Exhibition Reviews

William Ellis – ‘Music On A Chink Of Light’ Exhbition in Edinburgh

Patrick Hadfield went to the opening of music photographer William Ellis’ exhibition , with the title Music On A Chink Of Light. The exhibition – of limited edition handmade silver gelatin prints – continues at Loud and Clear, a ‘new concept Hi-Fi Shop’ in Leith, Edinburgh. The exhibition continues there until Saturday 16 October.

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Ed Thigpen – Metro Convention Center, Toronto, Canada, 2003. Photo copyright William Ellis

Photographer William Ellis has been taking pictures of musicians for a long while, and this exhibition in the unusual but highly appropriate surroundings of a hi-fi shop bring together examples of his work from several projects spanning over three decades. Many of the images are familiar, having adorned record sleeves, articles, and the walls of galleries.
Much of the work is black and white, the deep rich blacks giving a depth of character to the prints. The pictures of musicians work well as stand-alone portraits, although knowledge of the musicians and their work brings an added context: a portrait of Elvin Jones behind his kit facing one of McCoy Tyner has an extra significance, particularly when the hi-fi was playing A Love Supreme.

Whilst many of the photographs were taken during concerts, others show artists before or after their gigs, particularly during the sound check when Ellis had more time to plan his shots. His portrait of Stan Tracey, which hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in London, and Herbie Hancock show different approaches – the former posed, the latter instead capturing the artist in thoughtful contemplation.

Several pictures illustrate the role serendipity can play. Ellis’s glimpse of Ed Thigpen illuminated in a pool of light from a stage manager’s lamp before he goes onstage (above) creates a powerful, spontaneous image. Similarly, pictures of Nancy Wilson and Tony Bennett from the same concert series both catch specific moments from their performances.

Marcus Miller – Royal Festival Hall, London, England, 2014. Photograph copyright William Ellis

With so many black and white images, the occasional flash of colour comes as a bit of a shock. In Ellis’s photo of Marcus Miller, the bassist fills the frame, his bass almost threatening to break out. The joy in Miller’s face shows him lost in the music.

The exhibition also contains several pictures from an ongoing project, OneLP, in which artists from a variety of genres are photographed with an album that has influenced them, as well as a record of their thoughts about it. These pictures have a very different feel, the subjects and their LPs posing in their natural surroundings.

Whilst the photographs work on their own, hearing Ellis talk about his work was an bonus not available to most, since he was only at the exhibition for a couple of days. His anecdotes of gigs remembered and how he took one photograph it another were illuminating. Of particular interest were the artists who got away – especially those who turned down the opportunity to take part in OneLP.

Still, the pictures that Ellis was able to take more than make up for it!

Patrick Hadfield lives in Edinburgh, occasionally takes photographs, and sometimes blogs at On the Beat. Twitter: @patrickhadfield

Loud & Clear is at 94 Commercial Quay, Edinburgh EH6 6LX

LINK: William Ellis’ website

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