Of all the arts available to mankind, my heart belongs to music. Perhaps it’s a feeling that doesn’t serve my interest very well, since my only artistic achievements have come through photography. The fact that my creativity has come through visuals has not been for lack of trying in the audio world. Ten years of playing the piano as a child gave me the gift of playing a verse of Beethoven’s 5th at a cocktail party.
In many ways I believe it was fate that I shouldn’t have taken guitar lessons, and instead had to practice composing visual sequences through a viewfinder. It is for this reason that when I had the opportunity to create a photo series about musicians, I really had the time of my life on set. I was living vicariously through them as we went through the motions 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 felt like the music I had in mind during a shoot was being broadcast.
It wasn’t until we wrapped up for lunch and I sat down with the musicians and talked about what drives them that I realized the correlations between photography and music are more similar than I thought. It wasn’t necessarily the performance or the looks that mattered to them, but the need to have an expression, just like I felt about photography. In many ways, a career in art begins as an extremely extrospective career, but as one progresses through it becomes introspective, but in public display.
Normally on a photo shoot I only take a few minutes break for lunch as I don’t really like to eat during a shoot for fear it will slow me down behind the camera. Thankfully I have an assistant who always has a Snickers so I don’t go hungry. However, on this shoot, things were a little different as the conversations I had with the models made me think even more about how I could express what they had just spoken to my camera. At the end of a crazy intensity banging and swinging shoot, I asked the male model if he would stand back 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 music was as necessary to him as breathing.
As photographers, we have many different approaches to the same art. And just as we approach our workflow to create differently, many of us see photography’s place in our lives differently. For me, I have found that I need to create. It’s not about money, publicity or fame. It’s about making sure I get a chance to tell the world what I see before my time runs out.
However, going back to my initial statement, I honestly don’t believe my commercial photography would be what it is without 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. They all have songs or scores or even chords behind them that lived in my mind while I created the images you see. Since the breadth of my music catalog was so random, I thought I’d share some images they’ve created along with the music I was listening to at the time. I don’t know if this helps anyone understand my creative process, but I hope it shows you that we are all more alike than we think.
The first image is one of the more recent train photos I’ve taken. It has the leaves that my dog Riley sat blowing in the wind as an orange locomotive passed. For this I was listening to Nocturne No. 2 in E Flat (Op 9 No.2) by Chopin. I had gone out on the tracks to create a series to remember Riley and that song was the last he and I ever heard. While it was difficult, I felt that keeping the emotion strong would ensure that the image did justice to my feelings for him.
The next image is one I shot of a tribal dancer in the studio. I had gone into this production listening to different music from Native American tribes to see if there was a vision that would come to mind for the frame. To be honest, nothing materialized in my mind until the model came to the set and told me that when she dances at home for practice, she listens to metal. So we created this image while listening to Disturbed in the studio.
The next image is of Dwyane Wade, photographed for Li-Ning in Beijing, China. While my job has always required me to travel, being in China always felt like I was on the other side of the world from my family. When I was taking breaks on set and walking around the gym that we closed for this production, I put on my headphones and listened to Georgia on My Mind by Ray Charles. I’ve always had a funny habit of hearing that song every time the pilot comes on the phone during a flight and says we’re getting ready to land. For some reason it makes me feel like I’m 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 achieve between symphony and pure metal, and I felt the right mood for this dark shot of military aircraft. The song on repeat before and during this shoot was Sacred Worlds by Blind Guardian.
And finally, for this image of the football player kicking the ball, I had listened to the Moonlight Sonata (First Movement) by ES Posthumus. I wanted a song that had a very distinct flow, punctuated by pounding drums, and that hit the mark. In many ways we wanted to show musically how I heard that song, through a visual composition of an athlete.
Whether you’re a musician who sings about frame lines (I’m looking at you, Jack Johnson), a painter who conveys harmony through your brushstrokes, or someone who’s taken too many unsuccessful piano lessons—I challenge you to embrace the notion that all art is more than just an expression, but a feeling that can inspire further creation.
About the Author: Blair Bunting is a Phoenix commercial photographer. You can see more of his work on his website, blog, Facebook and Instagram. This story was also published here.