Saturday, 12 July 2008

No Photo

There seems no denying the widespread opinion that photos of an orchestra performing are visually very dull. In the days when LPs were a wonderful canvas for art directors, except for putting the conductor on the cover, a classical music album with an image of orchestra on the cover was much rarer than one with something else more contrived.

Most of the photos I see published today, even in the
specialist press, fail to capture any of the excitement of hearing a full orchestra in the flesh. It appears too that newspaper picture editors have very little enthusiasm to run classical music photos, even if given a free handout, and do not expect anything interesting from classical music photo calls unless there's some very attractive female performers willing to play that card.

12 June to 12 July 2008 the Eastern Daily Press published 21 music stories containing the keyword ‘orchestra’. A larger sampling would be needed to be authoritative but a simple methodology of counting how many photos accompany music news, previews and reviews in newspapers can indicate how photogenic each musical genre is thought to be.

It appears from the chart above then that if you want a photographer to turn up for a photo call for your classical concert, you must offer a theatrical production with costumed characters in or near Norwich. The single classical concert photocall that made the paper was a ‘stunt’ with a bewigged and cos
tumed performer in the Norwich city centre offering visual value and indicating some imagination of the publicist perhaps.

The other music stories that got assignments apparently that month were a production of the ‘Rat Pack’ with characters in the personas of Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr, a feature about the end-of-the-pier show at Cromer with its musical director photographed in front of some leggy dancers and a ‘good news’ story that a local youth choir had been selected for the Welsh Eisteddfod.

Conversely, over the same period, the stories keyworded ‘concert’ are eight reviews or previews of pop concerts, all accompanied by performance photos. Three previews of am-dram productions and news that the Diss Carnival was to be revived were reported without photos for what should be thought obvious reasons.

What is also interesting is the news value of the classical music stories that went without visual illustration. Some were news of significant cultural 'wins' for the region. This is also surprising as a check of each orchestra or performer mentioned without a photo shows that 10 out of 12 have a website and a publicist contact. Six of them are 100% professional and internationally renown.

Such low expectations is probably why the comedy/classical trumpeter Crispian Steele-Perkins unfortunately missed out on getting his picture in the paper but his website is full of comic images available for download. I can only deduce that even with publicists working for them, classical music is ‘Rodney Dangerfield’ to picture editors.

For the Norwich and Norfolk Festival held in May, very few of the orchestras had any images of themselves to accompany their website listings. If it wasn't an image of their conductor, they relied on classic paintings to convey expectations of their music.

Publicists and the orchestras that pay them have given up trying and it becomes progressively harder to convince classical performers that engaging photographers will get them tangible results. This has become a vicious circle spiralling downward into enforced mediocrity in the pop music world as well but at last, I hear voices of alarm coming from there.


I have often asserted my disgust with literary 'log rolling' but this post has been endorsed by the music blog 'On An Overgrown Path' based in Norwich. Bob Shingleford, who was once very senior publicist for EMI says
it's well-researched piece that agrees, he says, with Julian Bream's assertions "that novelty and transient fashion are the preferred currency of today's media". Thank you for the mention Bob.

Handel - actor John Hare - in London street. Photo: Simon Finlay

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