Jazz in color

Photographer Maya Hed casts aside convention in new exhibition ‘A Momentary Lapse of Reason,’ portraying world of jazz in glorious technicolor.

Maya Hed_521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Maya Hed_521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
As jazz is a definitively improvisational art form, one could say it also makes sense to venture off the beaten track when documenting it. Most photographers will tell you that jazz is a delight to snap in black and white, and in black and white alone, with the high-contrast end product accentuating facial contortions and instrument lines.
One only has to think of iconic monochromic images of the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, with his preposterously inflated cheeks and neck blowing into his trademark angled trumpet, or Duke Ellington at his piano keyboard with a beguiling expression mixing total concentration with the sweetest of smiles.
However, Maya Hed’s “A Momentary Lapse of Reason” photo exhibition, which opened at the Hava Rosenberg Gallery in Kfar Shmaryahu last Thursday (closes June 19), mostly eschews the genre’s traditional chromatic format and has gone for full color.
“I love black and white,” says the Los Angeles-born, Israeli-bred 25-year-old, “but I wanted to take jazz photography to another level. It was on a great level but I wanted to bring it to life with colorful photographs, to show all the passion and emotion that jazz has.”
Hed plainly feels that monochrome doesn’t cut it on that score and that color images can help to get the jazz message out there beyond the domain of the aficionados and ardent fans.
“Usually people think of jazz as dark and gloomy, and what I wanted to show was all the life the music has.”
The items on exhibit at the gallery, which Hed took over for a 15-month period starting in early 2009, feature musicians from Israel and abroad.
All were taken in this country and, unusually, most were snapped during sound checks or breaks.
Many of the most memorable pictorial documentations of the jazz of yesteryear catch musicians in full vocal and/or instrumental flight, at some apex of sublime creative endeavor. Hed clearly prefers to capture downtime.
“For me the sound checks, or just before the artists go on stage, are the heat of the moment.
That’s when they connect with themselves and connect with the music. I consider that the peak of the music of the show.”
Judging by the exhibition, Hed has a point. The large prints include a shot of Danish double bass player Jasper Bodilsen, captured uniquely between two facial expressions during a sound check at the Opera House in Tel Aviv. Another image conveys some intriguing pre-show group dynamics between a US quartet of trumpeter Jim Rotondi, pianist David Hazeltine, saxophonist Eric Alexander and trombonist Steve Davis.
There are also photographs of local players, including Canadian-born veteran saxophonist Mel Rosenberg having a quiet moment backstage with his saxophone strapped to his chest, and a delightful shot of bassist Tom Pelleg enjoying a peaceful meditative moment with his instrument.
The name of the exhibition came to Hed after she started sifting through the prints. “Just before they go on stage you see the musicians connecting with themselves and with each other, and they are so calm, and I saw that as a momentary lapse of reason. They are actually more calm than I expected them to be at that time.”
Hed studied photography at Kiryat Ono College and has focused on capturing images of artists and the fashion industry ever since. She has participated in six group exhibitions to date, including one at the University of Basel in Switzerland.
“A Momentary Lapse of Reason” is her first solo show and she says she has been drawn to the world of jazz for some time.
“I love the music and that’s why I started taking photographs of it.”
She also likes to get some idea of the person behind the instrument or the voice. “I want to feel the person behind the picture. I like to talk to them and I want them to be calm when I shoot them.”
So, we’re not talking tabloid shots here, trying to catch the subject with their guard down or in an unflattering pose.
Instead, Hed has adopted a more empathetic attitude to her subjects.
“That’s not my approach at all,” she declares. “I don’t want to take a picture in which the musician doesn’t look good. If I catch something like that I won’t use the photograph. I think that would be disrespectful and that isn’t want I want to convey.”
Hed also believes in economy. “I try not to take lots of pictures. You know with digital cameras you take a lot of pictures before you choose what you want. I don’t want to do that. I want to think before each photograph I take, like it’s film.”
Mind you, she did have to sift through quite a few prints before whittling them down to the final lineup.
“There are 24 photographs in the exhibition and I actually started with 900. I printed 900 pictures that I thought were the best. I spread them all over my studio and I thought about which were the best ones. Then I got down to about 120 A4 size pictures, before I got to the final 24. It was a bit of a long process but it was enjoyable.”
And it’s not just a face or body that Hed looks to capture. “Usually the focus is on the artist but I also think it should be on the instrument, because that’s the source of the music and people sometimes don’t notice that. In some pictures you can see I put the focus on the instrument. That was also very important for me.”
Hed also has her favorite instrument. “I love the saxophone. There’s something about the shape.”
That’s not to say she abstains from capturing vocalists. “The microphone is like a singer’s instrument,” a notion clearly depicted in a delicious image of Italian singer Michela Lombardi.
Hed also adopts a natural, organic approach to the shots she takes. “I don’t use a flash or filters. I want to show what I see, the way I see it.” Judging by the exhibits the subjects would probably go along with that too.
“A Momentary Lapse of Reason” is on display at the Hava Rosenberg Gallery in Kfar Shmaryahu until June 19. For more information call (09) 951-0996 or 050-542-3823.