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The Defining Moment: Capturing the Music

There are moments in life when everything comes together and time seems to stop.  Many call this the “defining moment”, a heightened emotional experience that signifies a climatic point in time.  A Definition of Time Known as The Incredible Experience is a body of work about that defining moment.  I am an avid lover of jazz music, and I have listened to countless recordings of both the famous and the unknown performers.  While I cannot imagine a world without recorded music, it is the live performance that best defines the essence of jazz.

Randall Vaughn (Trumpeter), Intown Barbershop, by Michael Reese

Included in this body of work are photographs of several celebrated jazz personalities, as well as some unknown artists.  The work is not about one personality in particular, but about an artist’s ability to reach a state of full immersion in their musical craft.  This state of immersion is often referred to as the being “in the zone”, which is an intensified level of performance and involvement a musician experiences while engaged in their musical expression.

Curtis Lundy (Bassist), Montreux Music Festival, by Michael Reese

This body of work is also about passion, and my experience as I witnessed the defining moment of a musician during their performance.  Jazz, especially live, is pure emotion to me.  I wanted to capture that feeling through the photograph, enabling me to share with the viewer a small part of the experience of live jazz.  It is my belief that no written word or image, no matter how fabulous, can truly capture the energy exchange that comes from a live performance.   The images are but a brief glimpse into the incredible experience of listening to live jazz music.

Dizzy Gillespie (Trumpeter), Atlanta Jazz Festival, by Michael Reese

 Looking back on my work now, it is interesting to see the evolution of my artistic approach.  When photographing this particular body of work, I was shooting with film equipment, but my current photographic process is primarily digital.  I’ve noticed that my shooting style has changed since I’ve embraced the digital process. When I shot with film, it was a much slower process, as I essentially did not want to waste film. I would wait for the perfect shot, and it was a much more measured approach to shooting, and involved a completely different mindset.

Nina Simone (Vocalist, Pianist), Center Stage, by Michael Reese

For me, shooting with film allowed for a more “Zen-like” experience.  It was a slower, more meditative approach to shooting.  I feel that shooting jazz, or any live music, is challenging because you are trying to translate a living and breathing artistic expression into a completely different form of expression: the two-dimensional photograph.

Marc Curry (Pianist), Atlanta Jazz Festival, by Michael Reese

This particular body of work lends itself to a much more thoughtful approach when firing the shutter and waiting for the defining moment. The defining moment isn’t always present, but it can appear at any given moment during a performance.  It can be missed if you are simply “looking” for the shot.  As a photographer, I believe there is a difference between “seeing” and “looking” for the perfect shot.   To me, “looking” is more of a quick, passive action, whereas “seeing” is allowing yourself to be immersed in the passion of the moment you are photographing.  If you are in the action of just “looking”, I have found that the defining moment will not reveal itself.   You must participate in the act of “seeing” to truly capture the essence of the defining moment.

Nancy Wilson (Vocalist), Atlanta Jazz Festival, by Michael Reese

In the digital realm, there is less “waiting” because there is no reservation about film waste and cost.  I call it the “endless roll syndrome”, and the positive side is the ingestion period of learning how to use a camera is quicker. The result of your error or triumph is instant, and readily available for immediate viewing.  Digital technology has brought with it a revolution to the photographic medium, which I find exciting. Photography has never been this accessible, or used by so many people, thanks in part to the ubiquitous camera in all of our smartphones. I think this is a positive thing in that we are able to capture significant documentation of our lives as they unfold.

Saxophonist (Jam Session), Catfish Station, by Michael Reese

The conundrum is that with all of this image taking, there is less editing.  I feel there is a deeper need now for discernment in what images should be shown.  Although the digital process may require less reservation when taking a photograph, I believe the “defining moment” can be captured digitally. The digital revolution has changed the photographic process in many ways, but what hasn’t changed is that one must still be able to truly “see” before pressing the shutter.

Bassist, Atlanta Jazz Festival, by Michael Reese

Contributor Bio:
Michael Reese has a Bachelor of Fine Arts in photography, and has been shooting professionally for over 20 years. After graduating, he began teaching for the Atlanta Bureau of Cultural Affairs. Michael was the chief photographer for the Atlanta Jazz Festival from 1996-2002.  His work can be viewed on his website, and was culminated in a 2007 retrospective exhibition and book 30 Years The Atlanta Jazz Festival.

Michael’s current interest is doing work outside of the normal confines of conventional photography. He’s been the recipient of numerous grants and awards from the National Endowment of Arts, City of Atlanta Cultural Affairs, Fulton County Arts Council, Atlanta Hartsfield Airport and MARTA. His multi-media and installations are concept-based works that explore social and humanistic concerns.


One comment

  1. I am big fan of him. Thanks so much for writing this great info about him! Marcus

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