Candid music moments

2011-03-18 12:09

Rod Taylor has spent the past 20 years sneaking up on musicians on stage during their live performances.

In the process, he has amassed a phenomenal collection of images that he calls “unguarded moments” of ­everyone from Elton John and ­Miriam Makeba to Pink and Kabelo Mabalane.

Taylor has claimed his place in the photographic pit of major concerts in the US and locally, and while his colleagues always aim for the news photograph, he leisurely awaits the magic moments that make his take on live music ­photography outstanding.

“Photography is the decisive ­moment when, in a flash of a ­second, you freeze the frame and time passes by,” Taylor says.

This week, his collection of the “unguarded moments” will be exhibited at the Cape Town International Convention Centre as part of the festivities of the Cape Town International Jazz Festival.

This is the 11th year the photographic ­exhibition takes place.

Festival boss Rashid Lombard says the exhibition is a celebration of our musical heritage.

 Along with Taylor, two South ­African photographers – Peter ­McKenzie and Ian Huntley – will show their works.

Lombard, himself a photographer, says the exhibition derived from his love for the camera.

“I have been documenting jazz musicians for 28 years, and I am passionate about preserving our heritage and musical legacy. It’s really about the history of our music,” he says.

The DuoTone photographic ­exhibition boasts 60 photographs that will transport viewers to ­another time and era of ­moments in music – from the ­iconic Sophiatown images of MacKay Davashe and Kippie Moeketsi to the stages of the Coca-Cola Dome and Orlando Stadium in Joburg, which have seen the likes of today’s big stars, such as John Legend, Lira and Thandiswa Mazwai.

Entry to the exhibition is free and it will move to the Iziko ­Museum in Cape Town after its run at the festival.

Taylor, who once lectured the master class in photography at ­Columbia University in New York, has been fascinated by the ­unconventional poses musicians manage to pull off with their eyes, wrinkled brows, or when they are in full cry as they get lost in the moment on stage.

“Everything is choreographed, but there are moments when the magic happens,” he says.

From Brian McKnight’s frown lines to Elton John’s smirk, Taylor has managed to perfect the art of timing and knowing just when to release the shutter to freeze that special moment.

“I’m always going for the ­unguarded moments and for ­images that are different. I don’t shoot a lot of frames – that’s so ­academic, and you miss out on the moment.”
Taylor has photographed American icons such as actor Michael Douglas, singer Roberta Flack, and artists Yoko Ono and Andy Warhol.

While growing up in White Plains, New York, surrounded by a vibrant cultural environment and with neighbours such as Harry ­Belafonte and Sidney Poitier, Taylor learnt his craft some 35 years ago at the feet of ­Gordon Parks, the first African-American photographer for Life magazine, and John Shearer, who became the second black photographer for the iconic magazine. Being a consummate artist, he dabbled in music and was part of the touring group of the 80s superstar band Atlantic Starr.

He grew up with the members of the group and eventually became their official photographer and lighting director ­following them everywhere, from shooting their CD sleeves and inner photographs to immortalising their live acts on film.

While being part of that African-American music royalty, he got to meet then-exiled South African stars Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba in New York in the early 70s, and he’s kept the relationship going to this day.

He moved to South Africa in 1997 and married a South African woman, Vukani Magubane, the niece of famous South African ­photographer Peter Magubane.

Taylor says the secret to a great music portrait lies in familiarising oneself with the environment. “When I look at an artist I try to make myself sensitive enough to understand what I’m hearing or seeing before making an image.

“I shoot full frame, very seldom do I crop. That’s my school of ­training,” he says.

Taylor’s photographs have been published in The New York Times, but it’s his debut exhibition on ­African soil, his adopted home, that makes him proudest.

» The DuoTone Gallery Exhibition runs from Thursday to Saturday at the Cape Town International Convention Centre

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