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Music and Photography

Is there a consistent aesthetic between the music you listen to and the images you make? It’s a question I’ve asked on Twitter before and resulted in some really interesting discussion, but I felt like it would be good to write down some of my thoughts on it.

Music has always been a huge part of my life, in my teens I played guitar in awful punk bands with school friends, I did a degree in music production then spent the first 8 years of my career working as a sound engineer in a local venue before now working for a company who make audio products.

Mixing on stage sound for SOIL, American Head Charge & (hed)P.E. at Nottingham Rock City, in January 2015, my last show working as a live sound engineer

Growing up I got into rock and metal as a lot of angsty teens did, but even from those early days music was always a way of channelling my emotions, or trying to immerse myself in something that related to the way I was feeling.

As my tastes evolved I listened to heavier music, but also music that I thought created an atmosphere, I sought out bands that wrote with dynamics, long songs, coherent albums that tried to tell a story. I listened to music on all ends of the spectrum, there just had to be something about it that connected to me.

I went to shows that moved me in a way that no other medium has been able to, and can still vividly remember every moment. Certain songs I listened to at a specific time or location still evoke memories of that event, I think there’s a real visceral connection to this music, in the same way that looking at a photograph can transport you right back to the moment it was taken.

Some of my favourite gigs weren’t just reliant on the music either, it has had the biggest impact when this comes together with a well designed lighting show, or video content on stage. The more senses that can be used the better, and I think that’s something we struggle with as photographers, trying to convey something with a single static two dimensional freeze frame.

Cult of Luna at The Forum, London – May 2014

So what’s this got to do with photography?

I never took a proper camera to gigs, there was just no real draw for me to photograph bands, I also don’t listen to music while out in the landscape with my camera, but I do think the music I listen to has always had a subconscious influence on the images I make.

I’m quite open to different styles or genres, there just has to be that “something” there that connects to me.

In the same way that I listen more often to heavier atmospheric music, I’m drawn to a darker, more abstract and evocative aesthetic in my photography.

“Above and Below” – One of my early abstract images
A ‘bodycap pinhole‘ ICM image

Inspiration could even come directly from the artwork used alongside the music, for example you may see some similarity between my photographs above, and the cover for this album:

One of the reasons I bought a record player and started purchasing most of my music on vinyl was for the artwork. As well as being able to more directly support the artist, instead of a meaningless download of 1s and 0s, I get a nice big product I can pick up and enjoy the vision the band wanted to represent their music. I always have a few of my favourite records on a shelf purely for their artwork.

Part of what led me to write this is that every so often I decide to post a link to some music I’m enjoying on Twitter, and without fail, no one cares. No one clicks and no one listens. No one replies back saying they liked it, hated it…nothing.

That sounds slightly bitter, and really it’s not the end of the world, I am always extremely grateful for getting a good reception to my photography when I share it, but it did make me think enough to write a long rambling blog post. Why would 150 people like an image I’ve posted, but only 2 care about the music that might have inspired it, or might follow a similar aesthetic to the photograph they liked?

Maybe no one else makes this connection between their music taste and photography, the responses when I’ve discussed it previously have certainly been mixed.

Should I care?

Well – partly I love finding out that I’ve turned someone on to a band that I like, the music is important enough to me that I’m excited to share it, but I also think it might give a better understanding of why my photography looks how it does.

A lot of people won’t share my taste in music, just like a lot of people won’t like my photography, and that’s fine, but I’ll keep putting both out there in the hope a few people find something that gives them that connection that I’m always looking for.

So after all that, if you are interested, here’s a few albums which I think reflect what I’ve tried to describe above – there’s very long songs, instrumental albums, heavy bits and quiet atmospheric sections but if that doesn’t put you off then maybe you’ll find something you like.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, if you feel there’s a similar link between your images and music taste, or have some album recommendations for me!

3 thoughts on “Music and Photography”

  1. I also find that people rarely “like” my music tweets, but that might possibly be because I listen to utter crap most of the time! I don’t think there is much link between my music and my photography. At the moment, I am addicted to 70s and 80s disco, but I’ve been taking more photos around cemeteries. Make of that what you will! Thanks for the music recommendations, I look forward to checking them all out 🙂

    1. Thanks for reading, and haha I do think it might be that no one likes my taste in music! Disco and cemeteries don’t sound too connected but I just checked out the photos and really like them, that Helios gives a great feel. I hope you find something you like in the music recommendations 🙂

  2. I’m one of those, hopefully, few people who can only look in the sweet shop. I marvel, and am a bit sad that music means very little to me. The exception has been dancing whether Highland, Barn, Ballroom and Latin. I just cannot settle to just listening – I have tried operas at Covent Garden, orchestral concerts at various concert halls and some pop events but just cannot get any pleasure from simply listening and I envy people who do!!
    So, music is “out” for me as a possible source of inspiration. However, other photographer’s work does spur me and seeing in paintings how they have used light is a constant source of inspiration (and frustration).
    Hope this is not too far off track Chris.

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