Montreux strips down to the rich basics

LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND – The Montreux Jazz Festival likes to surprise and this year’s poster will startle more than one concert-lover. American photographer Greg Gorman has created the first MJF poster to feature a photographic image since 1967, the first year of the festival.

This year’s poster, says Gorman, focuses on the contemplative experience of listening to music.

The Montreux Jazz Festival takes place 29 June to 14 July 2012.

“The model’s pose should suggest movement, as he is turning his head as if he had heard something and wants to hold onto it – a fleeting moment. It is perhaps a voice, a noise or sound. The sand dune in the background also plays an important role. The sheer height and depth of the dune evokes a sense of emptiness and in its simplicity presents a stage for contemplation, a central experience when listening to music. The open background also provides literal space for the viewer’s own interpretation. The subject is placed in a non cluttered open environment.

“The visual arts, from an illustrative point of view, are less confrontational than photography.  I believe that the decision to allow me to present a nude was a very courageous one, because nudity in photography is real and very direct. To offer a photographer carte blanche once again after so many years clearly illustrates the readiness of the festival to try out new things, to take risks and to surprise people.”

Gorman stepped into photography through his love of music. He borrowed a camera to shoot Jimi Hendrix at a 1968 concert and when he saw the image come up in a darkroom he was hooked, he says. In his 40-year career Gorman has photographed scores of musicians, including: Michael Jackson, Barbra Streisand, Frank Zappa, Grace Jones, Elton John, George Clinton, Boy George, Tom Waits, Billy Idol, Leon Russell, Nina Hagen, Fleetwood Mac, Morrissey, Iggy Pop, Vanilla Ice, P. Diddy, RuPaul, Divine, Bette Midler, John Lee Hooker, David Bowie and Quincy Jones, Joan Jett, John Mayer, Melissa Etheridge, Debbie Harry, Crosby, Stills and Nash and Joe Cocker.

He draws a clean parallel between the discomfort yet esthetic appreciation nudes can provoke and the way music can work on us. “Nudity can be fascinating, but may also make some viewers uncomfortable, even nervous. I think music can have the same effect and I think that is one of the interesting things about this project. I love the total unexpected element of the male nude. Music can surprise, unsettle and sometimes even confuse people. A male nude even more so than a female nude, because it is still often thought of as taboo. Hopefully on a certain positive level, this image will have the same effect, but be able to break through that stigma. It is in many ways classical in nature, strong in shape and form and yet delicate and fragile in scale and balance. All of this can be referenced to the extraordinary art of listening to music.”

A Montreux poster is not just all in a day’s work

For those who think photography is a matter of snapping a shot, and for those who are dying to know who the model is, Gorman offers a few words:

“I teach photography workshops at my home in Mendocino, California, four times a year.  And that was where I first worked with the model, Jordan David Miles, a 21-year old skateboarder and graffiti artist from Southern California. The initial idea arose from a similar shooting I had done with him, the previous year. During the subsequent shooting for the festival poster, however, l became involved in a long discussion with Jordan, who did not share my vision, and we had to cancel everything the first time out in the dunes because we just weren’t on the same page. I very much value critical feedback and I took Jordan’s concerns very much to heart. I knew we had to be in sync if the concept was going to work. At the second shooting, the light was not working in our favor. It was very overcast and I could not get the contrast, which is a key element in my photography. Finally our third attempt went very well. From all of the previous work, we knew what we needed to accomplish-the exact location, the angle, the right time of day for the light to be perfect (in essence, all of the aspects that needed to go into the photograph including the model’s body language). We got the picture in the can in less than half an hour. All the previous work helped to add to a better result in the end.”