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27 April 2015

The face of a composer, captured on Polaroid

Judy Bailey holding Jim's Polaroid camera Image: Judy Bailey holding Jim's Polaroid camera  
© Jim Rolon

Photographer Jim Rolon describes his recent encounters with Australian composers and sound artists, and explains his current project, the Australian Composer Polaroid Series. Jim is running a crowdfunding campaign for his series, with signed composer photos, photo shoots and images from his archive as rewards (you can also choose images represented in the permanent collections of the National Portrait Gallery and the National Library). When fully funded, the Australian Music Centre will be featuring the portraits on its website to celebrate AMC's 40th anniversary. You can see a number of photos already on the project's Facebook page.

I must have been one of the last photographers to formally take a portrait of Peter Sculthorpe. When I sent him the final image, he not only liked it but said that it was the first time anyone had photographed him in his writing studio. Although pleased that he liked the image, I was very surprised - maybe he simply meant that I was the first to show that environment. I thought it was a normal thing to do, to show his real life. We did not talk about music, we talked about buildings and architects - because he knew I am partnered with one.

Nowadays, everyone wants to see their photograph with a sort of retouched and perfect finish: their idea of themselves. Somehow the internet and the digital machine has created a standard which expects content to be pleasing. We all have been effected by this. Much of the new photography I see is like listening to music in a supermarket: it adheres to a standard whose source is difficult to identify. You know it is the Beatles or U2 or the Police but wonder how it became that sound in a store. I can compare much of the portrait photography I see to elevator music. It is only noise.

In one of his novels, Salman Rushdie pointed out that in order to see the picture one must step out of the frame. You can't be in it to see it.

When I photograph I focus on faces and, more specifically, on a person's eyes. And I like flaws.

The composers I have photographed so far for this series have given me the impression that they have very much found my Polaroid-style images of their colleagues insightful to look at. They are, however, having a hard time warming up to their own portraits. So far, I have had the impression that everyone has enjoyed the experience itself because the process is compelling; and most have enjoyed the brief sitting because there has been no fuss. The sitting has been like a conversation.

I am trying to capture a real face. This is the reason for the approach to this portrait series of composers. I want the face to fit the personality. The inexact analogue capture process of instant film always provides a unique surprise at the final outcome.

Every composer so far has provided me with an interesting experience. They in turn have been interested and curious. Everyone has had stories; they have lived interesting lives with their minds.

I think writing and performing music does that to people.

When I photographed Judy Bailey, even though we only had 20 minutes, I knew right away that she was someone who has seen a very dynamic life. I did not need to know her. We talked about teaching music to children. With Jon Rose I talked about different sounds and the tools to create them…and the sounds of the local birds. Nigel Butterley knew Peter Tahourdin, my ex-wife's father; as did Ross Edwards who found the Polaroid a novel way to take a portrait. Anne Boyd talked about diet and running. With Andrew Ford I talked about the photographic process, with Julian Day I talked about photography; with Mark Isaacs, well, kids, houses, bicycling up hills, and food. With Sally Whitwell I talked about everything.

These Polaroid-sized prints will be scanned by old printer's scanners and finished as very large files. The retouching will be true to my concept. I want the finished image to be a refinement of the unpredictable analogue process.

You can't photograph the music, only the people behind the composition. I want the portraits to show something more than our idea of a composer. I am trying to capture the face of a composer.

Further links

Jim Rolon - Australian Composer Polaroid Series - crowdfunding campaign on Pozible
Jim Rolon - Australian Composer Polaroid Series (Facebook)
Jim Rolon - photographer (homepage)

Jim Rolon has worked as a photographer for 30 years. His work has included jobs for multinational advertising agencies and graphic designers, books, CD covers, magazine editorial, and exhibitions. Outside Australia, his assignments have taken him to the United States, Vietnam, and the Middle East. His work has won many awards. He has achieved Silver at the Cannes Advertising Awards, was a Commended finalist at the Olive Cotton Awards, and twice a finalist in the National Portrait Prize. The National Portrait Gallery of Australia has acquired six of Jim's images for their permanent collection.


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