The Music Practise Project

Practise Makes Perfect - the unseen side of music making

Music practise photography project. Multiple exposure self-portrait by Beowulf Mayfield

I've always loved music and used to play piano, saxophone and guitar. However, my creative energies switched over to photography in 2007 and I've devoted my attentions to that ever since. Most of my photography has been landscape and tabletop set ups but I'm now turning my lens onto musicians.

When you hear musicians performing, from a symphony orchestral player to a busker in the street, you are hearing the result of years - often lifetimes - of practise and study to polish their technique and performance.

This work is repetitive, solitary and requires a considerable time investment but it's something the listening public isn't always aware of. I am exploring the repetitive and time-consuming element through photography to provide an insight into the private side of music making.

The picture top right is one of my preparatory shots. It's a selfie taken with a 1950s Agfa Isolette ii folding camera using 120 medium format film. Working in a darkened room, I first opened the camera shutter and then fired a remotely-triggered flash to capture each exposure. The film was advanced slightly between exposures to produce the multiple, overlapping images.

Light painting of saxophonist Mark Lockheart by Beowulf Mayfield

The other technique I am using is light painting. This involves shooting a musician playing in a semi-dark room. The shutter is opened for between six to 20 seconds and coloured torchlight is played over them. The result, captured on a digital camera, is a combination of blurred movement and multiple exposure.

The image on the right shows saxophone player and composer Mark Lockheart playing a tenor saxophone. I was very pleased with the way the colours turned out in this one.

No light painting is ever exactly the same and the results can be very surprising. Like music, they take time and practise to perfect but it's very rewarding to open the images up on screen after the shoot to see the results.

So far, I have only used a digital camera for the light paintings but I do plan to take a massive risk by using film for part of a session, just to see what kind of result I get.

To see more pictures, visit my Flickr photo stream.