Monday, 7 March 2016

Look and listen

Illustrators and artists frequently use photos as reference for their work and that's how Esther Bubley came to shoot, in June 1952, a recording session in Hollywood. Her graphic designer friend David Stone Martin asked her to provide reference shots from this session to use for his distinctive illustrations for Clef and Norgran LP covers (and Verve CDs).

The book has the majority of Bubley's work from that session (she took 314 shots) and nicely all the neg prints, too. The photos are very informal and casual, no creative framing or dramatic compositions of light and shade as one would expect from Francis Wolf, William Claxton or Herman Leonard but only because they were basically made for reference not reproduction and it shows.

Despite the ordinariness of the photos what makes this book possibly rather special is that you can look at the players and listen to the recording at the same time. The Charlie Parker Jam Session has been issued several times on CD (I can recommend the five CD set: Complete Norman Granz Jam Sessions) it has some knockout performances, just listen to Johnny Hodges and Charlie Parker on Jam Blues for instance.

The book is a rather unusual landscape shape (fourteen inches by nine) published in France and reasonably designed with plenty of whole page photos but rather annoyingly just a bit too much empty white space where photos could have been bigger. At the back is a spread with David Stone Martin's photocollage of the players and based on this the final illustration used for the 1952 LP (and now CD) covers.

I recently reviewed a book about Bubley's work: Esther Bubley: On Assignment where I came across a reference to this book. Her photojournalism work is superb, from a Greyhound bus journey in 1943 for the Office of War Information to assignments for the Ladies Home Journal or Life magazines through the forties and fifties. The 'Charlie Parker' session is nowhere near her usual high standard but is unusual because of the number of photos taken and that they normally would not be published.

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