When a symphony orchestra performs on stage, the focus is generally on the instruments. The musicians, often blending together in black, are secondary; vehicles allowing pieces of music to be executed to the fullest.
They may be playing instruments worth thousands of dollars, but the musicians are the real treasures — and photographer Greg Locke has brought some local classical performers to the forefront in a new exhibition.
Locke is presenting a series of portraits of members of the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra, the first time he’s hung prints on a wall for a public exhibition in almost 15 years.
The project started last year with the goal of taking the musicians out from behind their instruments and into the spotlight, in a way that was unique and dramatic.
“Typical portraits of classical musicians, they’re on stage or in studio and it’s very formal, so what I wanted to do was to get them out in the community in Newfoundland, in the scenery,” Locke explained. “I dragged them out, up onto the clifftops and the beaches and rivers, and we brought tons of lights with us and we treated it like we would have a commercial shoot.”
Locke did his first round of photo shoots with about 20 of the 70 musicians last August and September, in locations that included the top of Topsail Bluff at sunset, in the Newman Wine Vaults, in front of grafittied walls or downtown coffee shops, and in the surf at Salmon Cove Sands. The performers, protecting their expensive instruments from the weather, sometimes used substitutes from instrument maker Rodney deVries for the photos.
“I wanted some energy and drama and something that was unique. These people in a Newfoundland environment,” Locke said. “That part of it was my vision.
“A lot of my work in the past for editorials were magazine covers, and I’ve always taken my lead from Vanity Fair or Esquire or Rolling Stone to put that big, powerful image up front. That’s where I was leaning, to produce that type of drama.”
Locke carted portable lighting with him on the shoots and used it to increase the dramatic effect and depth of his images.
Locke left it up to the musicians when it came to their clothing in the shots, and all but two chose casual attire. Most of them are young and showed up in jeans and sweatshirts, rather than their usual gowns and tuxedos.
“These people really are part of the community: they’re students, they’re teachers, they’re health-care workers,” Locke said. “The NSO has that core group of professional musicians, but that’s filled out with the masters students from MUN’s School of Music and players in the community.
“I don’t think people realize just how brilliant and talented these people are.”
Locke has been taking pictures as long as he can remember, although he has little in the way of formal photography training. His grandmother was a photographer, he said, and he’s always been comfortable around a camera. As an anthropology student, he incorporated still photos and film in his projects, and his work as a photojournalist eventually took him to The Muse, The Newfoundland Herald and eventually United Press International. He’s done work for MacLean’s, Time and Newsweek magazines, among other publications, and has spent time working everywhere from Africa to ice floes.
He ended up switching from photojournalism to corporate and industrial photography.
“Back in the ’80s when I was working in Toronto, there was an interesting shift in commercial photography,” he said. “The style was moving from that clean, sterile corporate photo, and now they wanted photos of their people in the power plants and down in the mines, and the guys who knew how to do that were the news photographers. What was happening was they were hiring news photographers to go down in the mines of Sudbury or into the car plants. I ended up doing stuff like that.”
These days, 95 per cent of Locke’s work is corporate, he said, although he does the occasional wedding or special project. He’s also begun working in film.
Neil Edwards, CEO of the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra, said he was both impressed and shocked at the portraits of the musicians.
“I’ve never seen the orchestra photographed like this before,” he said.
“When you see the full orchestra perform, you tend to see it as one entity. You don’t get the opportunity to really see the many wonderful and unique individual artists. This is an excellent opportunity for people to see what these musicians look like.”
Locke will continue shooting the portraits of the orchestra members, but will be showing the first part of the project in the upstairs space at Hava Java, 258 Water St., starting today until March 3. His photos can also be viewed on his website, www.greglocke.com, where he divided them into two sections: “Portraits,” and “Backstage Pass,” the latter a series of photojournalism-style, behind-the-scenes pictures.
“Many thanks for this project go to the musicians of the NSO,” Locke said. “(They) bought into my vision wholeheartedly and accepted me into their backstage lives and trusted me to not let them drown or fall of cliffs.”