Of all the arts accessible to humanity, my heart belongs to music. Perhaps it’s a sentiment that doesn’t serve my self-interest very much, since my only accomplishments in the arts have come from photography. The fact that my creativity came through visuals is not due to a lack of attempts in the audio world. Ten years of playing the piano as a child gave me the gift of being able to play a verse from Beethoven’s 5th at a cocktail party.
In many ways, I believe fate had determined that I shouldn’t have taken guitar lessons, but rather that I should practice composing visual order through a viewfinder. It is for this reason that when I had the opportunity to create a series of photos around the musicians, I really spent a moment of my life on a set. I was living them vicariously as we went through different moves of playing guitar and jamming. While they were both models, they are also active musicians, so the finger placement and passion shown in the images is real. We were blasting everything in the studio, from AC/DC to Disturbed and Fall Out Boy to Pantera. It was as if the music I had in mind during a shoot was played.
It wasn’t until we were done for lunch and I sat down with the musicians and talked about what made them tick that I discovered that the correlations between photography and music were more similar than I didn’t think so. It wasn’t necessarily the performance or the fact of being seen that counted for them, but rather the need to express themselves, as I felt with photography. In many ways, a career in art begins as an extraordinarily extraspective career, but as one progresses it becomes introspective, yet exposed to the public.
Normally on a photoshoot I only take a few minutes for lunch, as I don’t like to eat too much during a shoot lest it slow me down behind the camera. Luckily I have an assistant who always wears Snickers so I don’t go hungry. However, on this shoot, things were a little different because the conversations I had with the models made me think even more about how I could express what they had just talked about with my camera. At the end of a jam and rock shoot with crazy intensity, I asked the male model if he would stay behind for a shot as I wanted to visually show how much his guitar meant to him. It wasn’t staged or forced, but natural, and in many ways it was touching because I could see in a single image that the music was just as necessary to him as the breath.
As photographers, we have many different approaches to the same art. And just as we enter our creative workflow differently, many of us also see photography’s place in our lives differently. For me, I found that I needed to create. It’s not about money, publicity or fame. It’s about making sure I have the opportunity to show the world what I see before my time is up.
Going back to my original statement, I honestly don’t believe my commercial photography would be what it is without the music. To say I’m obsessed with music is actually an understatement. I live through music. It’s the inspiration behind every athlete or celebrity I’ve photographed, every fighter jet or freight train I’ve shown. All of them have songs or sheet music or even chords behind them that lived in my mind while I was creating the images you see. With the extent of my music catalog being so random, I thought I’d share some footage they created with the music I was listening to at the time. I don’t know if this helps anyone understand my creative process better, but I hope it shows you that we are all more similar than we think.
The first image is one of the most recent train photos I’ve done. It has the leaves that my dog Riley used to lay in the wind when an orange locomotive passed. For this one I was listening to Nocturne n°2 in E flat (Op 9 n°2) by Chopin. I had gone to the tracks to create a series to remember Riley, and that song was the last he and I ever listened to. Even though it was difficult, I felt that keeping the emotion strong would ensure that the image did justice to my feelings for him.
The following image is one I took of a tribal dancer in the studio. I had gone into this production listening to different Native American tribal music to see if there was any vision that would come to mind for the setting. To be honest, nothing really materialized in my mind until the model came on set and told me that when he’s at home dancing to practice, he listens to metal. So we created this image while listening to Disturbed in the studio.
The following image is of Dwyane Wade, photographed for Li-Ning in Beijing, China. Although my job has always required me to travel, being in China has always made me feel halfway around the world from my family. When I took breaks from set and walked around the gym that we had closed for this production, I would put on my headphones and listen to Georgia on My Mind by Ray Charles. I’ve always had a funny habit of listening to this song every time the pilot calls the intercom during a flight and says we’re getting ready to land. For some reason it just feels like coming home.
For this photo of the SR-71 Blackbird, I spent a lot of time listening to German metal. It was the best balance I could find between symphony and pure metal, and I felt the right mood for this dark shot of a military aircraft. The song that lived on loop before and during this shoot was Blind Guardian’s Sacred Worlds.
And finally, for this image of the footballer kicking the ball, I had listened to Moonlight Sonata (1st Movement) interpreted by ES Posthumus. I wanted a song that had a very distinct flow, interrupted by drum beats and this one hit the mark. In many ways, we wanted to show musically how I heard this song, through a visual composition of an athlete.
Whether you’re a musician who sings on the frame lines (I’m looking at you, Jack Johnson), a painter who conveys a harmony through your brushstrokes, or someone who’s taken far too many unsuccessful piano lessons – I challenge you to embrace the notion that all art is more than just expression, but a feeling that can inspire new creations.
About the Author: Blair Bunting is a commercial photographer from Phoenix. You can see more of his work on his website, blog, Facebook and Instagram. This story was also posted here.