Monday, April 10, 2017

Portrait of Julius Eastman

45 years ago (sigh) I photographed a concert of experimental music in Buffalo, New York. The light in the venue would be best described as “somewhat less than total darkness.” There was a slide screen upon which the score for the piece being performed was projected and there were stand lights for the handful of musicians. Needless to say, the negatives were very thin and very contrasty.

I did salvage a near-profile portrait of one of the composers, Julius Eastman. At the time he was a professor at the State U. of NY at Buffalo. I also was able to enlarge and make a positive transparency of one of the pages of score of his piece “Trumpet”. Printing the portrait under the transparency so that the music cascaded down over his face did make a pretty snazzy portrait.

Time passed. Lots of time passed. In January of this year Julius Eastman was profiled in New Yorker. After his time in Buffalo he had become a leading light in what was then called “minimalist music” before his death in 1990.

Well, says I, that’s a good reason to revisit my portrait of him. I made a new (and much better) print and posted it on my website as the “Print of the month — or thereabouts” for February. I even sold a copy of it.

Last week I got an email from the head of a the Bowerbird Foundation in Philadelphia, mentioned in the New Yorker article, that is organizing a museum show and likely concert series honoring Eastman. He said that he had few if any photographs of him from his Buffalo days and asked if I could give him more details about the portrait and if I had more photographs from the concert.

I answered him with what little detail I could remember, including that the score for which I had a page photograph was for “Trumpet” and that I did have more photographs of very poor quality. His response came quickly — the score for “Trumpet” had been lost and my photograph was likely the only scrap of it in existence. As it turned out I had a photograph of a second page also. His speculation is that with those two pages to show how Eastman scored the piece and the audio recording of it that he had in hand, a sharp-eared musicologist could reconstruct the entire score. He was delighted.

With the magic of Photoshop I was able to bring up some detail in my very thin, very contrasty negatives — that showed two other musicians as well as a dim view of the venue. I sent him thumbnails and promised higher resolution versions if he wanted them.

His next question was about the venue. He had thought that the concert was held in a concert venue in Buffalo called DOMUS but that my photographs didn’t look like that space. He asked if the venue might have been the Unitarian church in downtown buffalo where he knew that concerts in a Black and White Arts Festival were held.

He also mentioned that one of the musicians shown in my photographs (the flutist) was the founder of an experimental music ensemble that still exists and that he had spoken to him very recently.

I told him that, by chance, I know the minister at that church and that I would send her a couple of the photographs and ask her if she could verify that. Another quick response — yes it was their church, that their music director was a fan of Eastman’s music, and that one of his pieces would highlight their music service later this month.

So here’s a photographer in Seattle making a connection between a curator in Philadelphia and a musician in Buffalo with a negative made 45 years ago.

Isn’t the internet wonderful sometimes?

Postscript:  The church music director recognized the second musician that played in the 1972 concert.  Another connection made.