock, White, Don McKever, Rudy Lu, Eric Jenks, Joseph Deuel, Ed Burke, Albert Brooks and Sylvia Aronson — all live and work in the region. They cover a wide spectrum of experience, from Deuel, who has been a sound engineer and the house photographer at Caffe Lena for the past 35 years, to Jenks, who got his start photographing live shows and outdoor activities only six years ago.

Each photographer is exhibiting roughly 10 photos, though some have less — for example, White has seven photos in the exhibit, focused on women in rock ’n’ roll, including shots of Bonnie Raitt, Grace Slick and Sarah McLachlan. “Only two or three have been seen before, and they’ve never been published, never printed before,” he said.

Two-year project

Pilarczyk has been working on putting together “Impasse + Motion” for roughly two years now. He first exhibited his own work in 1989, but soon after found that most museums and other exhibition halls weren’t interested in showing live music photos. “They were like, ‘Oh, these are nice, but, you know, they belong more in a magazine.’ People weren’t appreciating an image of a musician,’ ” he said.

Then, in 2001, the Lake George Arts Project invited Pilarczyk to show his work solo at the Courthouse Gallery. Since 1984, Pilzarczyk has photographed the annual Lake George Jazz Weekend for the Lake George Arts Project, which led to the invitation. The exhibit was successful, and Pilarczyk began thinking about a group exhibition featuring other photographers he’d seen and worked with, covering the same music events.

“So I started to say, ‘All right, I’d like to do things with other photographers that I’ve been in the pit with, or those who I see at their types of music,’” he said.

“For example, in this exhibit, Rudy Lu, Don Mckever and Albert Brooks are predominantly jazz photographers — I would say 75 percent of what you’re going to see at the exhibit is jazz photography on their part. I’m part of the jazz community; I see them at events — over the years, we’ve all become friends, helped each other out, talked to each other and all that.”

McKever has been photographing jazz and R&B musicians since 1967 — his first photographs were of the V.S.O.P. Quintet, featuring Freddie Hubbard and Ron Carter, at Carnegie Hall.

“I actually started shooting jazz almost by accident,” he said. “I used to run up to the stage and take souvenir photographs, so I could come back and show my friends and buddies and brag about the concert, and to prove I was there.”

He is exhibiting photos of vocalist Sarah Vaughan, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and legendary soul man James Brown, among others, in “Impasse + Motion.”

“I have a thing — I try to take a photograph that, when you look at it, you can hear the note or the song the artist is singing or playing,” McKever said. “If you look at one of my photos and I get some kind of reaction from you, I’ve done my job.”

Deuel, who has worked for Source Magazine, Eye on Saratoga and Buzz, in addition to his duties at Caffe Lena, is exhibiting photos of a wide spectrum of artists — everyone from blues giant B.B. King to seminal alternative punkers Hüsker Dü. The latter photo was taken in a Victorian roadhouse basement in Philadelphia, where Deuel was living at the time in the early ’80s.

“It was the loudest, most frenetic thing to experience,” Deuel said. “It was about 30 seconds into the song, and they were all the way back in the cellar. I got the pics up close, and then had to walk around the wall and shield myself as a whole mass of people bombarded me, and then we’d get blasted again. It was just crazy.”

Deuel, whose father was a professional wedding photographer, began taking photos while still in elementary school. He first got into music photography specifically in the early ’70s, when he started going to Caffe Lena regularly and photographing the artists who performed there.

“I don’t necessarily like something that’s a classic shot; I like to find little portraits in performances,” Deuel said. “In a lot of the pictures of the Caffe, you can just tell that [the artist’s] mind is somewhere else for a moment — you find a little portrait or a little drama or something.”

For Putrock, a great concert photo depends on the musician. While his shot of Rancid naturally depicts movement, another photo of his in the exhibit, of B.B. King at the Palace Theatre, is more stoic, with the guitarist sitting during the performance.

“Some great concert shots are them being just completely crazy — I have a shot of Steven Tyler [of Aerosmith] sticking his tongue out at me,” Putrock said. “But that’s not what you’d expect of B.B. King — you expect him to just be kind of laying back, eyes closed, really getting into it. It really depends on the performer. The thing I always like about a concert shot, is when it’s something that looks — that makes you kind of wish you had been at the concert.”

Categories: Life and Arts

Leave a Reply