TRIBUTE: Edu Hawkins remembers David Redfern (1936-2014)

David Redfern and Edu Hawkins at their joint exhibition at the Southbank Centre,
LJF, 2013 Photo Credit: John Watson/

Edu Hawkins worked closely with David Redfern, and remembers him in this personal tribute:

Buddy Rich (photo below) labelled David Redfern ‘the greatest jazz photographer in the world’,and the British Journal of Photography recently remembered him as ‘the king of jazz photography’. David, the first European to be presented with the Milt Hinton Lifetime Achievement Award for Jazz Photography, and recipient of the 2014 Parliamentary Award for Services to Jazz, belonged to an elite group of photographers without whom it is impossible to imagine the visual history of music. He founded the world’s largest music picture archive, and was responsible for some of the most significant pictures in this genre for over half a century.

Buddy Rich 1969
David Redfern/Redferns, courtesy Getty Images

We first met when I worked as an intern at David’s picture library; I had been familiar with his work for a number of years and was keen to learn more. He was affable and unassuming - the consummate gentleman – and, much to my surprise, was the one making me cups of tea. I would spend each day in his company, incessantly questioning him about every detail of his pictures, and he would offer some of his many anecdotes from a lifetime of photographing musicians. In the years that followed, we became very good friends, speaking regularly with each other, usually over a meal or a drink, and shared many experiences of gigs both at home and abroad.

Dexter Gordon once described David as ‘the Cartier-Bresson of jazz’, which seems apt. Cartier-Bresson coined the term ‘the decisive moment’ and David’s pictures seemed to be a crystallisation of the decisive musical moment. They showed empathy for the music and exploited the spontaneity of photography, a characteristic mirrored by the artists who were their subject. They echoed the drama, energy, movement and passion of the music itself. Beyond this, David captured the ephemeral.

Chuck Israels, Bill Evans, 1965
David Redfern/Redferns, courtesy Getty Images

Miles Davis once said “Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there”, and I was taken by the fact that David’s pictures did just that; the music itself was absent, but these images evoked the sense of the music.

I learned an enormous amount just from being around David and watching how he worked. He was unobtrusive, respectful and relaxed, while his eye for the defining picture enabled him to be economical in his shooting. I wonder how many photographers, given exclusive access to Hendrix at the Albert Hall, would take just 36 frames all evening? David did, and these are some of the defining pictures of Hendrix. Even when he switched to digital, he might sit and watch for ten minutes at a time without touching the shutter; he would just sit and wait for everything to fall into place for that one shot.

Sonny Rollins, 1967
David Redfern/Redferns, courtesy Getty Images

In keeping with his understated style, David was not one to lavish praise. He could be a man of few words and favoured subtle encouragement and support; those special moments have stayed with me. When I was starting out, we shared a drink and discussed how hard it is for people starting these days. ‘It’s very difficult,’ he said, and then paused… ‘Hey, listen… you’ll get there, I can assure you of that.’ A few years later, he drove down to Oxford to see my first exhibition. After the show, someone asked him what he thought of it. ‘Yeah, it’s cool…’, he responded with a smile, ‘…the boy done good!’

Exactly a year ago, I was lucky enough to share an exhibition with David at the Southbank Centre for the London Jazz Festival. The aim was to celebrate the history of the jazz image, to give an insight into the values that we shared as photographers, and to express our shared vision and love of the music. This was his greatest gesture of support for me; to see my pictures hanging alongside David’s - that was something special, and one of the proudest moments of my life.

From being around David, I have come to realise that it takes more than an eye to be a top music photographer, and my appreciation of his work has evolved over the years. As well as his eye, these pictures were the product of an amiable man whose subtle determination and optimism, even in the most adverse circumstances, ensured that he made his own luck in his career. At first, I appreciated the way that he cut to the sense of the decisive musical moment, but his pictures also reveal the man behind the lens; not simply the vision of a master photographer, but the personality of a dear friend. David was the reason I first picked up a camera and I will always be grateful to him for setting the perfect example of how things should be done.

1 comment:

  1. Very moving tribute indeed. An astonishing lifetime's work and what a legacy he has left behind. I'd never heard the story about Hendrix at the Albert Hall. To have that access and only take 36 pics is literally impossible to imagine in our snap-happy digital age.