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Monthly Archives: May 2011

Music and creativity

I love music.

Growing up in a musical family where everyone had played an instrument (at one time or another) and everyone could sing, music has always been a big part of my life. When my wife heard my mom, dad, sister and me all singing around the family piano in four-part harmony for the first time, she thought she had married into the von Trapp family (depicted in the movie, “The Sound of Music”).

Music also had an influence on my early years as an artist. I can remember spending hours drawing in my sketchbooks while listening to classical music; Bach, Mozart, Pachelbel, Fasch, Vivaldi, and being lost in my imagination of what could be created with a pencil on paper. There is something mysterious that happens when listening to music and the effect it can have on the imagination. Perhaps psychologists can explain it better, or physiologists who study brain waves and electrical impulses and connections. All I know is that music, especially certain kinds of music, is very inspiring to me.

Last year, as Kim and I enjoyed a concert by the internationally renowned Shanghai Quartet at the University of Richmond’s Modlin Center for the Arts, I was again inspired as I listened to their performance. Their music is passionate, intricate, bold, complex, subtle, humorous and always expertly played. As I listened, my thoughts quickly went in the direction of asking myself, how would I photograph them if I ever had the chance? How can you portray the feelings that music produces in a still image, without the music? How do you picture a musician and also convey something about their music at the same time? Can this even be done?

To my surprise, and joy, I would get a chance to find out. After starting a correspondence with one of the members of the group, Yi-Wen, who also is an accomplished photographer himself, we arranged a time to get together for a photo session during their most recent stop in Richmond. For me, it was basically a dream-come-true opportunity.

Yi-Wen Jiang

Weigang Li

Honggang Li

Nicholas Tzavaras

Conceptually, I only had one requirement for the images: the color red had to be involved somehow. Passionate music=red. Shanghai, China=red. Guys wearing dark suits=need a red background.

For you camera gear geeks: For lighting, I had to get creative since I was using small flashes to do the work. A key light of 2 Speedlites through a 60″ umbrella above and slightly camera right. A fill from a 3 ft. octobox directly behind my head and a light behind the group directed at the red backdrop (this was moved to high and camera left after failing to trigger at the end of the group portraits. Pesky infra-red system! Although not so bad, because during the equipment-tinkering intermission, we were treated to an impromptu practice session. It probably helped my mood! And I actually like the background light better in that spot.) All these were triggered by the master flash at the very back and very high, attached to the camera with an extra-long sync cord. Yes, I love Speedlites!

It was a great experience and Kim and I had fun spending time with this brilliant group of artists. We’re looking forward to their next concert and another opportunity to be creatively inspired by their music. Thanks guys!

Shanghai Quartet on Facebook
Quartet performance videos