Interview / Preview: Brian O'Connor - Images of Jazz Exhibition - Bishop's Palace, Wells, Somerset (8th April - 30th May)

Dexter Gordon, 1981
Photo Credit: © Brian O'Connor. All Rights Reserved

Sebastian Scotney interviewed Brian O'Connor by email about his Images of Jazz exhibition which runs from 8th April to 30th May at the Bishop's Palace in Wells, Somerset.

Sebastian Scotney: What drew you first to jazz?

Brian O'Connor: Latin American music on the BBC Light programme in the 50’s. Would you believe, Edmundo Ros. I just loved the rhythms and percussion.  I liked the pop music of the time, Elvis etc., but it was the exotic Latin music that attracted me.  Then in the early 60’s I heard Stan Getz, Charlie Byrd, and Jazz Samba.  That was it.  It was then a short step to investigating further, and was the beginning of my love affair with jazz.

SS: In your early days taking photos you presumably learnt from mistakes. Such as?

BO'C: In the early days, mistakes a plenty, yes. I’ve always been interested in photography, and basically learned all about it on the job. Jazz venues are not known for investing in luxury lighting, so initially it was all guesswork, exposure meters being useless in these circumstances. I gradually honed in on what I eventually considered to be a correct system of film choice, exposure, developing, and printing systems. Definitely trial and error. Even into this digital era I still only use manual exposure.

SS: Where did you hear Dexter Gordon and what do you remember?

BO'C: I first heard Dexter Gordon at Ronnie Scott’s in the late 70’s. Sitting less that 2 metres from a man who had become one of my heroes was extremely satisfying. I subsequently saw and heard him there many times. He had such a warm deep sound that seemed to come from within his somewhat large frame. Thanks to being friendly with the jazz journalist Stan Britt (who was also responsible for leading me into the world of jazz, and whose audio archive has just been deposited with the British Library), I actually got to meet him. He was a joy to speak with and listen to.

SS: Whom have you enjoyed snapping or meeting recently?

BO'C: Some musicians are naturally photogenic, and in the main it is these musician that I enjoy photographing the most.  Catching the expression is what it is all about. Dexter, for example, was a joy to capture, and in the modern era, Esperanza Spalding displays a multitude of different emotions.  This does mean that I can get as much enjoyment out of photographing a relative unknown or newcomer, as an established and famous artist.  Wherever possible I try to capture an emotion, and not just a record shot to complete the collection. Dizzy Gillespie, Derek Nash, Claire Martin and Alec Dankworth (below) would all be included in my top 10.

Alec Dankworth, Brecon 2008
Photo Credit: © Brian O'Connor. All Rights Reserved

SS: What are the oldest/newest/favourite shots in the exhibition?

BO'C: Once again it has to be Dexter Gordon amongst the oldest favourite, together with Dizzy Gillespie, Slide Hampton and Muddy Waters. Bringing it up to date, Claire Martin, Esperanza Spalding, and Branford Marsalis fit the bill.

SS: How has this exhibition all come together? Who needs thanking?

BO'C: Ian Maund, who operates the Sandy Brown and What’s New web sites has been the motivator and organiser.  I can’t thank him enough.  He started using some of my photos a while ago, and asked why I didn’t have more exhibitions. Apart from inertia and some other more valid reasons which he vehemently dismissed as being not sustainable, he took on the task of looking for a possible venue.  After a couple of months he has come up trumps.  Ian was also delighted to find that the media people at the Bishop’s Palace were apparently delighted to consider jazz as a subject for an exhibition.  So many thanks to them.

SS: What is the building? 

BO'C: The Bishop’s Palace is adjacent to Wells the Cathedral, about 800 years old, and contains amongst other things, rooms that can accommodate exhibitions. It is set in extensive grounds.  As an added bonus it is on the busy tourist map for the area, so hopefully there will be an opportunity for many people to see the exhibition, even if usually they are not interested in jazz.  A spreading of the word, as they do say.

Sebastian Scotney: How is the exhibition organised?

Brian O'Connor: There will be approximately 60 photos, in 20x16 silver look frames (with glass). The photos, a mixture of colour and black and white, will be approx. 16x12 in size.

Brian's Images of Jazz exhibition runs from the 8th April to 30th May at the Bishop's Palace in Wells, Somerset. More information about the project HERE

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